Secret Service Summit | Customer Service Conference

A Superb Customer Service Conference: The Secret Service Summit

I had the pleasure of attending the DiJulius Group’s Secret Service Summit last week. While many of my fellow bloggers were attending Blogworld in sunny Los Angeles, I decided to head a different direction entirely. After all, what’s better than November in Cleveland, Ohio?

It turns out that if you’re into customer service, not much.

The two day summit was filled with speakers who have lived the customer experience from different perspectives. Large company service experts such as Craig Russell of Starbucks and Michael Coburn of Nestle brought both B2C and B2B execution to the forefront, while speakers such as Dick Hoyt and David Wagner provided incredible inspiration.

Below is a a recap of the content from the conference. It will give you a sense of a customer service conference agenda, along with quick highlights and key takeaways to give you a sense of what you can expect if you want to attend next year’s Secret Service Summit.

Day 1: A Customer Service Conference with a Standing Ovation

Michale Caito, Restaurants on the RunMichael CaitoPresident & CEO, Restaurants on the Run, a multi-restaurant catering and delivery company that delivers over 150,000 meals per month. Mike told a great story about turning around Restaurants on the Run. His job matrix, which simplified the accountability and vital factors for customer care positions in the company was illuminating. Also, I was impressed to see that Mike was one of the few people tweeting during the Summit.

Key Takeaway: Using a report to track vital factors monthly.



Michael Coburn, NestleMichael CoburnDirector, Customer Service at Nestle USA. Coburn spoke a lot about the challenge of instituting a customer service mindset in a large company that is not forward facing to consumers. It was a fascinating look at a business whose products we all know but whose business we know little about.

Great Idea: Nestle actually has branded mirrors at each phone reps’ station so reps can see if they are smiling when they are talking on the phone.



Craig Russell, StarbucksCraig RussellSenior Vice President for U.S. Store Operations Services at Starbucks. Russell spoke a great deal about the transformation of Starbucks in 2008. Most fascinating was the breakdown of Starbucks’ work with John DiJulius to rewrite its mission statement and to create its customer service vision statement. The statement itself was takeaway enough.

Key Takeaway: “We create inspired moments in each customer’s day.”



Jack Mackey, Service Management Group Jack MackeyVice President at Service Management Group (SMG), where he helps companies guide and energize their people to deliver remarkable service. Some of you might have heard of Mackey before, as he is a popular speaker. And now I know why. He was a true pro — both funny and insightful. Mackey had so many great bite-sized takeaways that I will probably be quoting him in my Monthly Mashup for years to come.

Key Takeaway: “All business is personal. It goes where it’s invited and stays where it’s appreciated.”


Dick HoytDick Hoyt – Team Hoyt is an inspirational story of a father, Dick Hoyt, and his son, Rick, who compete together in marathons and triathlons across the country. There is really nothing I can say about Dick Hoyt, except that he is an incredible human being. The video below says more than I ever could about his story and message. If you do not take a good look at yourself after hearing his story, then you truly lack the capacity for introspection.

The team at the DiJulius Group wisely scheduled Mr. Hoyt as the last presenter of Day 1, and he was granted an extremely powerful standing ovation. A note to professional speakers everywhere: Make sure you never follow Dick Hoyt on stage. Unless your name is Bill Clinton or Tony Robbins, you probably won’t be able to pull it off.

Key Takeaway: We can all do better.


Day Two: The Heart of Secret Service

John DiJulius, Customer Service SpeakerJohn DiJuliusBest-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker, and President of The DiJulius Group. John, of course, spoke numerous times throughout the conference. On Day 2, he led a workshop drilling down into some of his core teachings, such as having a service vision and focusing on service aptitude when hiring.

Key Takeaway: Create non-negotiable standards for your team using an Always and Never list.


Panel Discussion: An interesting panel discussion covering a wide range of topics. Panelists included:

  • Rick Sonkin: Managing Partner of Sonkin and Koberna Co., LPA
  • Melissa Gottlieb: Vice President of Sales, Smart Business Network
  • Ron Higgins: President, Cogneato
  • Darlene Campagna: President, Direct Opinions
  • Ellen Jo Plass: Executive VP, TLC Laser Eye Centers
  • Dr. Dawn Hoslted: SR VP, TLC Laser Eye Centers

Key Takeaway: Email is not for communication; it’s for documentation. (We should all remember this one.)


Mark Moraitakis, Chick-Fil-AMark MoraitakisDirector of Service Innovations, Chick-fil-A. There is nothing quite like the retail environment, and it was truly illuminating to see the outlook on service Moraitakis and his team have instilled in the Chick-Fil-A organization. He also shared the company’s customer service training video, which readers of this blog are familiar with.

Key Takeaway: When your product is no longer unique, it is your service that will distinguish you.


Matt Stewart, National Services GroupMatt StewartCo CEO of National Services Group which operates College Works Painting and Empire Community Construction. Stewart told an interesting story about how a severely disgruntled customer waged a war against their company and brand and how they turned things around to make sure that never happens again.

Key Takeaway: Savor contrarian opinion and learn from it.


