Small is the New Big: Customer Experience Excellence One Opportunity at a Time


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His name is Adolpho Kamisky and though he is not someone I’d heard about in history classes, he truly is a larger than life hero of World War II. From my vantage point, Adolpho has a lot to teach us about the impact we can have on our team members and customers.

Beyond the Stereotype

When I typically think of a War II hero, I think of Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated combat soldiers from that conflict. On a more personal level, I can look on my bookshelf and see three purple hearts earned by my father, Joe Michelli, and reflect on the shrapnel my father carried perilously close to his spine ever since the Battle of Anzio.

Unlike heroes on the battlefield, Adolpho Kamisky never donned a uniform but instead used forgery – yes you read that right, forgery – to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews living in France. His daughter Sarah Kaminsky richly shares Adolpho’s story in the book titled A Forger’s Life. For an abbreviated video version of Adolpho’s story, you can watch Sarah’s TED talk.

At it’s most concise level the story goes like this, Adolpho joined the French resistance at age 17. He mastered the art of forgery allowing Jewish men, women, and children to secure falsified “papers” (passports and identification cards) that hid their Jewish identity and allowed them safe passage out of France and away from concentration camps.

Adolpho’s Lessons for Employee and Customer Engagement

So as not to postpone the connection between Adolpho Kamisky and the engagement of your team members and customers any further, I was moved by a statement made by Sarah Kamisky concerning the impact of the actions taken by her father and other members of the French resistance. Sarah, during a recent 60 Minutes episode, said:

“What I like in the history is that a few people can make a difference in front of big armies.”

Similarly, a few people can make a great difference when it comes to helping a workplace or customer experience become more engaging. Moreover, a single person like Adolpho saved tens of thousands of lives through his actions and a single service professional can elevate the lives of tens of thousands of people across a career – one person at a time.

An Example of Lasting Impact from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

Since I’ve written a book about The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, The New Gold Standard, I am often introduced at keynotes by someone who shares a story about service excellence at a Ritz-Carlton property. Twice recently, I was introduced in the context of Joshie the giraffe. If you don’t know about the adventures of Joshie (a lost stuffed animal that was returned to the child who owned him, complete with pictures of Joshie’s escapades at the hotel when he was separated from his owner), you can check out an archived blog of mine titled Giraffes are ESSENTIAL to your customer experience!

To make my point, you must understand that the individuals who introduced me for these 2017 keynotes came from two very different industries and neither of them told me in advance that they were mentioning Joshie. These introductions occurred over 5 years from when I first wrote my blog about the stuffed giraffe, as I learned about Joshie from a tweet written by the father of Joshie’s owner – Chris Hurn.

A simple set of actions by a group of service professionals at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida continues to be shared with many audiences five years later. This example alone should be an inspiration to take small and collective actions to produce BIG results one customer or employee at a time. A person might never know how many people they’ve inspired or how far an inspirational story travels.

Great Experiences Don’t Need to Be Costly or Productivity Limiting

Not only do great results often come from small gestures, but customer experience excellence can be achieved without large expenditures or adverse impact on productivity. A recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science written by a colleague of mine in Singapore – Professor Jochen Wirtz and his research partner Valarie Zethaml notes:

“While the general belief is that a tradeoff exists and that service excellence and cost effectiveness are in conflict, examples can be proffered where organizations achieve both and manage to align high productivity and customer satisfaction.”

So the moral of the story, thanks to Joshie and Adolpho, is inspire and drive the power of individual and small group acts for the betterment of humankind and customer experience excellence. Don’t confuse costly with successful when it comes to customer service delivery and appreciate that you can have engaged employees and customers while maintaining workplace productivity.

Based on my experience I’ve come to learn that in some situations all it takes to deliver extraordinary experiences is a willingness to listen to a customer, an authentic effort to make someone smile, a well-timed thank you given to a team member or a simple act of kindness. Each of these behaviors is small and low-cost yet capable of having a BIG and LASTING impact.

I admire Adolpho Kamisky for his courageous acts during World War II.  He is one of those people I wish I could thank and be in the presence of. I doubt I will ever have a sliver of the impact he has had through his selflessness. That said, I am committed to learn from his lessons and to look for the seemingly small actions I can take to make a difference for those I have the opportunity to serve. How about you, your teams, and your business?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


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