Do It Like Disney

Some years ago I attended a seminar presented by the Disney Institute, a training program for business professionals created by the folks who gave the world Mickey Mouse. The five-hour seminar, “The Disney Keys to Excellence,” addressed topics such as leadership excellence, employee loyalty, management creativity and customer satisfaction.

Now this is an organization that knows something about dealing with large numbers of customers—or in Disney-speak, “guests.” One of the “fun facts” included in the seminar materials puts the numbers in perspective: Each year Walt Disney World guests consume almost 9 million hamburgers, 7 million hotdogs, 9 million pounds of French fries, more than 275,000 pounds of popcorn and more than 46 million Coca-Cola drinks.

At the conclusion of the seminar, attendees received a copy of the book Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service. The book explains the “practical magic” behind creating the “Disney difference” for customers by focusing on five key areas.

The Magic of Service

“Guestology” is the term Disney gives to the art and science of knowing and understanding customers through qualitative and quantitative market research. Disney utilizes focus groups, listening posts and other qualitative research tools to determine their guests’ feelings and attitudes while visiting attractions. They employ face-to-face surveys, telephone surveys, comment cards and so forth to gather quantitative data.

At the center of Disney’s approach to customer service is its service theme: “To create happiness for people of all ages everywhere.” This simple statement is the foundation for employee (“cast member” in Disney-speak) behavior toward guests. It is also a litmus test for all management decisions.

Finally, all guest-related actions are measured against a clear set of prioritized service standards. The four service standards at Walt Disney World are safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. Each standard is explicitly articulated for cast members in every area of the facility’s operation.

The Magic of Cast

Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner wrote, “Nothing so visibly defines Disney’s parks as the warmth and commitment of our cast members over the years, and the appreciation that guests feel for the way they are treated.”

The investment Disney makes in training and motivating its employees is evident to every visitor. Cast members are friendly, approachable and helpful without being condescending or mechanical. From shop clerks to costumed characters to groundskeepers, every worker is taught a set of behaviors, mannerisms, terms and values that are specific to his or her job function.

The Magic of Setting

In Disney-speak, your setting is wherever your customers meet you. Do your customers encounter you in a retail store, on the phone, on a website or all of the above? No matter which applies, be aware that, as Disney puts it, everything speaks.

At Disney every detail from the doorknobs to the dining rooms sends a messages to guests. Great care is taken to ensure that the message is consistent with the service theme and standards and that it supports the “show” being created in each setting.

According to Be Our Guest, setting includes the environment, the objects located within the environment and the procedures that enhance the environment. All of a guest’s senses are considered when Disney develops and refines a setting.

The Magic of Process

Every business has processes for serving a customer’s needs. Typically, processes involve both employees and the business environment.

Granted, you may not be faced with the challenge of moving tens of thousands of people through your business each day, but your processes still have what Disney calls “combustion points,” spots were a finely tuned process can break down. When that happens, something that was supposed to contribute to a positive customer experience instead creates a negative impression.

Disney works on eliminating or at least controlling combustion points by focusing on cast-to-guest communication, guest flow (how long guests have to wait in line) and service attention (handling guests who cannot utilize a service process).

The Magic of Integration

Does everything about your business work together to create a unified operating system? The cast, setting and processes at Disney are merged in pursuit of the service theme and service standards. The result is a seamless integration of details that together create an experience that exceeds the customer’s expectations.

Does all of this sound like a lot of work? It is. You may be asking, “Do I really have to please all of my customers all of the time?” The answer is no—only the ones you want to keep. The Disney organization has found a customer service formula that works for its guests and can work for your customers, too.

In a puzzling semantic twist, the name of America’s favorite rodent has somehow become a slang word for trivial, petty or overly simple, as in “What kind of Mickey Mouse operation are you running here?” This is even more incongruous given Disney’s reputation for quality and substance.

Frankly, you could do a lot worse than run a truly Mickey Mouse operation. In fact, your business can be a magic kingdom for your customers if you follow the principles that have made Mickey the mightiest mouse in the world.