Article | 4 min read

3 customer service lessons from Disney

By Dennis Snow

Last updated January 14, 2013

Providing the world-class service Disney theme park is known for is not simply a matter of hiring friendly service staff with good manners. It requires an all-encompassing approach and a business commitment to making service excellence a company-wide priority. As Dennis Snow, a 20-year-veteran of the Walt Disney World Company, relates in the recorded webinar below, everything that a customer sees, hears, or touches impacts the experience. In other words, “Everything Speaks.”

Snow began work at Disney as a ride operator back in 1979 and then went on to join the company’s management in the 1980’s. Today he consults with businesses of all types about how to build a better experience.

We won’t ruin the webinar for you—it goes into more depth, and includes some great personal anecdotes—but as a takeaway, here are three key lessons on offer from Snow’s years at Disney, as well as some actionable processes you can put into practice every single day to ensure consistent service behaviors across your entire organization.

What makes Disney the happiest place on earth?

When it comes to creating the perfect experience, Disney doesn’t always get it right. They’re human, after all. The question is: what does Disney do better than most companies? The answer is they work towards a clearly defined objective: They want you to come back.

As research revealed, it isn’t the rides that make people return to the Magic Kingdom day after day. Instead, it’s the experience: The staff is friendly, the parks are clean and well-organized—and the rides are great too, of course. But Disney focuses on the moment you arrive at the park to the moment you leave and everything that happens in between. That is the Disney experience, and that’s what they’re selling.

3 key principles at the heart of any service-driven organization

The great news is that what Disney does to ensure parkgoers come back year after year includes several key things that you can do in your company, with your customers.

1. Perform with a relationship mindset, not a task mindset

You can walk into any business and witness people hard at work on their tasks. And when employees are stressed, more often than not, they’re spending too much time on their tasks. But this makes the customer into one more task and leaves them feeling processed and like they haven’t made an emotional connection. When employees are free to focus on relationships instead, they tend to feel valued. The loyalty gap is somewhere between feeling processed and feeling valued.

How do you build a relationship mindset into the way you do things? Snow shares his process for service mapping, wherein you take a key moment or process that needs improvement and you map it out. What is the customer doing each step of the way? For each step, define what mediocre service would look like in that moment, and then what excellent service would look like. Once you know what excellent service looks like, it’s time to get your employees involved.

2. Pay attention to the details

Every detail of the experience either adds or detracts from the brand. This includes the quality, cleanliness, and aesthetic of a physical space as well as “attitudinal” elements like tone of voice, quality of email, user friendliness of a process, and so on. When you look around at the details, are they sharing the same story? Snow uses an analogy to ask: What are your “Smoking Cinderella” behaviors? What distracts from your message and what could potentially bring the whole experience crashing down? Once you’ve identified those things, you have to make a company-wide commitment to the resolution.

3. Create moments of Wow

Little “wow” moments may not always be consciously noticed each time by customers, but they still register and have a cumulative effect. What’s more, opportunities to create wow moments are everywhere. In a hierarchy of what is expected from your service, the baseline is accuracy and availability. Once you’ve offer that, you earn the right to begin creating “wow” moments. The top-level of service is to offer partnerships and provide advice. Ask the question: what service behaviors might exhibit each of these four critical elements of service excellence?

Watch the free webinar to see examples from Disney and to see service mapping in action.

Dennis Snow is a customer service expert and author of Lessons from the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life. His expertise was developed over 20 years with the Walt Disney World Company. Today, Dennis consults with companies such as American Express General Mills and Johns Hopkins Hospital. His articles appear in industry publications and he’s often a featured guest expert on service related topics for several business news-talk radio shows.