Lesson from Driven to Delight – Forget the Competition, Remember Your Customers

This is a guest post from Dr. Joseph Michelli, the New York Times best-selling author. It features a story about Mercedes-Benz from his latest book, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way

Driven to DelightI’ve long been a believer that we should spend more time building strategy to meet and exceed customer expectations, and less time devising tactics to counter the efforts of our competitors. Don’t get me wrong. Any good SWOT analysis considers the competitive set but ULTIMATELY we are in business to serve customers, not outwit the competition. It is by strengthening our relationship with our customers that we enjoy repeat business, sustained profits and referrals.

Thought leader Seth Godin also has a laser focus on customers. In fact, Seth has been known to ask a provocatively simple question: “Who are your customers?” Dismissing the usual sterile and demographic-focused answers, he challenges us all to think about customers in a more relatable way. “What do they believe? Who do they trust? Who are their friends? What do they talk about?” Imagine…knowing your customers so intimately and then catering your business to them, irrespective of what “the other guys” are doing.

By getting to know your customers in an unparalleled way, you are likely to differentiate your business and your strategy from brands that are constantly selling. Let me give you some examples of transformative processes deployed by a company for whom I have had the good fortune of consulting and about whom I have recently written a book titled Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

Mercedes-Benz is at the pinnacle of excellence when it comes to engineering innovation, safety and marketing, but the company’s “product-centricity” had left it somewhat lacking when it came to knowledge of what their customers wanted in a dealership experience. As such, Mercedes-Benz USA was performing at a very mediocre level on customer surveys such as those conducted by JD Power. During the process of building a “customer-obsessed” culture, leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA addressed a host of human, process, and technology-based initiatives. When it comes to “knowing their customer,” two particular initiatives are worthy of emulation, DaSH and LEAD:

DaSH – How do your customers and your employees differ? Leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA asked their employees that question and found a sizable number of the people who represented the brand hadn’t spent considerable time behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle. In the absence of shared experiences, prejudices and assumptions creep-in and some staff begin to think that “anyone who buys an S-Class is all about prestige, status, or power.” DaSH changed that! DaSH stands for Drive a Star Home (the “star” is a reference to the Mercedes-Benz logo) which availed a Mercedes-Benz vehicle for brand representatives to use over multiple days. Not only did employees enjoy the safety, performance and special driving experience provided by Mercedes-Benz vehicles, they also came to understand why people (like themselves) choose to make other financial compromises in order to own a Mercedes-Benz.

LEAD – LEAD stands for Listen, Empathize, Add Value and Delight. LEAD is the anchor for skills development necessary to identify and connect with peers and customers. Everyone representing the Mercedes-Benz USA brand is trained and re-trained to listen for understanding, assess the emotional experience of customers and connect with their experience, and add value beyond the transactional level. When each of those actions are provided to a customer and when you authentically welcome customers back for your next opportunity to serve them, customers feel “known” and “delighted.”

Mercedes-Benz USA gets it!

Without shared experiences for staff and customers, and a team trained to listen, emotionally connect, and serve – what is company or brand? I guess the entire model for business would reduce itself to a commoditized game of out-pricing and out-maneuvering the competition – that doesn’t seem like a game worth playing to me! How about you?


Joseph A Michelli, PhD, CSP, is an internationally sought-after speaker, consultant, and New York Times No 1 best-selling author. You can find more information about him at

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Steve Cannon is the President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. He is the former VP of Marketing for the brand. Two things I love about Steve,

1. He has said, “Customer experience is the new battleground

2. He has staked his legacy as CEO on customer experience.

Here’s a video of Steve at Forrester talking about investing in the DaSH program:

Starbucks Teen Barista Rebukes a Customer By Defending a Mother’s Right to Breastfeed

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starbucks breastfeeding

It’s Wednesday morning in Ottawa, Canada. Julia Wykes is out shopping with her 5-month old son. She decided to visit the Starbucks on Trainyards Drive. According to Monica Beyer at the website She KnowsShe’d planned on getting a drink to go, but her little boy became fussy so she sat down for a moment to tend to him. There weren’t very many seats available, so the one she chose was close to the cash register.

The next thing Julia heard was a complaint from a nearby customer. Julia recalled, “A woman very loudly complained (so she knew I could hear) to the baristas that they should get me to stop doing that in public as it was disgusting. The barista smiled at her and said he would handle it. I was gearing up for a fight.”

The barista Alex Kim approached, setting down a free refill for Julia and stating loudly, “And here’s a voucher for a free drink next time you’re in here, I am so sorry that you had to deal with such unpleasantness today.”


The week old Facebook post about the incident has gone viral, gathering nearly 30,000 likes and eliciting over 1,200 comments. It has been picked up globally by outlets such as Yahoo! the UK’s Daily Mail. Julia Wykes herself has written about it in the Huffington Post.

Lesson: Empower Employees to Connect, Discover & Respond

Starbucks trains their employees to create impactful customer experiences. Each employee carries a little Green Book in their apron. The book explains that the purpose of the company is to “provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives.” Creating a third place for customers, a place between work and home according to CEO Howard Schultz. A place for conversation and community.

Enriching lives and creating community are not easy tasks. Life isn’t scripted and the coffee giant has over 18,000 outlets. In order to scale its culture, Starbucks empowers employees through a principle called, “Make it Your Own.” The company asks its employees to embody the following five ways of being:

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved

The five ways get brought to life through a customer experience technique called Connect, Discover, and Respond. I believe this is how a teenage barista was able to act appropriately in Ottawa. He connected with the customer making the complaint. Demonstrating knowledge that breastfeeding is legal in public, Alex responded to address the situation. Doing so in a way that was both genuine and considerate.

A thoughtful barista, Alex Kim has probably created a Starbucks customer for life simply by demonstrating warmth and competence. Meanwhile, for the price of a free coffee voucher, the brand has earned millions of impressions and furthered its mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Speaking of free coffee vouchers, here’s the author of “The Starbucks Experience” Dr. Joseph Michelli talking about innovation by a frontline worker at Starbucks: