Bringing Technology To Education With Dr. Peter Hirst and Delivering Exceptional Customer Service With Micah Solomon

With the vast technological access we have today, a bigger room for experimentation opportunities has opened up. Talking about the great and exciting things in the world of technology and bringing that information through his educational programs is Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management, Dr. Peter Hirst. In this episode, Dr. Hirst shares with Dr. Diane Hamilton his journey from London to MIT along with the latest about artificial intelligence and access to information. Known for his innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies, Dr. Hirst lets us in on how he develops, designs, and delivers the programs out there.

One of the main issues businesses and organizations grapple with is customer service. Top authority on customer service, Micah Solomon, sits down with Dr. Diane Hamilton to share how we can overcome this problem and create great customer experience. Author of the book, Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away), he lets us in on how he delivers turnaround customer service to organizations, starting with its culture, and cites some great examples of big companies who do exceptionally with their customer service.

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer Service


We have Dr. Peter Hirst and Micah Solomon here. Dr. Hirst is a Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management and Micah is the top authority on customer service. He’s got a book and it is titled interestingly enough, Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away).

Listen to the podcast here

Bringing Technology To Education With Dr. Peter Hirst

I am here with Dr. Peter Hirst who leads a team of professionals who partner with clients and faculty at the Sloan School of Management. What he does is develop, design, and deliver innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies. He’s the Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education there, a former CEO of commercialization consulting, and executive education business of the London School of Economics. He’s got quite a background so this is exciting to have you here. Dr. Hirst, thank you.

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

I watched a lot of your videos. I love a lot of the things that could be coming up in the future of education. I’ve taught many courses in different forms of education that I’m fascinated with what you can take online. I’ve had many people say great things about your Artificial Intelligence Implications for Business Strategy course. You do some amazing things at MIT. I want to get a little background on you what led to you getting from London to MIT.

I’ve had a nonlinear career history. I started out with getting a PhD in Physics at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I was working as a physics researcher for a while. That happenstance of seeing and applying for an unusual looking role led to me jumping out of academia or going to work in science policy in the British Parliament. My job was to become an expert in all kinds of fields and topics and help parliamentarians understand what the policy issues were in that. That was change the direction number one. Change in the direction number two got me a little bit into the social sciences and the hard sciences because I was recruited from there by the London School of Economics to help them set up a consulting business, a professional services firm that would use the LSEs faculty and academic capabilities. That brought me firmly into the social sciences and into the business and management space. One of the businesses that I set up there was an executive education business for the LSE. This is way back around the dot-com boom that included doing some deals that would develop online learning management education programs even that long ago.

None of those businesses at that time succeeded. They were perhaps a decade or two ahead of their time. That was the early granting for me and beginning to think about not only how do we take all this fantastic knowledge and expertise that we have in our schools of business and management and bring those out into application in the world to be useful. I’m beginning to think about how we want to scale that thing by using online and digital learning techniques. Fast forward, I left that role after a few years and thought of doing some private independent strategy consulting, helping LSE and other universities think about their international strategy. During that time, I moved to Boston.

One of the universities I was fascinated to learn more about was and tried to work with was MIT. I was lucky enough to be recruited by the then head of executive education at the Sloan School back in 2007 to join her team and help build the Exec Ed Business at Sloan, which had been around in some form for decades but was now set to grow and expand. This is the longest I’d been in a similar role in the same organization in my career. It’s a great place for me to be doing this because at MIT, I get to live my inner geek life from my early days as a physicist as well as make use of what I’ve learned about management and leadership. Helping build these kinds of educational programs that are not only knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but focused on helping individuals and organizations do something better and more effectively with the ideas, tools, concepts and the frameworks that our faculty are developing.

We're in an era where success requires distributed leadership and distributed skill sets that you can deploy in very agile ways. Click To Tweet

I love the inner geek comment because you research plasma physics and microwave engineering. Do you wake up one day and go, “I want to study plasma physics and microwave engineering?” I understand it completely because I have this inner geek thing. When I went to Boston, the only thing I wanted to see was the MIT Campus. When I got there, it’s normal, there’s nothing that unusual about it. You feel like you’re near this center of genius as you’re there. I watched some of your videos of some of the things and some of them were a little older. I liked the one from 2016 where you talked about telepresence robots and how people could attend campus and even use these kinds of things in telemedicine. What are some of the coolest tech you’ve had to deal with? That reminded me of an episode of Big Bang. They have shown something similar where the character of Sheldon walked around in this robotic presence. What are the coolest things you could have seen being at MIT?

In terms of the technology we’re using ourselves in Executive Education, we’re still working with telepresence robots and we’ve been acquiring more of them and partnering with some of the companies that develop them. There are ways that enabling people to be in two places at one time for all kinds of business reasons can be incredibly valuable, beneficial, and serve applications in flexible work and remote work. They are coming to the role of us in terms of assistive technology and enabling people with physical disabilities that make it difficult for them to travel internationally. For example, to be able to have an on-campus, in-classroom, or in-laboratory experience at a place like MIT continues to be both a fascinating but rewarding way not to be using technology because we’re MIT and we could use technology, but to solving a problem that would be hard to solve in any other way.

It is a tech. The robotics is quite sophisticated. The robots we have used artificial intelligence to help with navigation. We’ve taken delivery of another robot that does that thing, but also has more artificial intelligence built-in from the point of view of being able to do things not only to navigate autonomously around the building and around the classroom. It’s to recognize people and faces you encounter along the way. If you’re a remote person, it can help you almost having a buddy on-site, but it’s a robot not a person. That’s quite cool.

Another technology that you might’ve read about that we have done some experiments with for a few years now is building learning environments inside virtual collaboration systems. Think about something like second life, which most people are familiar with that are more business-appropriate are a platform for that. That helps solve not having to travel way of getting together but getting together with a rich interactive experience that psychologically makes people feel they are together somewhere. They interact with each other in a different way. It’s not the same as being in-person. It’s almost a third way of being. That’s been exciting. In my view, the experiments that we were doing with that were also somewhat ahead of their time. There was a big wow factor to the people that were using that technology then.

As we start seeing increasing useable augmented reality or virtual reality, we’ve now got that as a capability on our cell phones. Some of us, we’re going to see hopefully a resurgence or renewed interest in how can we create these blended learning environments, which are a mix of physical and virtual in a variety of ways. The conversation will move from can we get to 50% of the quality of the experience that you could have if you could get together in-person to how we’re using technology to have experiences of interacting with each other.

In this case, learning together, but working together that exceeds what you can do in a traditional in-person work or learning environment. That’s going to be tremendously exciting. The whole area of augmentation whether it’s visual or audible augmentation. We sometimes run meetings and classes where we have to have translators and translation or multi-language materials. We’re on the verge of seeing how automation is going to make that much more accessible to many more organizations and people as much more routine things that will do. There’s much room for an opportunity for experimentation now and it will become ubiquitous. It’s becoming affordable.

If you think about the development toolkits that are out there now, many of the major technology platforms and companies are beginning to make publicly available essentially. It’s Google, Apple, or other tech platforms like Microsoft and Amazon which means you don’t need to have the expertise in-house from a technology point of view to be able to develop these extremely advanced looking technologies. It’s about configuring things and plugging them together. That’s a different skill set, which is also scarce but it’s also going to be powerful in terms of what we see and many more people being able to do an experiment with using technology. There’s tremendous excitement.

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer Service
Delivering Exceptional Customer Service: We don’t have to fundamentally change the culture of the place at all. In fact, we can embrace the culture of a place and be right.


You had mentioned in that video I had referred to 3D glasses and different things. All these things could incorporate to create such a great experience. You also have been involved in open source movement in the past. Richard Stallman was on my show and he was concerned about having all this access to information. You even mentioned facially-recognizing people as you go through campus. How do you feel about the security of everything? Do you have an Echo? Do you worry about this stuff?

