“You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world,” Walt Disney once said, “but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” And as wonderful as a vacation in Disney World can be, in my experience, the reason it’s so memorable is those very people.
If you’ve ever spent time at a Disney park, you’ve likely experienced their excellent customer service model. Everyone is committed to delivering the absolute best experience. And in the business of selling millions of magical experiences every day, they’re unparalleled.
After spending the past week taking my kids through Disney World, I was (1) repeatedly impressed with the overall commitment to service, and (2), somewhat disappointed that my own organization falls short of delivering to this same standard.
The importance of delivering a high quality customer experience seems obvious. And a quick look at most company mission statements will show that many claim to prioritize this over everything else. Yet few can compare to Disney’s model.
Because while other companies talk about it. Disney does it. Better than anyone.
Many people attribute this success to management oversight, and the resulting fear of reprisal for those who don’t act the part. Smile and be happy or else you’re fired.
But try forcing someone to be happy and see how long it lasts. It’s like telling someone to laugh on command. Or saying cheese for a picture only to have it come out as a fake, artificial smile.
Fear can be a good motivator, but its influence stops once people reach the minimum acceptable level. If all you’re looking to do is avoid reprisal, then why bother doing more than is necessary?
Fear doesn’t encourage people to go beyond the rules. It doesn’t encourage people to look for opportunities to raise the bar. And, as such, it can’t serve as the primary driver behind the service that Disney consistently delivers.
Instead, it’s the result of a fully committed culture, from top management through every employee, and reinforced through the behaviors that happen each day. Which is good news, because it means that we can all benefit from these same practices to improve our own service models. As Walt once reminded us, “the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
Everyone Understands the Priorities
“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” – Eeyore
From their first day at Disney, employees learn that their primary purpose is to create happiness for their Guests. Every employee is encouraged to consider how he or she can use each interaction to create “magical moments” and give people memories that they’ll happily remember.
Disney prioritizes service objectives over any cost considerations, giving people a mission that’s both meaningful and attainable. But more than simply putting on a smile and going through the motions, they work to treat everyone as an individual, consistent with their service guidelines:
- Be Happy…make eye contact and smile!
- Be like Sneezy…greet and welcome every customer. Spread the spirit of Hospitality. It’s contagious!
- Don’t be Bashful…seek out Guest contact!
- Be like Doc…provide immediate service recovery!
- Don’t be Grumpy…display appropriate body language at all times!
- Be like Sleepy…create DREAMS and preserve the “MAGICAL” Guest experience!
- Don’t be Dopey…thank each and every Guest!
When my son was nervous before going on a roller coaster, one cast member stopped by and offered to hit the slow button for him so it wouldn’t be scary. When my daughter needed a restroom break in the middle of waiting for the new Star Wars ride, a cast member came over and offered to hold our spot in line while I took her. And when a zookeeper at the Animal Kingdom Lodge found out that my son loves animals and wants to be a zookeeper himself when he gets older, she spent the next hour touring us around their savannah and introduced him to the various giraffes, zebras, and antelope.
We all want to be treated as the individuals that we are. And the memories that stand out are often those moments of personal interaction. Disney recognizes this and prioritizes it above all else. So there’s never a shortage of people looking to understand your particular needs and figure out a way to help
Our own employees need to have a mission that’s meaningful to them. Too many companies promote profit or growth objectives that, while necessary, mean very little to employees across the organization. People need to have a mission that they can influence, and after doing so, can both see and be proud of the results. Service missions almost always meet these needs.
And our own customers want this same level of personalization. People remember those moments that someone goes out of their way to make a difference for them. If we want to earn their loyalty, they need to see that we’re treating them as individuals, and not merely a statistic.
Management is Always Engaged
“Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work for me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” – Walt Disney
In every company, the actions of management determine the culture. What management chooses to value and reinforce will always become the standard behavior. Disney makes this a cornerstone of their service model.
Disney employs an annual week-long cross-utilization program, in which executives take jobs in the park and interact directly with the Guests. Whether they’re loading kids onto Dumbo, serving Dole Whips, or patiently helping people who can’t figure out the Fastpass process, they gain direct experience in performing the day-to-day jobs that make the parks run.
This isn’t limited to senior management. I saw many line managers stepping in to help out their people whenever things become busy or there’s an issue. They fully understand the struggles that go into the daily work, because they’re often helping to accomplish that very work.
It’s easy to trivialize someone’s job when you’re not aware of the difficulties they handle each day. It’s easy to marginalize someone when you don’t see the value that they bring with each action. Disney doesn’t let that complacency happen by ensuring their managers understand exactly what it takes to deliver their exceptional Guest experience.
How well do we understand the struggles that many of our employees face each day? What jobs do we find ourselves trivializing because of our limited exposure?
Employees won’t sustain high quality performance if it isn’t recognized and reinforced by their management. And this only comes about if management is engaged and understands the day-to-day actions that make up these jobs.