David Wagner, Life as a DaymakerDavid Wagner  – David Wagner is the best-selling author of Life as a Daymaker: How to Change the World by Simply Making Someone’s Day. Wagner’s message was more inspirational than instructional, and his speech told the story of his becoming a “Daymaker” and remaining one even as he battled cancer.

Key Takeaway: Whose day will you make today?


Final Thoughts

In the end, the Secret Service Summit was about both usable content and inspirational messaging. I have attended many conferences in the past few years, and I can say that I have never left a conference so excited about the possibilities and so full of actionable ideas. Literally, the biggest challenge we have had is triaging the ideas to figure out what to begin with.

I hope this recap helps those who are interested in customer service and customer experience optimization understand the quality and value of the Secret Service Summit. It is two days that are well worth your time.

Kudos to John DiJulius, Denise Thompson and David Wagner (the other David Wagner) for putting on an incredible event!

If you have any specific questions about the summit, feel free to ask them in the comments below.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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14 replies
  1. Bill Dorman
    Bill Dorman says:

    Sounds like a great event; if you would have been in LA you would have been tempted to play instead of participating in these great meetings.

    There were several ‘things’ I picked up on: “All business is personal. It goes where it’s invited and stays where it’s appreciated.” Yes it does, and we shouldn’t forget that. I also liked: Create non-negotiable standards for your team using an Always and Never list. Not everything is black and white, but there should be some non-negotiable core standards.

    This as well: When your product is no longer unique, it is your service that will distinguish you. And: Whose day will you make today?

    It does sound you have quite a lot to sift through and can develop some action items to carry you forward.

    Finally, I thought everyone had a mirror on their phone; in fact, I have them all over the place. I wouldn’t want to miss out on any greatness, right?………..:)

    Good post, good info; thanks for sharing today.

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      It was truly a great conference. Glad you liked the takeaways; there were some really excellent points and insights. And yes, sifting through it all will be the biggest challenge.

      I figured you had fun house mirrors all over your office — that way you never know who you’re going to see! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Shakirah Dawud
    Shakirah Dawud says:

    Bill stole both quotes I was going to talk about (good points, Bill), but I have to add I found that when I refer a customer to someone else, they tend to come back–like boomerangs, almost. And I have to conclude that it’s because of Mark Moraitakis’s quote.

    Also, I keep every email I send and receive from clients and potential clients in a special folder. I believe whole-heartedly in using it as documentation, since we can’t record phone calls.

    Thanks for sharing the conference with us, Adam.

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      I like the boomerang comment Shakirah — I think that’s proof positive that you are doing something right. Moraitakis’ portion was interesting because he was very frank about the competitive sandwiches that were on the market, and how they tasted. Chick-fil-a really believes that their competitive advantage going forward relies in their approach to hospitality.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jenn Whinnem
    Jenn Whinnem says:

    I really like John DiJulius’s advice. That’s great. That way, you always know where you stand – even in weird situations!

    Thanks for sharing this, Adam!

  4. Jack Mackey
    Jack Mackey says:

    Hi Adam – First, thanks for the recognition regarding “All business is personal. It goes where it’s invited and stays where it’s appreciated.” What made the Secret Service Summit so effective was that it was an experiential event where we were immersed in a culture of “above and beyond” service. For example, attendees were escorted to their tables by a Concierge. Over the next two days, the Concierge for our table fulfilled any request and frequently anticipated our needs – bringing a pen to this person, fresh coffee to that person, making introductions to other attendees we wanted to meet. The environment of hospitality was disinctive – and instructive. I not only learned, I made a bunch of new friends! Somehow Adam, among the 350 attendees, you and I did not bump into each other. Hope we will next time!
    Jack Mackey

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      Hi Jack,

      You make a great point about immersion. The DiJulius group really did walk the talk at the summit and created an environment where attendees received great service that far exceeded the expectations of anyone who has been to a “typical” conference.

      I really did get a lot out of your talk and actually, as I intimated above, ended up quoting you again in the November Monthly Mashup. Hope you like the interpretation. 🙂

      Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by Jack! I look forward to connecting with you at next year’s summit.

  5. Michael Coburn
    Michael Coburn says:

    Adam I enjoyed stumbling across your blog and will continue to follow it. It’s nice to see a third party’s view of how the summit came across. I think you really did it justice and I wound up learning far more than I delivered. It was an honor to represent Nestlé and my teammates on stage as they continue to deliver what we call the Nestlé experience.

    At your service,


    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      I appreciate the kind words Michael! And I agree about the amount of learning… our biggest challenge was figuring out where to begin when we got back to the trenches.

      Your presentation truly had some great takeaways, and it was really interesting to see what an iconic company like Nestlé is doing to better its service.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, and I look forward to connecting again.

  6. rowland
    rowland says:

    Excellent post. You really dialed that in. It’s the simple principles that worked for people that have already been where we are heading and desire to be that we should pay close attention to.Thanks for keeping it real and I always look forward to your next post!


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  1. […] in this area from Michael Coburn, Director of Customer Service at Nestle USA, during last year’s Secret Service Summit. Coburn’s […]

  2. […] The DiJulius Group’s Secret Service Summit. After the event, I did a recap of this exciting customer service conference where I listed the speakers and broke down some of the better takeaways from each person. As you […]

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