In our latest podcast, John L. Evans, Jr., Head Strategist of Knowledge Labs™, interviews Dr. Joseph Michelli, speaker, organizational consultant and New York Times bestselling author. His most recent book, “The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community and Belonging,” outlines strategies for creating tremendous client experiences and improving team culture.
How Gratitude, Belonging and Team Culture Help Drive Client Loyalty - John Evans Jr., Ed.D.
John Evans: Hi, and welcome. I am Dr. John Evans and I am so excited about our guest today, Dr. Joseph Michelli, who has been a tremendous partner to Janus Henderson over the years. We have grown together with the Art of WOW, haven’t we, Joseph?
Dr. Joseph Michelli: Yeah, we were young pikers once, but you would never know that now.
Evans: And, listen, we have tremendous information to be shared with you, knowledge to be shared with you all. And you’re not supposed to say “guarantee” in this industry, Joseph, as you know, but we’re going to go ahead and guarantee, if you put one or two or three of the rituals we are going to talk about in place, you are going to see three things happen in your business: Number one is you are going to be keeping clients, number two is you are going to be replicating clients, and number three, which I think is the most fascinating, is you are going to be improving the quality of your team culture. How important is team culture when it comes to delivering WOW, Dr. Joseph Michelli?
Michelli: Yeah, and it’s an ecosystem, right? I mean at the end of the day, if people aren’t feeling it inside of the brand, it doesn’t manifest outside of the brand. So clearly, the culture is the WOW of the experience internally.
Evans: Absolutely. We’re seeing WOW emerge, burgeon. And there are clues, right? One of which is this idea of gratitude. A little quote that I am going to read for you on gratitude:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more it turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
That is Melody Beatty. Do you agree with that?
Michelli: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think if you look at what gratitude does at the individual level, it improves our longevity, it improves kind of the experience of life, the joy of life, decreases depression, increases workplace productivity … there is just tons of research on gratitude, on keeping a gratitude journal and being on the lookout for things that make you grateful. And I think it is also just [a] creative resource for how do you create it in others? I mean if we WOW people, normally they are grateful. If we just meet their needs, it is fairly transactional. So how do we generate WOW? Well, we understand gratitude in our own lives.
Evans: Excellent. Your latest book, The Airbnb Way … How does gratitude play a part with Airbnb?
Michelli: It has been about 10 books now, and I think all the brands, whether it is Ritz Carlton or Mercedes Benz or Airbnb, I think all of these brands are trying to communicate to their team members how much they are grateful for their participation in the organization. Someone like Airbnb has a small team really, their whole distribution method is through a bunch of homeowners who list on their platform. And so being able to create a culture where they feel there is gratitude and belonging for them is how they are able to encourage them to align on delivering an elevated customer experience.
Evans: And how do we do that?
Michelli: Well, first you have to know what you want people to feel and think every time they interact with you. So, WOW is a great platform, because it says, at the end of the day, we want people to feel WOWed and WOWful. So, what we can ask every employee, “What else might you have done in this moment to have increased the likelihood someone would say ‘yes’ to a question: ‘On a scale of 0 to 10, how WOWed were you by this experience?’”
Evans: So there is the ritual, or consideration, number one right there, is starting that dialogue, that regular dialogue on how well we WOWed. I like to use the expression, “Making meaning.”
Michelli: I think to be purposeful in the way you transform the lives of the people you serve produces WOW. But the pursuit of WOW to its own [end] without any more purposeful execution normally isn’t sustainable.
Evans: It is thin.
Evans: Leadership must buy into the art of WOW or meaning making, right? If they do not … because, remember, we are moving from the left side of the brain over the right side of the brain. WOW is to be caught, it is not to be taught. WOW is to be inspired, it is not to be required. What do you do, Dr. Michelli, when you run into leadership that are [at] arm’s distance?
Michelli: Well, there are certain sectors [where] it is harder. And I will be really candid, I think financial services is one of those sectors where it is harder. I think a lot of people calculate, they are very linear in the way they think about, “What is an outcome that is meaningful?”. So meaningful outcomes is performance, right? And that is a part of the equation, we know that to be the case. But we also know that performance is insufficient to sustain focus. And people are turning over on these funds every four years or so if you have great relationships in a lot of these markets. [But] it is hard for them to understand that if you could just build a human experience that encases performance, that you really have an opportunity to ride out some downcycles and get a little bit more time in people’s lives. And so, for me, at the fundamental level, I think it is important for leaders to do exactly as said, live it, believe it, talk about it, get them out on the other side of the brain. And the reason I love WOW, I think it is an evocative word and it is a motive. It is definitely not logical or linear, it’s not like “satisfaction” or “respect” or some of those more gravitas-y words; it’s a very emotional, puffy word. And I like pushing the envelope on that. Purpose should be more than delivery of pragmatic results. It should have emotional value.
