A great and profitable lesson for businesses
In showing how a business can be completely transformed by elevating the customer experience, one of Joseph Michelli's most striking examples is the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.
When he first encountered owner Johnny Yokoyama, all the signs pointed in one direction: the business was going nowhere fast. Sales were static at best, staff were uninterested and unmotivated, the product - dead fish - was pretty basic, and no one seemed to have any ideas about how to stop the rot. Michelli arrived on the scene as an unpaid graduate student in organisational development and just about managed to resist the sense of hopelessness that clearly afflicted the rest of the team.
There was, though, no miracle cure or immediate turnaround. Management science and textbook marketing cut no ice, while employee meetings about 'the way forward' were more likely to descend into silence or bickering than to spark great ideas or enthusiasm.
But the breakthrough came with a suggestion that was to turn the business on its head. It came from an employee who one day simply said: 'Let's be world-famous.'
Almost ridiculous in the circumstances, the idea nevertheless took hold and led to a completely new philosophy. It was to focus on making each customer feel world-famous - welcomed and treated like a celebrity - and to give everyone an experience to remember.
The market was still selling fish, and the same distributor was supplying all the other retailers in the area. But with the customer experience put ahead of everything else, Pike Place's sales started to soar. As a business success, it has led to books, lecture tours, an essential stop on every tourist itinerary and quite a few very comfortable retirements.
It also proved an early inspiration for the very first Starbucks store, located a block away in Seattle, on the importance of making the customer king.