How to Become a Leader in Customer Experience | Driven to Delight

There are leaders, followers, and…well people who just get in the way! Which are you?

In business today, it takes leadership to build a business that consistently engages customers. If customers aren’t emotionally connected to your brand, through the experiences you provide, you will be vulnerable to offers and solicitations from your competitors. Such was the case for Mercedes-Benz!

Mercedes-Benz has long delivered on the brand promise “best or nothing” when it came to product innovation, safety, and even marketing prowess. However, calling US dealerships’ “best or nothing” when it came to customer experience would have been a stretch.

For approximately 3 years I’ve worked with Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) executives as they transformed their organization into a verifiable customer experience leader. In my book Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, I offer tools and tactics everyone can use to be customer experience leaders within and beyond their industries. Here are a 6 key takeaways:

  • Good Leaders Are Good Followers – Phew, you aren’t alone on a journey of customer experience excellence. Be a student of companies and leaders that are delivering consistently engaging experiences for their customers. MBUSA leadership studied Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Starbucks, and others as they embarked on their transformation.
  • Aim High – Your customers are having experiences with providers far outside your competitive set. Strive not to just be the “best-in-class” – instead strive to be the “best-of-the-best.” Leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA didn’t want to be the best among automobile companies; they wanted to be the best of those perennially recognized for experience excellence.
  • Success Starts with Closing Your Mouth – The world is filled with people who talk a lot. If you are someone who truly listens, you will have a distinctive business advantage. When it comes to employees and customers, disciplined listening highlights wants, needs, and desires and allows you to begin to think of innovative solutions to meet those needs. Oh, by the way, by listening I mean using all your senses to tune in to those you serve. For example, listen with your eyes. At Mercedes-Benz USA, extensive training on active listening and empathizing was offered enterprise-wide early and repetitively along their journey.
  • Don’t be Caught Without Your Map – Unless you happen to enjoy wandering about aimlessly, a customer journey map is an essential tool for streamlining customer experience improvement. Journey maps, such as those developed at MBUSA, detail your business from the customer’s perspective. They enable everyone in your organization to see your customer’s pain points, understand high value contact points, and execute to provide customer ease.
  • Feedback is Your Friend – Mercedes-Benz USA and other customer-focused businesses develop tools to effectively capture and leverage “real-time” customer feedback both at the operational (transactional) and the relational (emotional) level.
  • Obsess and Share – Don’t make this the “year of the customer.” Develop a culture that tirelessly talks about your customer – one that sustains an obsession concerning customer needs. Mercedes-Benz USA has dedicated years to a concept they refer to as being “Driven to Delight.” That dedication is evidenced in robust training programs as well as constant sharing of customer delight stories. Alas, they also share stories where customers were less than delighted. Those stories create teachable moments for improving future customer experiences.

You might think … I’m not Mercedes-Benz! I don’t have their budget. How does someone like me transform my customer experience without breaking the bank?

In truth, Mercedes-Benz USA leaders mobilized their staff and the employees at their more than 370 plus dealerships by prioritizing the customer and reprioritizing existing programs and resources to serve them. They didn’t spend their way to success! You can do the same.

Study the best, set audacious customer experience goals, listen, map out your customer journey, leverage feedback, and maintain a robust conversation about customer needs, victories, and opportunities within your organization.

Before you know it, I will be calling you to write a book about you and you will be the benchmark for others to study!

How to Become a Leader in Customer Experience

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli


  1. Shep Hyken on December 6, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    What I love about this article is that you use great companies (that we all know about) to showcase customer experience – like your books. It’s much easier to learn from companies we know about, can relate to and understand.

  2. Martha Dorris on January 24, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I have been driving a focus on customer experience at the federal level for many years including participating in a workshop you ran in Denver several years ago. Love this simple way of describing “how to” become a leader in CX and hope to continue driving the Administrations, department and agency heads, and managers of citizen-facing programs to deliver the “best of the best” to the veterans, seniors, students, parents, etc. Changing the culture of the government isn’t going to be easy but I hope to tackle it one person at a time. Love your insights into how we can transform government.

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