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Disney Service Basics

Recently I have written a few articles about some very critical service notions that form the foundation of guest service at Disney. I've talked about Disney's service theme: "We Create Happiness" and Disney's four service standards: "Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency."

Today we are going to discuss service basics expected of both cast members and managers. These are often referred to as Service Behaviors, and they serve several purposes. They:

  • Define behavior in terms of how you interact with customers.
  • Create a common baseline for interaction with customers and demonstrate the element of performance that perpetuates the standards—such as "courtesy."
  • Communicate employee responsibilities and company expectations.
  • Initiate customizing service to individual customers.

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The typical tendency for leaders is to try and map out all of the possible behaviors their employees should demonstrate when working with customers. This approach is flawed for two important reasons. First, such behaviors tend to come across as rote, rather than genuine. Second, it is impossible to map out all the potential behaviors individuals should demonstrate for future unforeseen circumstances. Attempting to compile such a comprehensive list is comparable to the common listing of dozens of rules for swimming at the local community pool. The list is usually so long that invariably no one pays attention at all—making the attempt a waste of time and effort.

What does this look like at Disney? For many years this has been known as Disney's Seven Service Guidelines:

  • Make eye contact and smile.
  • Greet and welcome each and every guest.
  • Seek out guest contact.
  • Provide immediate service recovery.
  • Display appropriate body language at all times.
  • Preserve the "magical" guest experience.
  • Thank each and every guest.

They evolved over the years, even utilizing the seven dwarfs to describe each guideline. The guidelines were posted in many places backstage, particularly in the areas right before you stepped on-stage.

While these guidelines succeeded for many years, there were some challenges. "Make eye contact" and "Thank each and every guest" communicated to the 17-year-old popcorn seller exactly how to follow the guidelines. Other behaviors were more vague such as "immediate service recovery" or "appropriate body language." You would need more specific behaviors to define to a seventeen year old what exactly you were supposed to do.

That brings us to the present. Just recently Disney created not one, but two sets of service guidelines based on surveys they conducted with thousands of Disney guests and cast members. The first set of guidelines focuses on all cast members and the second on management.

Cast member guidelines: "The Disney Service Basics"

"I project a positive image and energy."

  • Smile
  • Look approachable
  • Look happy and interested
  • Model the Disney Look
  • Keep conversations positive

"I am courteous and respectful to all guests, including children."

  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Engage in guest interaction
  • Treat guests as individuals
  • Greet and welcome each guest
  • Thank all guests and invite them back

"I stay in character and play the part."

  • Preserve and protect the magic
  • Provide excellent show quality and safety
  • Perform role efficiently by reducing hassles and inconveniences

"I go above and beyond."

  • Anticipate needs and offer assistance
  • Create surprises and Magical Moments
  • Provide immediate service recovery

What I love about this list is that it's collapsible; you can look at just the four headlines, but you can also identify key behaviors for each. Many of the earlier seven service behaviors fall within the new guidelines, and new ones emerge, such as "treating guests as individuals"—you'll recall that I spoke about that in my last article. I personally like "look happy and interested." There's much that could be said about the need for that particular behavior.

Also note that each of these areas begin with the word "I" in front of each statement—suggesting that each cast member should take ownership in doing these things.

Now there's the other list, this one is focused on management:

Management: "The Disney Leader Basics"

"I demonstrate commitment to cast members."

  • Take a sincere interest in cast members
  • Treat them with kindness and respect and value their diversity
  • Actively listen to the cast, and follow-up on their issues as quickly as possible
  • Always strive to become a more effective Leader by continuously learning and adapting from experiences.

"I know and manage my Operation, and I teach it to cast members."

  • Recognize where to be and when to be there
  • Be available, visible, and able to step in and assist in the operation, as needed
  • While on-stage, model and teach the Disney Service Basics and engage in cast and guest interaction
  • Take steps to transfer knowledge and skills to your cast
  • Effectively administer business activities
  • Effectively translate information and clearly explain the whys behind decisions
  • Collaborate with partners from all lines of business to ensure a seamless guest and cast experience

"I lead and monitor cast performance and operational improvements."

  • Recognize and appreciate improvement and good performance
  • Describe how cast members' actions make a difference for the guest
  • Consistently and fairly communicate expectations and uphold standards
  • Examine practices, remove barriers, and identify improvements in the daily operation
  • Recognize when to make decisions and when to empower the cast in decision making
  • Efficiently monitor and measure the operation

There are a lot of points listed under each of the major headings and they are all behaviors that need to be brought out into the light. My favorite here is the heading of not only knowing and managing one's operation, but teaching it to the cast members. Many of the older cast members talk about how management, in the early days of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, would walk the parks with their proteges, teaching them the ropes. I like how that topic hearkens to that concept of walking in the guest's shoes.

As before, these behaviors are posted in backstage locations, not only at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but throughout all parks worldwide as well as the resorts and the Disney Cruise Line. They are even posted at all Adventures by Disney locations.

Other organizations do this as well. The service behaviors for Ritz-Carlton's Three Steps of Service are fairly simple, but are very ingrained into the culture.

Ritz-Carlton's Three Steps of Service:

  • A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest's name.
  • Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest's needs.
  • Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest's name

I've worked with many organizations to establish their own service behaviors. Here's an example of one that I helped the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago to create. It has a similar accordion style with subject headings followed by more specific behaviors. Note the "bee" analogy—it's a zoo after all!

"Bee Proactive"

  • Be assertively friendly.
  • Take the lead—don't wait for others to approach you.
  • Look for those who especially may need help.
  • Anticipate what others may need and be ready to provide it or notify someone who can.

"Bee Attentive"

  • Acknowledge everyone in the party.
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying.
  • Don't presuppose what others need.
  • Show genuine empathy and understanding.
  • Seek clarity as necessary.

"Bee Helpful"

  • Offer options and support to those needing support.
  • Don't "pass the buck" to others to solve Guest challenges.
  • Provide immediate service recovery.
  • Be informative and provide accurate information. Be honest if you don't know the answer, and, if possible, get the right answer.

"Bee Polite"

  • Use common courtesies like, "please" and "thank you."
  • Wait for others to finish before speaking.
  • Call others by their name whenever you know it.
  • Use Guest appropriate language.

"Bee Professional"

  • Dress and act professionally.
  • Wear a name tag.
  • Use appropriate terms.
  • Maintain a neat appearance.
  • Think through your non-verbal gestures.
  • Refrain from speaking negatively at any cost.
  • Don't talk about business, company politics, or personal issues in front of the Guests.

In summary, consider the following:

  • What are your service guidelines?
  • How are they customized to your own organization?
  • How can you make them come alive for your organization?
  • How can you make them part of your cultural DNA?

Best of luck as you create greater service in your own area. And here's to making the magic in your own business.




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(Send an email to Jeff Kober)

J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) is a major thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company and other major fortune 100 companies. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as "Disney's Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz". You can learn more about this and other offerings he has at DisneyatWork.com. You can also learn more at PerformanceJourneys.com, where he is a consultant to businesses seeking to improve their organizations.