I do worry about them in a variety of ways. One of the organizations that we’ve been involved with and helped set up for the Internet of Things Talent Consortium. With companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, places like MIT, science is all getting together to try to see whether we could bring industry and academia and others together to solve this complex problem of what talent do we need to make these things a reality. There was a time at the start of that the feeling was there was a real shortage of technical and engineering talent skillsets. What we’ve discovered in talking with each other and exploring that is that it is true. One of the big areas that there’s a lot of concern is the way that a lot of the components of that, its Internet of Things infrastructure have a variety of historical reasons being built in a way where it’s neither open nor secure. It’s the worst of both worlds. There are lots of concerns about that. You get to have a lot of concerns as well about what’s happening with all of the data that is being created about us and by us.

Where is all that going? Who owns it? How much of that is now being done essentially in a just-in-case way rather with a clear understanding of why we are collecting this data. What will we do with it? There’s a significant sense in which perhaps we’ve already lost control of that and so that is a concern. It certainly makes me be much more cautious personally in what I put out there and how I put it out there. That’s personal, from a professional point of view in my line of work and in your line of work, we have to engage through social media and putting ourselves, information, and data out there as well. It’s a balancing act and it feels a little schizophrenic. I’d like my private life to be private. My professional life is no more public than it’s ever been.

It’s a strange thing and it’s hard to create content without keeping that in mind. I remember, I used to be in the MBA Program Chair at Forbes School of Business and one of the last things I created before I left was content with Forbes about brand publishing and all these things. The complexity of technology was staggering to me and the marketing field and you’re dealing with it in many different ways. I’ve had blockchain experts and all these people on the show. I think about what I would incorporate now if I was to continue to do the things I did with the MBA program. You look in the papers and they say MBA programs are not interested in those anymore. Younger generations are more interested in certificates and quick, small bites. Everybody wants to get instant knowledge. How do you develop these programs? You’ve got a lot of credit for coming up with these great programs for the last couple of years. I know how long it takes to develop programs from developing curriculum and all the thousands of courses of stuff I’ve taught. It takes a long time and you’re trying to foresee a job that may not even exist yet that you’re training people for. How complicated is that?

That is quite a challenge. For historical reasons, we’re quite a fortunate situation in one respect being at MIT and at MIT Sloan. It’s always been the case that we’ve tended to focus more on teaching people how to think about and understand whatever the technology or the business challenge or the management issue of the day is rather than teaching a specific tool. An example of that would be a decade ago or more, there was an enormous amount of energy around teaching Six Sigma and certifying people in that. We never jumped on that particular bandwagon. Instead, what our faculty was much more interested in doing was understanding why does that system work in many companies but not all companies? Why does Toyota still to this day manage to be much more successful with the Toyota Management System? Only 1 or 2 other companies have ever managed to enjoy that groundbreaking success. Those in manufacturing or in knowledge-based businesses, there are examples like that. The translation of that into this question of how we teach people what they need to be prepared for jobs in the future where those jobs don’t even exist.

In our case, the reason that we feel that we can do that is the critical thinking and the processed-based skillsets and the ability to be agile, resilient, and to keep integrated into continuing to learn. To be oriented to the understanding we’re where in an era where success requires distributed leadership and distributed skillsets that you can deploy in agile ways. The management skills and the ways of thinking about organizations and thinking about how organizations get things done are more timeless, but they certainly are much more lasting. Happily, MIT and the Sloan School is the place where that way of looking at the world and thinking about the world is be more interesting for our faculty and what their research typically focused on as well. I consider myself fortunate to be at a place where you’re well-positioned to be able to respond to these developments and these questions. We don’t have to change the culture of the place at all fundamentally. In fact, we can embrace the culture of a place and we’d be well-equipped to deal with those questions.

Every individual customer is irreplaceable. If you kiss them off or if you ignore them, they're gone. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting how you’ve done that because in my research in curiosity, my desire was to create an assessment to determine the things that keep people from being curious. What you’re saying is what’s the missing piece out there is developing this curiosity that so many people have had inhibited. I was surprised that there wasn’t a better way of determining what stopped us from being curious. That’s why I worked on my research. What are you doing to ensure that people are more curious? Where do you see curiosity in that whole list of skills?