Evans: Number one, gratitude. You cannot be genuine, you cannot be earnest in delivering WOW or meaning making if you do not have a heart of gratitude. You can’t be stressed out. So, stress …. we have done work as you know with Investopedia and Financial Planning Association, and it’s egregious what is happening right now, Joseph, with respect to the levels of stress in our industry. It’s horrendous. These little fiends, these handheld devices, are killing us, right? So we have to get stress under control, because when you are stressed out, you ain’t delivering a WOW, right?
Michelli: Right, from a physiological perspective, we know how stress manifests in the body, we know how the lymphatic system reacts from the hypothalamic getting triggered, and we know all the cascading physiological response of fight or flight, all of which limits our adaptive energy to do the other things we need to do in life, like re-create (or recreate, if you want to pronounce it differently).
Evans: Yeah. C.S. Lewis, theological philosopher, said something really interesting. [He] said if there is such a place as heaven, there are two things going on. There is laughter and there is silence. I’ll add a third, great music.
Michelli: Yeah, right.
Evans: Those three things must manifest during the course of an advisor’s day. We have to be intentional about taking breaks, rejuvenating … we call it oscillating in our work with the Human Performance Institute. Because that is going to allow the good ideas and the interpersonal creativity.
Michelli: Yeah, people call it all kinds of things, “white space,” for example. I mean, creating some place for something to happen. You know, if everything is crowded in, there is no room for anything new to tap and you are just responding to all the stimuli that is coming at you.
Evans: I can’t wait to jump into The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community and Belonging. What are you most excited about in your book?
Michelli: Yeah, I love the belonging message. You know, the great Poet Laureate Maya Angelou said something to the effect that, “I, like all human beings, long to feel at home wherever I am.” And I think a job for all of us in financial services as well is, when people are out on your website, on your app, in your office, that they feel like they belong there. That there is a welcoming, you are a part of the kinship. This is your community. And I think that many people overlook that, they are so busy trying to sell or tell that they forget about the fact that, from a Maslovian perspective, yes, I want you to keep me safe, I don’t want you to blow me up, I want to be able to achieve my goals. But I also want to be cared about as well as cared for through your financial service techniques. So how do you care about me? And belonging is a lot about saying, you know, you are welcome here, you are absolutely welcome here and I want to know you and I want to give you something to be grateful for.
Evans: That is awesome. I want you to talk directly to Mike right now. Mike is a great client of Janus Henderson, he has adopted WOW. We went out and did WOW for one of his biggest clients, for Enterprise Rental Car out in St. Louis. The house was just rocking, it was just rocking. He has adopted WOW with his team of eight or nine … tremendous success story. What do you say to Mike about going to that next level?
Michelli: Yeah, I think WOW is a team sport, right? So, I assume he has got his entire team aligned, but Mike, I would strongly encourage you to keep this, as John would say, this ritual of constantly talking about it. But also looking at the talents of your team so that each team member can figure out how they can complement each other in the execution of WOW. You know, I think early on in this journey with Janus Henderson, we were looking at kind of levels of clients and how you can customize or personalize or create even a more generic WOW. When you get at the more personal levels, when you are really trying to understand the DNA of a client and make sure that high net worth client is going to be with you for a long time, you really have to do a lot of listening, and there are certain members of your team that might be really good at listening and acquiring information. There might be other people who are really good at getting that information into a database that makes it leverageable. There are some other people who take that leverage knowledge and actually activate it in the life of a client with regular eyes, systematic touchpoints across the relationship journey. Others who are listening now to the feedback of the client as to whether or not those efforts landed or not, and then somebody else putting that data back into the customer relationship database so you can continue to pursue avenues that are resonant and then drop off some of the test and learn areas where you tried to love on somebody and WOW them, but just you have no feedback that it landed.
Evans: That is right. This idea that you and I both treasure: Anticipating and satisfying a client’s unstated or unrealized, Dr. Michelli, need. Speak to that. We talk about the importance of having a Chief Experience Officer for each team, we are looking for somebody who is really open minded, very creative, high emotional intelligence, but also is a bit of a bulldog, right? She or he is going to get it done, because WOW is disruptive if nothing else.
