Unearthing Timeless Customer Experience Wisdom – Lessons from P.T. Barnum

My friend Scott Mckain wrote a powerful customer experience book titled, All Business is Show Business, which prompted me to wonder:

What could a great show person teach us about customer experience design and delivery?

To answer that question, I picked up P.T. Barnum’s book “The Art of Money Getting: Golden Rules for Making Money.”  It’s free to download here.

As it turns out, P.T., the world’s first show business millionaire, had much to say about creating “crave-able” and spectacular customer experiences.

Who was P.T. Barnum?

Phineas Taylor (P. T.) Barnum, born July 5, 1810 (over 212 years ago), is best known as the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. In addition to his traveling road show, P.T.’s other business ventures included museums, curiosities, and theatrical productions.

P.T. wrote The Art of Money Getting at 70 to reflect on his career and share lessons for success and significance.

What does P.T. have to teach us?

Lesson One: Politeness and Civility Win

In a chapter fittingly titled “Be Polite and Kind to Your Customers,” Barnum emphasizes the irreplaceable value of politeness and civility in business. Unexpectedly, this king of circus posters and billboards contends that no eye-catching marketing can offset the negative impact of harsh or inconsiderate customer treatment. In Barnum’s own words:

Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly.

Lesson Two: Beware of a Transactional Mindset

Barnum warns against seeing customers as transactions. He asserts that merchants who behave as if they will never see their customers again often prove themselves correct. By contrast, P.T. emphasizes fostering long-term customer relationships based on trust, generosity, mutual respect, and fair dealings. P.T. puts it this way:

The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him….The noblest art is that of making others happy.

Lesson Three: Focus on Delivering Emotional Value

While Barnum writes a lot about customer behavior and the trends he observed across his lifetime, he espouses an enduring truth – to be memorable, you must strike an emotional chord. From P.T.’s perspective, that emotional impact looked like this:

There is no greater picture than that of 10,000 smiling children. No brighter music than their clear-ringing laughter. That I, with my small amusements, have created such precious art is my life’s proudest achievement.

Lesson Four: Dedicated Focus and Persistence Pays

While Barnum is remembered for creating “the greatest show on earth,” his career was fraught with many business setbacks. Given those challenges, P.T. emphasized the importance of dedication and resilience (traits critical for those who seek to elevate human experiences). P.T. writes:

Constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once….Energy and patience in business are two indispensable elements of success.

As we navigate the ever-changing business world, what current books or teachings will stand up for centuries?

P.T. Barnum’s lessons have aged well, and his book offers sage advice for these challenging times.

Hats off to “the greatest showman on earth.”

To learn more about leveraging caring artistry, please get in touch with me at josephmichelli.com/contact.

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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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