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This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my friend and colleague Dennis Snow shares three lessons he learned while working at one of my favorite companies, Disney. Dennis shares timeless lessons that you can implement today. – Shep Hyken What can you learn from a mouse? There’s plenty to learn when that mouse has been delighting and entertaining hundreds of millions of people for decades. I had the opportunity to “work for the mouse” at Walt Disney World for twenty years. During that time, I learned invaluable lessons about service excellence and the creation of “walk through fire” customer loyalty. Now, as a customer service speaker and consultant, I’ve learned that any organization or individual can practice these same principles.In these challenging economic times, most organizations are looking for strategies that will differentiate them from the competition.

Three low-cost (or no cost) “lessons from the mouse” you can implement immediately.

1.    Pay Attention to the Details – “Everything Speaks” Every detail of the service environment communicates something about your organization’s brand. Everything the customer sees, hears, smells, tastes, or touches impacts their experience. Anything out of alignment with the brand causes a disconnect in the mind of the customer. That’s why Disney World is so fanatical about keeping the place clean. A clean park is consistent with the Disney brand. Imagine the impact of noticing dead or dying plants while seated in the waiting area of a hospital emergency room. Such details don’t inspire much confidence in a patient who may be in a medical crisis. Customers may not consciously notice every detail, but subconsciously clues about the quality of your organization are being communicated. What are the details in your organization saying? 2.    Never Let “Backstage” Come “Onstage” An organization’s “onstage” environment is where customer interactions take place. “Backstage” is where operating processes occur that are necessary to the business, but would detract from the brand if observed by a customer. As a Disney “cast member,” I often saw Cinderella smoking a cigarette in the break room. But as a Disney World guest, would you want your two-year-old daughter to witness such a disturbing scene? All of a sudden, that college fund becomes money for prolonged therapy. You don’t want anything to detract from the image you have worked hard to create for your customers. Open stockroom doors, overflowing trash cans, abandoned room service trays at a fancy hotel … all examples of allowing customers to see the “backstage” of the organization. And, the errors are not always physical. Employee complaints about management or other customers must be kept backstage as well. If overheard by a customer, it can diminsish your organization’s brand. In your organization, what “backstage” elements should customers never experience? 3.    “What Time is the Three O’clock Parade” Is Not a Stupid Question Walt Disney World guests ask some funny questions. Every Disney cast member has been asked, “What time is the three o’clock parade?” In my first Disney job at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Attraction, dressed in my Captain Nemo costume, many guests would ask, “Do you work here?” Such questions may seem ridiculous, but we were taught to understand the “real question.” Guests asking about the three o’clock parade really want to know what time it arrives at particular spot along the route. Guests who asked if I (dressed as Captain Nemo) “work here,” really just wanted to know if I could help them. Disney cast members understand that many guests are simply out of their comfort zones. In any service situation, be it a computer repair shop, a doctor’s office, or an amusement park, visitors may be nervous or overwhelmed. Who, for example, hasn’t found themselves intimidated by an unthinking employee who uses unfamiliar industry jargon as though we should know what he or she knows? Taking the time to see the situation “through the lens of the customer” is a hallmark of service excellence.


In today’s competitive business environment, differentiating your service is the key to attracting and retaining customers, while driving bottom line results. More than ever customers are focused on value – what you can do that other organizations cannot or will not do. The three “lessons” described in this article might seem simple, or even obvious. But few organizations actually practice them. Those that do, however, place themselves in a league above the competition. About the Author Dennis Snow is a business author, speaker, and consultant who helps organizations develop world-class customer service. He is the author of two books, Lessons From the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life (DC Press), and Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service.” (Wiley).

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