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Ruined by the Mouse

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Corporate indoctrination at the Disney University back in 1990 has made me a very tough customer.


During an entertaining (and lengthy) orientation, Disney’s four-pronged approach to customer service is introduced with its emphasis on safety, courtesy, show, and capacity (now known as “efficiency”). Disney terminology reflects its commitment to customer service by striking the word ‘customer’ from its vocabulary and replacing it with the word ‘guest.’ Seems like a small thing, but it completely alters how the “cast member” (Disney-speak = “employee”) treats the nearly 15 million visitors to the Magic Kingdom each year. Non-verbal communication is stressed with its reminders that a smile is conveyed not only with one’s mouth but with one’s entire being. In fact, a cast member may never stand with crossed arms, lean against a turnstyie or any other stationary object, never point with less than two fingers, and never, NEVER act preoccupied, annoyed, or bored. Which after walking the exit corridor on Star Tours at 2:00am can be quite the challenge.

Three summers (and winter and spring breaks) spent as a Cast Member have left me a critical customer. Businesses that demand a high level of customer service from their employees are able to enjoy a lasting bond with their clientele. And it really doesn’t take any more time to treat people well than it does to treat them poorly. In fact, I would guess that it takes longer to apologize or make right a bad situation than it would to just do it right the first time.

Little Peach is growing up — and no, this is not a non sequitur. A couple of weeks ago, it became clear that it was time for him to make the move from the infant room to the toddler room. Without going into the details, let’s just say that things just did not go smoothly. There were several communication breakdowns along the way. I am ordinarily a very laid-back parent when it comes to school issues, typically believing that these things are better left to the professionals.

Except when the professionals do not act professionally.

In a completely uncharacteristic move, I addressed the problem with the Director. To her credit, she spoke with her staff IMMEDIATELY. I know this because I received an apologetic phone call from one of the teachers within just a few hours. And have gotten apologies from almost EVERY single staff member in the ITC.

But the apologies were problematic. The staff kept apologizing for the hectic and crazy way things had happened. But they missed the real problem and that was the lack of direct communication as well as a sense of responsibility. Information was simply not shared and that created a great deal of stress. Transitions are difficult. Even when they are good transitions. Proper planning and clear communication is imperative in order to ensure a smooth passage. And take responsibility when things get mucked up.

Because saying “I’m sorry that this was so frustrating for you” doesn’t have quite the same impact as “I’m really sorry that we didn’t communicate our plans to you more clearly. We didn’t mean to cause you so much frustration and we are putting some safeguards in place to ensure that this will not happen again.”

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, 22 July 2008 2:09 pm

    Yeah, that’s the latest thing – the non-apology. I don’t know that people always realize that they are doing it. I mean, “I’m sorry you’re upset” isn’t much of an apology. But it’s much better than “I’m sorry you’re such a knuckle-dragging moron.”

    That is, I’m having a fight with one of my friends and I’m trying to decide between those two apologies because I’ve been told that I’m supposed to apologize. I want to make the peace, but I was mostly not in the wrong. Oh, well. I’ll suck it up and make it sound pretty, too.

  2. Tuesday, 22 July 2008 2:45 pm

    Thats a shame for Peach…that’s a hard transition anyway. But PG is right…no one wants to accept that they play a role in making things easier for everyone else and thus, ultimately, for themselves. I love Disney and why? Because they went out of their way to treat my autistic 14 year old son as the guest that he was but also as their very special guest. And that’s why I am willing to cut off a leg for Aflac to get the boy back there next year. Its a place where he doesn’t feel as if he’s a burden. I work with groups who provide customer service in Career centers and they see the “customer” as a “client” which is even worse. Everyone is their PIA…certainly not someone on the verge of finding their true calling in life.

  3. Tuesday, 22 July 2008 4:23 pm

    Just an aside, do you still do the two finger point? I still use two fingers or my whole hand when pointing. It’s like they hard-wired that into my brain during DU.

  4. Tuesday, 22 July 2008 9:49 pm

    “… We didn’t mean to cause you so much frustration and we are putting some safeguards in place to ensure that this will not happen again.”

    But are they going to be able to follow through with that?
    When you make those kind of commitments in business you have to be able to back them up. Chances are that they can’t promise that, therefore…

  5. Wednesday, 23 July 2008 7:36 am

    I admit, I still do the two finger point. So does our brother Ace, also a Disney veteran.

  6. Frume Sarah permalink
    Sunday, 27 July 2008 12:54 am

    PG — yeah, a non-apology is definitely better than the insulting one. But really…

    Z — I agree!! Beernut has had an amazing experience both times thanks to their training.

    Cat — for what I’m paying, they surely can promise to tighten the ship!

    Channah — oh yeah…two fingers all the way.


  1. Haveil Havalim #175 — Through the Eyes of Frume Sarah « Frume Sarah’s World

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