Catching What is Right | The Art of Service Storytelling

American lawyer John E. Jones III is credited with saying, “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.”

From my perspective, when it comes to customer experience excellence, what gets rewarded gets done and what gets talked about also gets done. After 25 years of consulting in what used to be called customer service and now is called customer experience, I have seen the power of well-designed customer experience reward and recognition programs as well as the effectiveness of leaders who tell stories of optimal customer experience delivery.

For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the role storytelling plays in developing world-class customer experience cultures. My favorite example of leadership storytelling involves David Feinberg, M.D. and the way he used stories to (in David’s words) “lead a revolution to put care back into healthcare.”

At the time I worked with David, he was the CEO of UCLA Health System (a complex network of hospitals, outpatient clinics, medical research facilities, and a premier medical school). From the standpoint of clinical outcomes, research breakthroughs, and medical education, UCLA was undeniably world-class; however, when it came to patient experience and patient satisfaction, UCLA was at best low-average. On standardized measures of patient satisfaction, UCLA was performing at or about the 35th percentile.

I remember standing with David in UCLA’s soon to be opened Ronald Reagan Hospital when he said, “The building and technology in it will have cost over a billion dollars by the time we open and my greatest concern will be that our patient experience will let this building down.” Having consulted with David during his journey at the helm of UCLA, I watched him drive patient satisfaction to the 99th percentile by focusing on operational consistency and human-centric culture. David’s commitment to collect and share stories of positive patient experiences at UCLA was the catalytic for cultural transformation.

Here’s how David did it, he:

  • walked and talked to people throughout his company every single day.
  • shared stories about his customers (patients) to begin and end every meeting he conducted.
  • tasked his direct reports to source stories for him to share at those meetings and encouraged them to walk around to find their stories.
  • tasked his direct reports to task their direct reports to find patient experience excellence stories.
  • scheduled system-wide rounds where leaders were required to visit other departments and to talk to patients in those areas.
  • scheduled meetings with staff members so that everyone in the organization could have a meal with the CEO and share their stories (given that his business was a 24/7, 365 day a year operation, he was meeting with team members from all shifts and eating with them on their schedules).

David has long since left UCLA to lead Geisinger Health System and now has moved on to be the VP of Health for Google. I was inspired (as was his entire organization) to listen to David tell stories about the amazing care being provided at UCLA.

For most of my career, I have sought to talk about leaders like David and tell their stories and the stories of their people. That was certainly the case in my book about UCLA Health System titled Prescription for Excellence. It’s also the case for my new book about the founders of Airbnb and the countless hosts we met who are delivering outstanding experiences in The Airbnb Way. I heard more than my share of inspiring host stories about how hosts went out of their way (in small gestures and heroic acts) to care for travelers who relied on them.

I believe most of us (including your team members) want to hear more of those stories as sources of encouragement and inspiration. This past Halloween, I was struck by how much a simple video was shared on social media. That video was captured by a homeowner’s doorbell camera when the homeowner was out trick-or-treating with his family. It is you see a bowl of candy that had been left out by the homeowner and a school-age boy approaching. That boy noticed that those who came before him had emptied the bowl and he (without prompting) chose to place candy in the bowel so those that followed him would find candy there. That video can be found here.

The world needs more of these videos and our teams need to hear more stories of their colleagues who are delivering amazing customer experiences in your business.

I would love to talk to you about your storytelling culture and look for ways to capture your naturally occurring customer experience greatness. Let’s find a time to talk. Simply contact me here.

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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

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