Until a couple of years ago, my answer is some way in a limited way, bringing people to the MIT campus to learn whether it’s in open-enrollment public programs or working with companies facing this challenge themselves. Together with the insights that our faculty can bring have shown themselves time and again, and our approach to learning, which is learning by making the hands-on approach as well. It inspires, ignites and enables what we see over and over again that energy from people. There’s some selection bias in that. I suppose people who are attracted to come to study in management at the Sloan School or even companies that are attracted to work with us may be self-selecting towards a tendency to being excited by the possibilities of what they see. It’s not as the possibility of the technology that they see. It’s something about sampling and being able to viscerally understand the culture of a place like MIT, which is such a can-do anything empowerment. There’s almost no challenge or no problem that you can find someone at MIT, no matter how intractable it is, that isn’t willing to say, “That’s what we do.” Easy problems, others can do. We should do hard problems. Exposing people to that has been shown over and over again to be a powerful way to do that. The second part of the answer is what does that mean as we’re starting to do these online programs? We’re not bringing people to campus as part of those programs.

We do try hard to imbue some sense of what the experience is like. It’s not all filmed in the studio. We do try to go to different locations on campus. We do try to bring not just the management faculty but others in, and if you’ve seen any of you don’t like courses, we have lots of example interviews that we’ll do with the technologists and business leaders. We do try to make the programs still interactive even though they’re online so people aren’t sitting at a computer, watching a screen. There’s a certain amount of that we have to go away and they can do things. We also work hard to do that in a way, even though these are in some cases large classes with several hundred people going through a cohort at the same time to create both a technology platform, but also a system in which people are encouraged to interact with each other as learners. We know from the physical world, that’s an important dimension of learning at all ages especially for the experienced mid-career people we’re typically dealing with.

It’s all an interesting field in education. You were talking about that empowerment and I love that. In a way, I wonder what happens if you get that experience. You go into a corporate setting where they don’t embrace the same thing as the problem. Trying to get that culture from the top and companies is important. I remember talking years ago about the future of education with somebody who wrote a book about it. He was talking about how we’re going to pick and choose what we want instead of having programs as we have now. I don’t know if they’ll keep track of them through blockchain or however they’re going to keep track of what you’ve taken and what you haven’t taken. I might take something at MIT and another thing at Harvard and another thing here. If we pick and choose and have certificate programs, are we losing the glue of humanities and soft skills somehow in that?

That’s a good thing to worry about. It also depends on understanding what someone’s motivation for engaging in that learning experience is. There clearly is a role for specific skills development, maybe to some extent certification of those things. We’re absolutely seeing this idea of stackable qualifications including increasing organizations and maybe academic institutions in due course that will be willing to recognize the skills developments and training that you have obtained from other sources. There will be increasing mechanisms based on blockchain. That’s the technology, the missing piece there still. We looked into this with the Talent Consortium and it’s a big challenge, who you have. Did you need to be equivalent of a rating agency for all of us learning so that we can create it from a learner’s perspective and there can be a market in it? That’s still a challenge. If anything, that’s getting more and more confusing. The solution to that many people and employers therefore fall back on has something to do with branding and they have to think about what a brand is in any commercial of activity. It’s useful in situations where it’s hard for customers to discern the extrinsic value as it were or the product and so you rely on the reputation of the brand. That’s absolutely what we see at the moment.

That’s why it has been not only MIT that by now about all of the other institutions have been developing similar programs. They’re able to because of the reputations of their institutions and people place a lot of trust still in that. That’s a sacred responsibility for us in how we’re doing as well. We need to absolutely preserve not only the value of the experience from the individual learner’s point of view as if it were our customer but we’re also responsible for the custody of the reputation of our institutions in what we do and how we do it. You’ll pull up this whole thing with the case, we feel a responsibility to be involved in the conception, development and delivery of these programs. If we’re going to put the MIT Sloan name against them, then there’s an onus on us to do that. That means going back to the extent that we believe that to have education and learning value, it’s not just about the content and the technical proficiency in the particular subject. It’s understanding the so what and that contextualization. That’s where the question that you’re asked about the liberal arts or social science and of ethics and human side of all of this can still be preserved.