Everyone is both Responsible and Empowered to Deliver on the Mission
“I’m doing this because I want to do it better.” – Walt Disney
At no point, did I ever hear a Disney Cast Member complain about something. No one ever said that something wasn’t his or her problem. And no one ever blamed someone else.
Every Cast Member knows that if something goes wrong in their area, it’s their problem to fix. Whether the issue was caused by the previous shift, another teammate, or a clueless Guest, the only thing that matters is that they now own it – and they need to make sure it gets fixed.
But this responsibility only works if it comes with the authority to actually solve the problem.
Many companies preach individual responsibility, but fall short of giving their employees the capacity to solve these very problems. Instead, they require people to go through layers of management for even the simplest solution.
Try being responsible for problems without the ability to solve them. Or try driving individual ownership within layers of bureaucracy. It’s not sustainable.
At Disney, every cast member has the ability to use their influence to offer a solution, or takes the initiative to find the support that they need to create one. No problem is allowed to go on for long. Because when everyone is empowered to solve it, they will.
Everyone Understands the Rules. But Also Looks for Ways to Go Beyond Them.
“Venture outside your comfort zone. The rewards are worth it.” – Rapunzel
If you go up to anyone at Disney with a question, they almost always know the answer. Whether it’s which bus to take, the time of a show, or just directions to the nearest restroom, every cast member either knows the answer or will find it quickly.
Disney trains people constantly on the details of their jobs, but while many companies limit this to tactical operations, Disney expands it to include company values, history, and the reasons behind the requirements.
By giving people this insight, they also encourage people to go beyond the rules and guidelines. Cast members understand the motivations behind the guidance and are able to make good decisions that align with them.
How much of this trust do we afford our own employees? It’s easy to mandate compliance, but when you give people idiot-proof procedures, you quickly find that only idiots want to follow them. Until we help people understand the principles behind the rules, we can’t expect them to make responsible decisions that transcend them. And if we’re expecting people to raise the bar, they can’t do that by only following the procedures.
No Problem is Ever Trivial
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” – Jack Sparrow
Think about the last time you had an issue at a hotel or a restaurant that you discussed with their staff. Regardless of the problem, you clearly thought it was worthwhile enough to bring to their attention, and were looking for some action as a result. The staff then has the option of treating it as a significant issue, or downplaying it as a minor concern.
The curious thing is, whichever option they choose, we’ll usually take the opposite one. If someone blows off our concern as minor, we quickly become irate and defend its importance. But if they see it as a big deal, quickly offering to take action and fix everything, we’re much more likely to downplay everything. Once our concern has been validated – and a solution is in sight – we tend to quickly let them know that we appreciate their efforts, but it’s really not that big of a deal.
At Disney, no guest deals with the first scenario. I’ve never seen a cast member be dismissive of a Guest’s issue or concern, instead treating every problem as a critical situation and taking immediate steps to correct it. Upset Guests are quickly pacified when they see that someone is listening to them and recognizes the importance of their concern.
This may seem obvious, but how often do we see people try to downplay customer concerns? When employees become defensive or dismissive of someone’s distress, it rarely convinces the customer that their issue is, in fact, minor. Instead, it just widens the divide and builds frustration on both sides.
Every Detail is Accounted For
“Whatever you do, do it well.” – Walt Disney
If you look around at Disney, it’s clear that they have an obsessive attention to detail. There’s never an overflowing garbage can, unclean facilities, or other distractions that might take away from your experience. This focus translates to the rides, characters, and even the lines as every detail has been consciously chosen to make that attraction more authentic.
This quality is contagious. When people are within a top-quality environment, they’re encouraged to elevate their behavior to meet these same standards.
It also underscores the entire experience. When people see an attention to detail in everything that’s visible, it builds confidence that that same commitment to quality is present in everything they can’t see.
It’s easy to see the inverse of this. Try delivering top quality work in a facility that your company refuses to maintain. Similarly, when you see a company that doesn’t bring an attention to detail on the easy stuff, you lose confidence that they’re committed to quality on the more difficult areas of the work.
It’s easy to motivate people to do the big things well. Whenever there’s a major problem, people tend to respond with top quality effort. But it’s often the smaller details in our day-to-day work that help us avoid these problems in the first place. Until our environment reinforces the overall quality mission, employees will be skeptical whether management truly prioritizes quality, or just likes to claim that they do.
The Real Sale Begins After the Sale
“If you focus on what you left behind, you will never be able to see what lies ahead.” – Gusteau
Most companies spend their time and effort in getting us to the point of sale. They prioritize their marketing and engagement to get customers to make the initial buy. After which, the level of service seems to drop off substantially.
Disney recognizes that their real sale doesn’t begin until after the initial sale. And if they focus their efforts there, future sales will take care of themselves.
The good news is that there’s no secret. It just takes commitment and the willingness to get started. As Walt Disney once said,
“People often ask me if I know the secret of success and if I could tell others how to make their dreams come true. My answer is, you do it by working.”