What Disney teaches about customer service


How do you define customer service? It’s all of the interactions between a customer and a dealership as the dealership aims to provide the right product during the sales/delivery process. And it’s so much more. Good customer service actually adds value to the product and strives to build an enduring relationship.

Perhaps no organization is better at providing extraordinary customer service than The Walt Disney Company. Living close to Orlando, Fla., allows me to get there often, sometimes with grandchildren and other times just for a dinner at Downtown Disney. But, no matter the reason, I am always surprised by the service.

I suppose I shouldn’t be. I’ve been to seminars at the Disney Institute. I’ve read books like “Inside the Magic Kingdom” by Tom Connellan. And I’ve long had a file of Disney articles and materials that I often refer to when I’m writing or speaking about good customer service.

So, today, I’m reminded of learning about customer service on the front lines with an on-point presentation from more than a year ago by Bruce Jones, senior programming director at the Disney Institute. And I think it’s sound advice for all leaders in our dealerships and marinas.

“The responsibility for exceptional service cannot be limited to frontline employees,” Jones said. “At Disney Institute, we know that however complete your overall service program, your efforts will collapse if managers do not reinforce the right behaviors.”

More specifically, “reinforcing the right behaviors” is more than just letting employees know when they’re doing things right or wrong. Jones said “we have found that leaders who reinforce the right behaviors through their own actions set the tone for high expectations throughout the entire organization and establish a degree of accountability at all levels.”

It’s a nice way of saying the leader(s) in a dealership must recognize their obligations and directly reinforce the right behaviors that support exceptional customer service. To that end, Jones offered four suggestions that can help get it done:

1) Practice “management by wandering around.” Simply being present out in the operation allows leaders to both model service behaviors and actively engage with the people and processes at the heart of the organization. For example, Jones cites a Disney process for regularly going on a “leader walk.” It’s a very deliberate process. They look for examples and insights, reinforce what they want accomplished and share what they’ve seen and learned. “It works across the entire company, from food and beverage and attractions and merchandise operations to custodial and maintenance functions, and more,” Jones said.

2) Leaders should look to catch others — managers, frontline and all employees alike — “doing it right.” Leaders should have resources ready to reward great customer service when and where it occurs. Cast members who make good decisions leading to great guest experiences at Disney are immediately recognized with, for example, printed thank-you cards and on a web-based application for leaders and peers alike to share this form of recognition.

3) Leaders should “walk in the shoes” of employees. One popular way this is done at Disney is “cross-utilization” shifts. During peak periods, leaders fill a frontline shift in some operating area. It can be selling popcorn in a stand or “parking” strollers, but the interactions with customers and cast members is central. Jones cites a vice president in catering and convention services going to work in the kitchen to understand the best solutions for needed new dishwasher equipment.

4) Leaders should actively participate in regular training events that reinforce the organization’s values and update any service or operating guidelines. Don’t underestimate the importance of this one, Jones said, because playing an active role in training sends a strong signal to the organization about what leaders truly value.

No dealership is the size or complexity of Disney, of course. But the basic ideas forwarded by the Disney Institute can be duplicated in any sized business that stakes its future success on creating enduring customer relationships.


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