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Greg Melia’s CX Must-Haves: Empathy, Curiosity, and Storytelling in Customer Service

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In this episode of Experience Matters, Greg Melia, CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA),imparts his vast knowledge of the intricacies of customer experience (CX). Greg emphasizes the importance of empathy, storytelling, and curiosity in CX, stating, “The first key that we need to have is empathy connected with curiosity.”

In this episode, listeners are not only treated to a masterclass in customer experience but also to a narrative-rich exploration of how empathy, curiosity, and storytelling intersect in order to drive business growth.

Key Takeaways From The Episode

  • The Role of Empathy and Curiosity: Greg advocates for fostering a culture of empathy and curiosity within organizations, encouraging employees to actively listen to and engage with customers to improve service delivery and customer satisfaction.
  • Systematic Design for Proactive Solutions: He emphasizes the importance of investing in predictive analytics and customer journey mapping to anticipate customer needs and design proactive solutions.
  • Importance of Aligning Systems to Serve Customers: He highlights the need for regular reviews of internal processes and systems to ensure they are aligned with enhancing customer experience.

Greg Melia serves as the CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA),where he plays a crucial role in nurturing and leading the global CXPA community. With nearly two decades of association management experience, which includes significant leadership roles at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Society of Association Executives, Melia brings a wealth of expertise to his position. 

As a Certified Association Executive, he has been recognized for his contributions to the field, including being named “Young & Aspiring Association Professional” by Association TRENDS in 2009. Melia’s educational background includes degrees from The College of William & Mary and the London School of Economics, complemented by a certificate in creative problem-solving and change leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity. 

Greg Melia

CEO at Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA)

Author Bio

Episode Transcript

Niraj Ranjan Rout: Our guest today is Greg Melia, who is the CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, also known as CXPA. It’s a global nonprofit that works with customer experience professionals through their journey, helping them learn, share their learnings, and simply get better at what they do. I’m really looking forward to talking to Greg and learning from his vast and rich experience.

Greg Melia: Hi, Niraj. Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Niraj: Where are you joining us from today, Greg?

Greg: I’m in Columbia, South Carolina. And it’s a special day—today’s my birthday. So, thanks for making time to be together.

Niraj: Happy birthday, Greg! Let’s dive in. I understand that you have a deep background that crosses over psychology, sociology, and anthropology. How do you find that intertwines with your current focus on customer experience?

Greg: Thank you, Niraj. Yes, I’ve always been interested in how groups come together with a shared mission to accomplish something. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to association management and hospitality as well. But when it comes to customer experience, it wasn’t a term widely used when I was in college. It was first coined in the mid-nineties by Lou Carbone. Discovering CXPA was exciting because it’s a group of people passionate about uniting their customers and companies to serve their customers, employees, and the organization’s bottom line. I found my way here by accident, as many do, but it was also very intentional because I believe we can make the world a better place by getting better results for customers that are also good for businesses.

Niraj: That’s fascinating, Greg. How does your understanding of systems theory and psychology play into your approach to customer experience?

Greg: Psychology is crucial because it helps us consider not just what people physically experience but also their mindset. Customer experience is about understanding an individual’s perception of an organization from the first time they learn about it through every interaction and touchpoint. It’s all about aligning those systems to serve the customer, the organization, and the business, which is at the heart of what we do at CXPA.

Niraj: You’ve mentioned empathy as a critical concept. Could you expand on why that is and how it integrates with your strategy in customer experience?

Greg: Absolutely, Niraj. Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is fundamental. It’s about seeing the world through their eyes, which is crucial for anyone working on the front lines, whether in a contact center or a hotel desk. These are the people who truly understand what’s happening in customers’ lives. We look for empathy when hiring because it’s about caring and committing to better outcomes. But it’s not just about individual interactions; it’s also about designing systems that proactively address customers’ needs, like the examples from my Ritz-Carlton days, where we prepared in advance to meet guests’ needs efficiently.

Niraj: And in terms of building a team or hiring for customer experience, what traits do you prioritize?

Greg: When hiring, especially leaders, I look for storytelling ability, collaboration skills, and resilience. These traits help inspire and bring others along in the journey toward sustained change and improvement. A key interview question I ask is about a time the candidate noticed their organization failing to meet customer expectations and what they did to change the system—not just for that one customer but to prevent future issues.

Niraj: What about the structural aspects? How do you ensure the organization supports customer experience from the top down?

Greg: It’s all about integration and making sure that marketing, sales, operations, and finance all align with the customer experience goals. The leadership must set a clear message and ensure all departments contribute to a seamless customer journey. This comprehensive approach ensures every touchpoint with the customer adds to a positive, memorable experience that encourages long-term loyalty.

Niraj: Thank you for these insights, Greg. It’s clear that a strategic, integrated approach, underpinned by empathy and system design, is key to successful customer experience management. Thank you for joining us and sharing your valuable perspective.

Greg: Thank you, Niraj. I enjoyed discussing these concepts with you and hope they are helpful to your audience. Here’s to making every customer experience count.