Customer service, Small Business

Disney’s Guest Service

I recently saw in my LinkedIn feed a video of a custodial cast member drawing a picture of Mickey Mouse using his mini broom and a puddle of water. The little boy watching was mesmerized. The artwork was fantastic. All from a custodian.

As a former cast member at Walt Disney World four times, I have completed “Traditions”  four times. For the three college programs that I completed (Fall 1995, Summer 1996, and Summer 1997) and my 15 month time as a part-time cast member from 2001-2002, each time I spent the first few days learning about Walt’s vision and perserverance as an artist when no one believed that adults would pay to go see an animated movie during the Great Depression. Traditions lasted several days. Then on-site training at my individual work location. All for a little over minimum wage job.

One of the most powerful things that I still distinctly remember today from Traditions is a simple act from one of the instructors. She had a fairy wand, perhaps Tinker Bell’s. After we discussed the “7 Guest Guidelines”, she tapped each person in the room on the shoulder with the wand and declared that we have the power to make magic for guests.

Flash forward 20 years later. Disney is now a Fortune 100 company with 2018 revenues topping $55 Billion. Attendance at the theme parks continue to soar along with yearly increases in admission prices. Disney ranks high in multiple customer satisfaction ratings. So, it seems to me that the business world would have long ago figured out that Disney is doing something right. Businesses can be customer-focused and profitable. They can choose the right people, train them, pay them (at least the same, if not more, than most retail and food service positions), and encourage fantastic customer service experiences and magical memories for guests.

Guess what? Chick-fil-A figured this out. So did Nordstrom and Starbucks and Southwest.  Do you see any similarities among these companies that compete in different industries?

Treat employees with respect, give them flexibility to create guest interactions, reward them for performing well in their jobs, train them adequately, confirm a culture that allows great customer service, and create business processes that support great guest service.

Do you allow or encourage your employees to treat customers well? I am not necessarily talking about rolling out the red carpet for every customer. Geez, when I worked on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom, great customer service was processing payments for over 130 transactions at one register in the 60 minutes before the 3 o’clock parade rolled through. I didn’t have time to draw Mickey faces on receipts. I was trying to get these people to pay for their pastries and make it back to their families before little Johnny saw Mickey Mouse on the float.

What happened during slow times? Of course, I got to chat for a minute or two with guests, ask about their favorite ride of the day, or point out the best place to see Tinker Bell during the nightly fireworks show.

Was my face muscles aching the first week of work from the smiling? Yes. And yes, there are lots of muscles in the face. The funny thing was it all felt a little odd to be so energetic most of the time in front of guests. But when the culture and everyone else is doing it, it becomes habit to have fun at work. I didn’t have to run to my boss and explain that little Susie dropped her ice cream cone and was crying. I was allowed to get her a new one for free. Without asking a supervisor for permission.

What else did I do for guests? I gave them front row seats when I worked at the Beauty and the Beast show. I sang along to the background music, pretending to be Ariel or Jasmine. I started “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck” chants from opposite sides of the street while waiting for the fireworks show. I handed out Mickey Mouse stickers to kids. I had a cartwheel race with youngsters in Frontierland. I taught old people and young ones how to do the macarena dance on Sunset Boulevard. I took more pictures than most professional photographers did in a day. (That was waaaay before smartphones and selfies). What did these cost? Nothing, well, the stickers cost a few pennies each. What did the guests get out of it? Interaction, entertainment, and magical memories. What did I get out of it? A chance to do something fun, perhaps even a break from the monotony of the job.

Chick-fil-A teaches employees to say please and thank  you. They teach them to interact with guests as human beings. There are a lot more things but do you see where I am going? What are some exceptional guest service things that you can do? What will you empower your employees to do? Do your employees have magic wands too?

If you need ideas or perhaps someone to take a fresh look at your business, let me know. There are also a myriad of business processes that must support great customer service. Even for non-customer facing businesses, there are opportunities for great business to business service. Handing out chocolate chip cookies or forcing employees to smile won’t equate to top customer service rankings. An entire business model that is customer service-centric will.



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