Everything I Know About Customer Service I Learned at Disney World

That’s me, spinning away on the Mad Tea Party at Disney World

My family and I just returned from the Most Magical Place on Earth, otherwise known as Walt Disney World in Florida. If my calculations are correct, this was my 9th visit there, and my husband’s 11th. Yes, we love it and we’re not ashamed to admit it. We have some friends and family who don’t quite understand why we keep going when there are so many marvelous places in the world to visit. And I see their point, but we can’t help ourselves. There’s just something extra special about the way they do things there. And that’s no accident. It’s very intentional, in fact.

Disney is in the business of creating experiences for its customers. This is much different from simply providing a thrill here and there. For this reason, Disney World doesn’t have rides – they have attractions. And it’s not just a difference in terminology – Disney also values storytelling, hence nearly every attraction offers some kind of narrative or story that is incorporated into the experience.

While in Disney World last week, I visited the One Man’s Dream attraction at Hollywood Studios, which is a mini-museum of sorts all about Walt Disney’s life and how he grew his company to be one of the most successful of all time. I learned that when developing his theme parks, Walt Disney wanted to do things differently and completely redefine guests’ expectations of what an amusement park could be. He firmly believed that they were putting on a show for guests. Therefore, those who worked at Disneyland (and later Disney World) were to be called “cast members” rather than “employees” (and they still are).

Walt’s extreme attention to detail regarding every aspect of the “show” was carried out in all areas, and he wanted everything visible in the parks to be “stage ready” at all times. For instance, before Disneyland opened, it was common for amusement parks to have trash strewn about – they weren’t known for being clean, tidy places. But Walt set a completely new standard and never settled for the status quo, and this continues today. If you pay attention, you still see countless Disney cast members discreetly sweeping and cleaning the streets throughout the day, and debris on the ground is minimal.

In addition to putting on a great show, Disney knows a thing or two about good old-fashioned customer service. Thousands of people visit Disney theme parks daily, yet cast members still know how to make individuals feel special. From the way they warmly addressed my 5-year-old daughter as “princess” to the way our server at the 50’s Prime Time Café took extra time to offer us “insider” tips without us even asking, Disney cast members consistently go above and beyond what we typically experience elsewhere.

And this is even more amazing considering the gobs of people that they interact with on a daily basis. It’s a challenge in any customer-facing job to remain upbeat when having conversations about the same things over and over with different people all day long. I think we’ve all had interactions with employees of companies who made us feel like we were just another number, or who obviously thought we were stupid for not knowing something, or who seemed to be rattling off a scripted answer that they had already recited a hundred times that day. So I find it especially impressive when, as a customer, I encounter employees who are able to keep it fresh time and again, no matter how many people they’ve already interacted with that day.

The naysayer might say, “Sure, Disney’s got great customer service, but they bring in billions of dollars. They can afford to focus on those details.” But I believe that they became successful in large part because of that intentional dedication to high quality and first-class customer service. I daresay that their success has less to do with the product they offer, and more with how they deliver it. Keep in mind that I’m raving about a place where people regularly experience heat in the upper 90s, suffocating crowds, and attraction wait times of up to two hours. Yet you don’t hear too much about those things – most people are mesmerized by the experience that has been created for them.

I’m not saying that every single aspect of Disney World is perfect or that every Disney cast member is an exemplary model of customer service. But overall, Disney has a heck of a lot figured out – so much so that other organizations turn to them for consulting on customer service, leadership, innovation, and brand loyalty, among other topics. Additionally, numerous books and articles have been written about Disney’s commitment to excellent customer service (just do a Google search for “Disney customer service” and you’ll see what I mean), so they are definitely doing something right.

The great news for the rest of us in the business world is that we don’t need princesses, parades, and castles to pull off Disney quality. What we need is an intense focus on making our customers feel special; to remember that thousands may come through our doors (or inboxes), but each one of them comes to us for a first time. For any business to thrive, we must convince the customer that once is just not enough.

As a consumer, when have you had a really outstanding customer service experience? Or if you’re in the business of serving others, what do you do to ensure positive experiences for your customers? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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