Michelli: Well, I think as you kind of frame it in that way, you can put it on the individual person and I strongly recommend that, because somebody needs to be accountable to everything in an organization or it doesn’t get done. Somebody needs to measure it, or you can’t know if you are succeeding. There is all these kind of functional things you need to do. The only risk you ever have with that is sometimes people think that is the person who is responsible for it for the entire organization. So the goal of this person should really be to corral these other individuals and help inspire them to all play their role on this team. So they may be a coach to the team, but they are not the entire team on the field. And so I think it becomes this balance dance between identifying people who can keep the plays moving on the field and not getting that person confused with being the person who has to deliver all the plays on the field.
Evans: That is excellent.
Michelli: It is a critical skill now in society to be able to help people understand how to connect with other human beings. We are all in a people business. I think when I worked with Howard Schultz at Starbucks, one of the first things that kind of floored me about this incredibly charismatic guy was when he said, “We are not in the coffee business, we are in the people business.”
Evans: Wow! What a comment.
Michelli: Just bottom line. So, I think we are all in the people business and all business is personal in the end. It may seem so much like it is numbers on a spreadsheet, but in the end of it all, those numbers mean something to me as a human being. It is part of my story, it is part of my vision, my dream, my hope, my wish, my fear, it is all tangled up with power and all kinds of other things are associated with it. Markers of my worth in the world. And so how do I get to understand what this thing called investing means to me at a much more personal level, so that I … And how do I get to know the totality of your person, so that I can actually do something that connects in a personal way back to you?
Evans: Let’s talk to our listeners about what we each respectively think is the one main thing that matters more than anything when it comes to improving … we are in the pursuit, the aspiration of a tremendous client experience, not a good client experience, not a really good client experience, a tremendous client experience.
Michelli: Well, I think that there are many client experiences. So the one thing I would suggest is understand who your core clients are and let’s start that conversation. Let’s understand that we do have three or four or five key customer segments and we can really execute against those and we have a lot of one offs that we can accommodate, but for the most part, we need to execute. And let’s understand their journey, let’s understand their high points, low points. Let’s understand that moments matter and that across a long relationship, certain moments matter more than others. Let’s execute at peak moments, let’s remove pain moments.
Evans: Some two and a half years ago, I had a phone call from a young congressman, a 37-year-old congressman up in Jacksonville, I live in Orlando. He came down and we went and had oysters and he waned to run for governor. I was thinking to myself, “That’s nice… he’ll never win.” And we had a tremendous conversation, he was very interested in the art of WOW. And he brought his financial advisor there and we just had this rousing session. And what really gravitated with him was the idea of the emotional dynamics. Understand how your clients appreciate being appreciated, right? And we are scaffolding upon the work of Dr. Chapman and the five love languages. Now this gentleman went on to become governor of Florida. And he will say that a big part of that, his paying attention to his donors and the folks that really matter in his campaign, is this idea of emotional dynamics. How do we coach on that, Joseph?
Michelli: Well, I think it starts again with otherness. First, let’s select people who are capable of otherness. Let’s start there. So you look at somebody like a Colleen Barrett years ago, kind of the Chief Operating Officer at Southwest Airlines, they would do crazy things to select for that. Like they would bring a group of people together and they would say we are going to do our interviews here in just a moment and then someone would run in and say to the audience, to this group of people, “Sorry, the interviewer is not able to make it today. We will try to see when we can reschedule.” And then they would walk out, they would listen in on all of these people. And some of them were like, “Well, I took all this time to be here today and how dare this happen,” and others were saying, “Wow, I wonder what happened to the interviewer, are they okay?” The ones who were selected to come back for the real interview were those who had otherness. So let’s start with getting people who have an interest in otherness. And then once we do, let’s teach them about emotional dynamics, because I may have a real concern about your otherness, but if I don’t understand what you value, then I have no access point to create value for you, so let me explore what it means, the way people derive currency or economics of value through their lens, their life experience.
Evans: For every financial advisory team on planet earth, I want you to be all in and resolved, committed to the art of WOW, the art of meaning making. And you have got to have a sense of urgency about it and you have got to make it your own. We are going to give you the fundamentals from Janus Henderson, we have been working on this for years, and we are constantly learning, so we can share knowledge with you. I want you all in, I want you all in for WOW. Reach out to your Janus Henderson sales director, we have been trained on this, folks, we are the best in the industry, I will say that unequivocally. We are here to help you keep your best clients, replicate them and improve the quality of your culture.
Dr. Michelli, last word.
Michelli: Hey, thank you very much.
Evans: Thank you all. See you next time.