This is important information to talk about and I appreciate you sharing all of this. Congratulations on being named a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. That’s quite an honor. I was honored that you wanted to share some of your experiences with my audience. Thank you so much for being on the show. Is there a link or some way you want to have somebody contact you?

It’s a pleasure. The best place to find me is on the MIT Sloan Executive Education website, You can find all of our social networking links and the vast amount of information about our programs, some of which we’ve been talking about here. We’d be happy to answer any more questions anyone might have.

Thank you so much, Dr. Hirst. This was interesting.

Delivering Exceptional Customer Service With Micah Solomon

I am here with Micah Solomon, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on customer service, the customer service experience, the consumer trends, hospitality company culture, you name it. He’s a consultant, keynote speaker, trainer and he has a book that I’m interested in called Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience. It’s nice to have you here, Micah.

It’s great to be here, Diane.

I was looking forward to this. I teach a lot of courses that deal with customer experience, marketing courses, those types of things. You’ve been considered an expert in this area. I’ve seen you in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Business Week, you name it. I am fascinated by your book because you’re helping organizations turnaround customer service, which is huge because without customer service, there are a lot of problems. I want to find out how you got interested in this. Did you wake up one day and go, “I want to be a customer service expert when I grow up?” How did you get into this?

There are two answers to that question. Both of them are true. The answer I give everyone else is that I created a manufacturing company from scratch. It became quite successful and our product would have been very much in the commodity danger zone. We always distinguished ourselves through customer service and by providing an amazing customer experience. When I sold that company, I thought that a way to reinvent myself was to take this core competency that I had and start teaching other people about that. I wrote my first book as a collaboration with a brilliant gentleman from the Ritz Carlton hotel company. That book is called Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. I started consulting. I became known as the customer service turnaround expert. I’ve turned around some fantastic companies. The companies that call me to overhaul their customer experience generally are good already. For example, Southwest would call me, but Ryanair probably wouldn’t because they found another way to make a buck. They don’t understand the value of the customer experience or they found a niche group of customers who can hold their nose and hold it in for the whole flight as the CEO of Ryanair was suggesting they were going to charge a quarter at one point for the toilet, though they got some pushback on that one.

These companies are already doing well and know the value of the customer experience, but they want to know why things have fallen off since the beginning and ignore your customers and they’ll go away. I show you how to look at this yourself, but I can tell you what I find. What I find is that in the early days when every customer was considered valuable, they were getting personal follow-ups. They were getting the service adapted to the customer. As you grow, you may start to think there’s an infinite supply of customers out there, just have a good marketing department and good salespeople. I’m here to tell you that every individual customer is irreplaceable. If you kiss them off or if you ignore them, they’re gone. In this era, when customer service is the new marketing, they’re going to take with them their friends and everyone with whom they talk about you, whether it’s on Facebook, what I call word of marketing is powerful.

I promised you the other answer to why I got into this. I have all my life been very particular. My parents found a letter from my counselors at Summer Camp when I was a pre-teen, what we call a tween nowadays. They’re giving good customer service. They were providing this letter and how Micah’s summer was to my parents. They weren’t going to say anything too terrible, but they did say, “We have enjoyed the rigorous pleasure of having Micah here for the summer. We will, in a sense, miss his commentary on how the sloppy joes don’t pair with orange juice, how the waterfront was slightly out of tune and so forth. We are both somber about and pleased to return him to your care,” something like that.

What did your parents say about that growing up? Were you a difficult child?

I don’t think they ever showed me that letter directly. I think I found it. My dad was a healthcare professional, he was a psychiatrist. His version of it was a little gentler.

It’s funny because my degrees are in business and not psychology. A lot of people think that. I focus on psychology-based issues because I’m fascinated by all of that as well. It’s fascinating to see the behavioral aspects of why people do the things they do. I want to know why and how this works and all this. When you’re talking about some of these companies, turnaround stories being like Southwest are one that would call you. I get a lot of experts on the show and I’ll ask them, “Your culture, if it’s at the top, is it great?” The companies like that are the ones who know that it’s important to get better. One’s not like that won’t call because the culture is already there. They either surround themselves sometimes with yes men, yes women, and they don’t realize that culture is the problem. If somebody’s reading this and they’re the problem, how do you get them to know that they’re the problem? They think the culture is fine because everybody around them is telling them it’s fine. That’s a tough one because it doesn’t help to start from the bottom-up. The guy or girl at the top have got to figure this out, don’t they?

