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Five Ways Disney Gets it Right

2014-07-21 13.18.34

So I wanted to wrap up my experiences in Orlando in a neat bow and share them with all of you.

Those who follow my Twitter feed at @ServiceRecipe know that I spent a week at Walt Disney World attending a Disney Institute class on Leadership not too long ago. Let me start by saying that these courses are worth every minute and penny of the investment and always remind me that as Leaders we have an obligation to keep learning and keep developing our teams. More on that in future posts, but if you have the chance to attend one of these workshops, I highly recommend them.

I wanted to wait a bit after I returned to write this to let some of the pixie dust wear off. It’s pretty common to come back juiced up from a great vacation or seminar and ready to embrace the best parts because it’s not cheap by any means. In fact, that brings me to my first point.

Disney really does have to be on point every hour of every day. There are families who save for years for this vacation – and often it is a once in a lifetime splurge. There are huge expectations as families look to create shared memories that will last a lifetime. I can attest to that – I still talk to my 18 year old son about the vacation we took there six years ago.

So when I boiled it down to the five things that really impress me about Walt Disney World, it wasn’t hard to place execution near the top of the list.

1. They understand that it has to be clean and safe. They boast 60,000+ custodians because every single person has the edict to pick up trash. If you embrace that role whether you are the CEO or Front Line Manager, you can model behavior and set a tone of cleanliness that all will adopt. The same is true with safety. . .it is their most important mission and they are always on the prowl for opportunities in this area. They won’t open a park or attraction each day until it is absolutely safe. Learn from that for the sake of your team and your Customers.

2. They understand how important this vacation is to the families who visit. While most of you aren’t orchestrating a huge vacation for folks, rest assured that often you are playing a key role in people’s lives. Are you selling them a graduation suit? Is this their 25th anniversary dinner? Are they on a romantic get-away or honeymoon? If you strive to understand what is important to your Customer then you can help deliver on their expectations.

3. They know that consistency rules. When you are serving as many quick service meals and moving as many folks thru queues as they do, there is something to be said for a repeatable business model. There is definitely a solid take a way here. Most of the great stories you hear involve herculeanly creative efforts by a Cast Member, but quite honestly most of the magic comes from good old fashioned boring consistency. The resort rooms being clean, the park opening on time, the super cold bottles of water from the portable carts – not much pixie dust there, but they never let you down. Think about that and make sure you are buttoned up on the basics before you seek to amaze.

4. Folks are just plain nice. You can sense the joy in those who work at the parks and destinations. There is a pride that you can’t buy or fake – call it authenticity of service if you will. This comes from a combination of hiring the right folks, training them thoroughly, and treating them very well. All that said, they have their fair share of utility infielders, too (just like we all do). The fact of the matter is that their middle of the road Cast Member can eat the lunch of most great team members elsewhere. So give yourself a break here: hire the best people you can and train them. I’d rather teach someone with a great attitude how to punch a cash register terminal than hire a sourpuss who has been running a point of sale for a hundred years.

5. The respect they show is genuine. In a place where children are in charge and Customers complain when it rains, the amount of patience and respect that these folks show is amazing. I have heard tirades, whining, and crying directed at their Front Line Associates (and that’s just the adults) that would reduce most folks to a puddle of tears. Somehow they are held accountable for the weather, the crowds, and the laws of physics – and they always seem to know what to do. Above all, they listen so very well and utilize all the active skills that we all know but sometimes struggle to use. The folks on the front line always seek to understand the concerns of the adults and the children alike and never brush anyone off. Most times it seems that folks just want to be heard and to give voice to their frustration – then they will happily accept an ice cream bar (or often nothing at all) and leave in a much better place than when the conversation started.

So overall, I can tell you that I learn a ton when I visit the Disney properties. They are so open to share their best practices and generous with their tips – many thanks to all who made my recent experience so fantastic.

I wanted to share these observations in hopes that you’ll see how straightforward it is to please your Customers – but please don’t confuse straightforward for easy. Massage these ideas to work in your business. Never forget that there is a wealth of information out there on all kinds of fantastic businesses if you want look for a role model. Look at Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Waldof Astoria, Nordstrom, Publix, and other leaders to find great examples of processes that can drive amazing performance.

The other thing to remember is that there is no silver bullet – it takes a lot of hard work and force of will to make great service a reality.

How will you inspire and lead your team to provide great service?

Until we meet again, don’t forget to treat your Customer like a cherished friend.

Best Wishes, Tony Johnson -Customer Service Leader and Trainer-


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