I was at the Portland Business Journal’s first (annual?) Biz Growth Expo & Conference yesterday, at the Oregon Convention Center.  My main interest in attending was to hear from a company that is arguably the world’s best customer experience creator worldwide - Disney.  Even watching the opening video that beautifully and dramatically presented the many businesses that Disney owns, brought back many powerful memories of my several visits to Disney’s theme parks that many of us experienced at from an early age.

No surprise for Jack Santiago, a Disney “facilitator” who led the first morning session, as he emphasized that part of the Disney “magic” is founded on uniting employees and customers around a common purpose: “We create happiness by providing the finest entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.”  And, while he was quick to state that Disney isn’t perfect (who is?) they strive for perfection and settle for excellence!  

Throughout Jack’s presentation, he emphasized knowing their customer - which by the way is their guest.  To do this, Disney has worked hard to develop an open and collaborative culture where their employees, who are “cast members” can freely communicate with their managers, who are “leaders”, on how to improve every possible detail of the guest’s experience.  This process they call “guestology” which includes demographics (knowing) as well as psychographics (understanding).

For example, Disney knows that the average family unit visiting their parks is made up of four individuals.  That knowledge shapes many aspects of the park’s infrastructure, processes and approach.  Rides, as a result, have seats for four because they know that the family group enjoys the rides better when they’re together.  Small detail, better experience.

Guest understanding is exemplified by the way they structure the theme park entrance.  They understand from observation that 82% of the guest’s turn to the right when they enter the park and, of course, they also exit on the right as well.  This helps determine the best shops and facilities to put on each side of the street.  Cameras, sunscreen, sundries on the right while entering and guest services, restrooms and souvenirs (plastic memory enforcement) on the way out.  Details...

Disney’s approach to operationalizing and personalizing the guest experience is based upon guestology along with delivery systems, quality standards and integration - the four pillars of their experience strategy.  Jack emphasized the need for every organization to establish their quality or service standards.  For Disney it’s Courtesy, Efficiency, Safety and Show.  However, the order of these is critical because not every situation can accommodate all four.  Therefore, their operating priority is Safety, Courtesy, Show & Efficiency.  

Which brings me to some more Disney “magic” - this involves a Disney janitor; you know the ones that seem to almost invisibly keep the theme parks incredibly clean.  Well, one day one of these janitors was approached by a family (happened in this case to be five) who were looking for directions to Tomorrowland.  Instead of just pointing out (courteously of course) what direction to go, he took up as a baton and became the leader of this families personal parade all the way to their destination!  The picture Jack showed on the screen clearly said it all, you could clearly see the delight three little children had in exuberantly following their parade master.  Great experience, priceless memories.

This janitor clearly got the concept of a common purpose - his happiness was their happiness - the power of the “cast” in applying the quality principles and purpose.  Efficiency in keeping the park clean came AFTER safety, courtesy and show for the guests.  What common purpose unites your “cast” with your “guests”?  By the way, this kind of employee commitment doesn't come from an executive edict or a policy manual - it comes from the heart!

The way Disney combines their service standards with the delivery systems was the last area that was touched on in this session.  Essentially, Disney sees their delivery systems as three primary areas: Employee/cast, Setting & Process or Who, Where & How.

When you combine the service or quality standards with the delivery systems you end up with, in Disney’s case, a 4x3 matrix.  Creatively solving this for every square in every area of the customer’s experience (not just the obvious ones) takes an organization from average or less to “best in class”.  This is the fourth pillar of their strategy and it’s constantly being worked on to improve every detail.  Magic is hard work!

Disney is of course a for-profit corporation, with a fiscal responsibility to it’s shareholders.  Putting the guests and the cast first in delivering decades of superior customer experiences, to literally generations of people throughout the world makes good fiscal sense.  Seven out of ten visitors to Disney’s theme parks are returning guests.  

If you’re interested in more information on the “business of Disney” I recommend you visit the Disney Institute website: www.disneyinstitute.com.  Also, some books are available for further reading (links to Amazon): 
This all compels me to think about my business and also the software companies that I serve because both, like Disney, are service businesses.  What is our common purpose, what are our service standards and how do we integrate them into the relevant delivery systems?  

In short, how can we all do a better job in serving our respective customers by providing them a sustained, superior and memorable customer experience?  One thing for sure, it’s all in the details...

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    John Geffel

    Value is a much abused, misunderstood and misused word, everyone thinks they provide it but so few show real evidence that they do!

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