Both things are true. If I were turning around a company, I would strive to make it be purpose-driven. You can only do that if the people at the top agree on the purpose. If you don’t get a statement of purpose or a mission statement that is pages long and full of jargon that some consultant wrote for you with your help on a retreat and then it goes into the drawer to gather dust. Do you need a purpose statement that everyone believes in, that it’s short enough to be memorable and long enough to be meaningful? You also can give yourself the best shot of providing exceptional service building a culture of customer service. If you do the right hiring because then you’re giving yourself the best possibility that you’ll have a customer-focused or potentially customer-focused employees if you at the top also make it clear that’s the focus that you want.

You do bring some real company names in your book: Virgin, Zappos, Drybar. My husband and I make a joke every time I go by a Drybar. I go, “I want to try that.” I say it to him every time. It was a joke now. These are good examples. Zappos comes up a lot in the courses I teach, so does Southwest. Some of these are common ones. My students, we do a lot of talking about servant leadership and different things and certain companies come to mind. Zappos, Amazon, Whole Foods, and all these combination companies are interesting to me when they get together. How does customer service change when you see them combined? Did you talk to Zappos pre or post-Amazon?

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer Service
Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience

That’s an issue I don’t discuss it in a book, but Tony Hsieh of Zappos told me being owned by Amazon for him has been like having a new board of directors. He only talks with Jeff and the crew every quarter maybe. They’ve certainly left Zappos alone. They’re not leaving Whole Foods alone. That’s a whole different question and I don’t have a whole lot of insight on this.

These companies are examples of building exceptional customer service. Why do you pick them? What do they do that stands out in your mind?

I don’t necessarily use Zappos the way other writers do. I do tell them the often-told story about the ten-hour phone call, but in Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away), I only have one question for Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. It was definitely a question he was not expecting and it was, “Did the employee ever get a bathroom break?”

Give it a little background on that.

The ten-hour phone calls are these famous things that Zappos is always telling about itself or people and writers are always referring to. A potential customer called in and had some questions about UGGs. It apparently hit it off wonderfully with the agent at Zappos on the phone and they spoke for 10 hours. This is an example that writers and consultants use all the time. If you’re in business and you’re not owned by Amazon, this sounds maybe the dumbest story you’ve ever heard. I tried to get at what was the heart of the point of the call. The heart to me is that this is a flag that Zappos is hoisting high in the air to say, “We will go to any length to make a connection with our customers.” It’s similar to the legendary, and I’m here to tell you probably not true, story about Nordstrom giving a refund for the tires when someone brought them back to their first store in Alaska. Whether that story is true or not, it’s an important story in the Nordstrom culture because it says that we will do anything for our customers. These are iconic stories within the companies.

The nitty-gritty point of the Zappos ten-hour call is something more modest but important, which is that there is always breathing space in the way Zappos does customer service. A typical contact center will have what’s called 80% agent occupancy, which means they’re tightly scheduled. Even if there is no time limit on how long a call can go, they need to keep it within parameters if the whole system goes sideways. At Zappos, they only operate at 40% or 60% agent occupancy. This means that a call can go even 10-hours over what would be expected. It’s fine, it’s not going to throw the whole operation out of whack. The more commonly it will be like the fantastic Madison who I listened to at Zappos. I have her conversation verbatim in the book. It’s an older woman who has narrow feet and is frustrated having narrow   feet, finding something even slightly dressy to wear to a kid’s wedding that’s not going to make her miserable all day. Madison immediately bonds with this and says, “Narrows are the worst. I have this aunt with narrow feet and I swear every other call that we have, we end up talking about it. I know how miserable you must be.”

