Pure Service Magic

It really is the magical kingdom. Walt Disney World is the most dreamed-about vacation destination by children everywhere. As a parent of a 4-year-old, sometimes I’m in the business of making dreams come true. And so, my daughter and I headed to Walt Disney World for our summer vacation—and it was pure magic, for both of us.

Exhibit A: First day in the park, I bought my daughter a $10 Disney balloon. In her excitement, about 5 minutes later, she released it. On this hot, crowded day, one Disney employee started chasing it. He was then joined by not one, but two other employees who were running at full speed in 100% humidity to reclaim this balloon for my little girl. Mission accomplished. My daughter’s smile was permanent from that point forward—and so was mine.

Exhibit B: I was hesitant to leave our park stroller as we entered a ride line for fear of losing the aforementioned balloon once again. I expressed this hesitation and the ride attendant said “Sir, we don’t have that problem at Disney, but if you do leave your stroller here and you lose your balloon, come see me and I’ll personally see to it that you get another one.” As COO of a company that strives for service excellence, this kind of employee empowerment thrilled me more than the ride.

I could give examples of how Disney exceeds service expectations for days…but at the end of our trip, I was more interested in learning about how they have perfected this execution. What training do Disney employees receive? I think you’ll find the following just as fascinating as I did. First, all Disney employees are referred to as “cast members.” People “auditioning” (interviewing) the prospective cast members occupy different job levels and segments throughout the park—and they rotate on a yearly basis. Once hired, Disney cast members complete a one-and-one-half day training program called Traditions; this program sets the stage for excellent service provision, which continues at Disney University. The first corporate university, Disney University was founded by Walt Disney to provide a structured learning environment to teach the unique skills required of Disney cast members. Forty-two thousand cast members rotate through various courses—many taught via satellite from some of America’s top business schools. There are no service courses; quality and service are an important part of every course. Key concepts? Creative and motivating leadership, creating an experience, and employee empowerment (remember the ride attendant willing to accept responsibility for our balloon?).

Disney’s service standards became a benchmark for corporations nationwide and, in 1996, the Disney Institute was founded. More than a million people from a wide variety of corporations have participated in the programs offered by the Institute in an effort to enhance leadership, HR, and service delivery within their organizations. It’s more than the rides and characters that make Disney magical—it’s the people and their commitment to service.

I want to hear from you! Respond to one, all, or none of the questions below. I just want to hear your thoughts! And, if you post a response, be sure to check back for a reply!

  • If you’ve been to Disney World or Disneyland, what did you think of the service?
  • What can small businesses do to emulate the service training provided by larger organizations?
  • What other organization empowers their employees to take ownership of service?

Post your response!