They become best friends forever right away, even though they’re different ages. They have not clearly anything in common except they both know how horrible the experience of having narrow feet is. She won Zappos as a customer for life. It’s clear. The other companies you asked about, let me hit a couple. The Drybar was featured in the book because what they’re selling could be a total commodity for $40, $45. If you’re in New York City, you get your hair dried and styled, washed and styled. It could easily become a commodity. They choreograph everything. They have a cinematic approach to customer experience. Everything is carefully thought out, down to the movies they pick. They’ve done what they can to mitigate the sound level. They’ve invented their own little adorable hairdryers that are a little quieter than the industry norm. There is, and this is my favorite example, a hook for your handbag on every seat in a Drybar. That’s why I talk about it. That’s one of the points is that I list a ton of things that make Drybar different. I don’t expect and they don’t expect the customer to know it either, to notice it either. They notice that they love it and they want to come back.

They’re popular here in Arizona. They’re everywhere. It’s interesting to see the success of some of these companies. That’s a great example. Did you have one for Virgin? That was the other one I had asked you.

The Virgin brand, specifically Virgin Hotels, that’s in the section on providing an automatic yes, building a culture of yes. In great companies like Nordstrom or Virgin Hotel, you have this feeling when you walk in that the answer’s going to be yes. That’s why that example in Nordstrom of even giving you a refund for tires when you don’t sell tires is important. Virgin brands, their hotel brand was based in part on the fact that Richard was particular about how his tea is prepared. That was the only little British quirk I noticed. Other than that, he’s down to earth. He’s friends with his mom. It’s going to be disappointing to some people out there, but I am going to out him as someone who always travels with his wife and only hangs out with models professionally.

I hope that doesn’t disappoint any gentlemen out there or women who wanted to emulate what they thought was Branson’s lifestyle. He was disappointed with a lot of things in hotels he would stay at. He and the CEO of Virgin Hotels, who’s a fantastic gentleman named Raul Leal, decided that when he had their own hotels, they were going to do things differently. One of the things they did differently is the minibar has what they call street prices. A Snickers bar isn’t $2.65 or whatever the ridiculous price is, but the one that I talk about in the book is that they have these telephones throughout the hotel in your guest room or they call it a chamber and also out in the hallways that just have one button on them.

Other than the alphanumeric keypad, there’s only one additional button and it says, “Yes!” in cartoonishly large red lettering. This is because when Raul and Richard would stay at other hotels, they would be assaulted with twelve options for what to press whether it’s a bell stand or housekeeping and so forth, which they thought of, at least I picture as being eleven chances to hit the wrong button. They decide they’re going to be one button and if you press it, you are going to get a wonderful answer right away. The first ring was with someone with a fake British accent saying, “Yes,” and then getting me whatever I needed.

Customer service is the new marketing. Click To Tweet

This shows two principles. One is the idea of automatic positivity. We’ve all encountered companies when they’re looking for a way to say no. If your default position is yes, it works a lot better with the exceptions of safety, privacy, and security. I don’t want you to automatically say yes when someone asks if it’s okay if they prop up the door to the gate of your swimming pool or put their chair in front of a lighted emergency exit. That’s what I’m talking about or over-serve you at the bar. Those are all real examples where you shouldn’t have a default of yes. For everything else, everything that’s not security, safety, or privacy-related, this default of yes is powerful.

Even business to business where the contracts are complex. If they’re an architecture firm with always like, “Yes, absolutely,” they would go broke because everything is a line item and you need to stick to the contract because the quality of the screws that are used is something that may be in the contract. In those kinds of building trades, complex, contracts, skill, if your default is that, “Yes, we’re going to find a way to do this for our client, it might not be free but it is going to happen.” It goes a lot better.

I’m curious about the next Ritz-Carlton they’re building by my house.

There’s already a great one in Arizona but it’s closer to Tucson, Dove Mountain.

It’s unbelievable. Have you seen it?

That was unbelievable too. There are some great examples from it in the book, but I can’t wait for the new one.

What are some of your examples from the book of the one in Tucson, to look forward to in the one in Paradise Valley?

The one called Dove Mountain is in the Sonoran Desert. The example is that a family went there and the only thing the Ritz-Carlton knew about them was that it was one of their kids’ birthdays. That birthday kid was a big fan of the Hobbit of JRR Tolkien. This is an example of providing wow customer service. This is the chapter on the Power of Wow. The example is that the family is asked to come down to the lobby for a “minute.” When they get there, there are all these Ritz-Carlton employees standing there smiling with good posture ready to take them on what turns out to be a twilight quest. They go out on this property, which has hundreds of acres. Some of it is owned by the government, but hundreds of available acres in the desert. They go on this quest and they keep turning up additional scrolls to tell them what to do. Finally, one of the employees says, “Look over there.” They look. It looks like this famous scene in one of the Hobbit movies where the dwarfs go down a waterfall inside a barrel.

What it turns out to be is a water slide into the pool, but it’s far enough off and the twilight is deep enough that the illusion works. The whole thing’s amazing. How can we get some wow at our business? You have to do everything the Ritz-Carlton did, which hired the right people, give them a lot of the breathing space that I was talking about in terms of Zappos. They have to be encouraged to take time off from their regular jobs. Herve Humler, who is one of the founders of the Ritz-Carlton, said that he tries to get across to his employees. It’s empowerment. These are my words and not him, “It’s not like sprinkling on the top of a sundae. It is your job to be empowered. It’s your job to find the time and even to use our money to create these kinds of experiences for our guests.”

That takes curiosity.

It did because the employees even asked him of this because this example came up and they said, “We didn’t know the names of the characters in the Hobbit and we didn’t know how to write this clause like old English and such, but we researched it, we learned and that’s how we pulled it off.”

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer Service
Delivering Exceptional Customer Service: If you do the right hiring, then you’re giving yourself the best possibility that you’ll have customer-focused employees.


Finding out what it is that’s important to people and that takes a lot of questions. It builds empathy and all of the stuff you’re talking about ties into all this stuff I’m interested in. I was anxious to talk to you. This has been so much fun, Micah. A lot of people will want to read your amazing book. How can they do that? How can they reach you? Is there some link or something you want to share?

The complete name of the book is Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience, which works both ways, by the way. If it’s the customer you despise, it might be easier to get rid of them than anyone who wants to admit. It’s written as a playbook. Every chapter ends with a summary. As long as you buy the book, you can fool so you’re not cheating me. You can cheat everyone else by just reading the summary and you’ll learn a lot. There are questions in case you want to read it in your business reading group. There’s already suggested questions at the end of that. It’s available for preorder and the URL is and that will give you either a free chapter, a large preview that I got permission from the publisher to give you and also links to purchase it at Amazon or at independent booksellers. If you want more info about me, it’s Everything about my customer service turnaround consulting, my keynote speaking and my other books.

He’s the customer service turnaround expert. You can always find him by searching both of that with the name if you can’t find it. Micah, this has been so much fun. Thank you for being on the show.

Thank you, Diane. I appreciate it.

It was my pleasure.

I’d like to thank both Dr. Hirst and Micah for being my guests. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to you can find everything you need there. Look at the top for all the dropdown menus. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Dr. Peter Hirst

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer ServiceDr. Peter Hirst is the Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management. Dr. Hirst leads the team of professionals who partner with clients and faculty at the MIT Sloan School of Management to develop, design, and deliver innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies. Formerly CEO of the commercialization, consulting, and executive education business of the London School of Economics, he has over fifteen years of experience in international strategy, technology consulting and organizational development.

He has also served as a director and board adviser to businesses and non-profit organizations on three continents. He is a past president of the British American Business Council of New England, for which he currently serves as a board director and a founding member of its Energy and Environment Committee, and is a trustee of the American Foundation of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

About Micah Solomon

TTL 646 | Delivering Exceptional Customer ServiceMicah Solomon is one of the world’s leading authorities on customer service, the customer experience, consumer trends, hospitality, and company culture. He is a consultant, keynote speaker, trainer, and training designer in these subjects, and the author of many books including, Ignore Your Customers (And They’ll Go Away) The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience.

Companies in every industry call on him to mystery shop and transform their company’s customer service, and bottom-line results—and he is known as “the customer service turnaround expert.” Solomon is a senior contributor to and his expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Inc., Bloomberg Businessweek, ABC, CBS, and NBC.


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