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The Happiest Customers on Earth

August 20, 2013

Disney theme parks are known around the world as premier vacation spots for families. It’s no coincidence, however, that the happiest place on Earth is so happy. The success of these theme parks is only partially due to the popularity of Disney films, and has more to do with carefully calculated customer service experiences.

When it comes to customer service, Disney is in a class all their own. Much of this is owed to the somewhat obsessive nature of Walt Disney himself, and his drive to create a perfect experience for every single guest that walked through the gates.

You might not be running an amusement park or treating your customers to parades and firework displays, but there are still ways that you can apply the Disney philosophy to your business. Here are just a few of them:

Understanding Customers’ Needs
“What time is the three o’clock parade?” Believe it or not, that’s a question that Disney employees hear on a regular basis. The answer to the question seems painfully obvious, and after being asked it several times a day, an employee finally snapping on a customer wouldn’t be entirely unexpected; however, Disney’s cast members (which is what they call their employees), don’t. They simply tell guests the time at which the parade will pass by that particular location, which is likely what the customer really meant to ask. Understanding a customer’s needs goes beyond simply hearing what they’re saying; it’s about listening and figuring out what’s really behind the words they’re saying.

Anticipating Customers’ Needs
Understanding what it is that a customer really needs makes a good impression, but if you can anticipate what they might need in advance, you’ll be giving them an experience they’ll never forget. An example of how Disney accomplishes this the placement of their trash cans. Most people don’t really think about the placement of trash cans, but Walt Disney, being as particular as he was, used to count how many steps people would take holding garbage before dropping it. He determined that most people take 30 steps, so garbage cans at the Disney parks are no more than 30 steps apart.

Walt Disney insisted that his parks weren’t just parks, they were shows. He insisted that every aspect of the parks – right down to the road – be ready for showtime. This tradition continues today, with custodians discreetly sweeping the streets and picking up litter throughout the day, The streets also go through a more thorough cleaning at night.

Service Recovery
Never committing a customer service mistake will impress your customers. However, making a mistake or disappointing a customer doesn’t mean losing them; it’s an opportunity to impress them even more. Disney exemplifies this idea each time a child gets in a line for a ride they are not tall enough for. When the child reaches the front of line and the ride operator sees that he or she isn’t tall enough (and therefore not permitted to go on the ride), the operator gives them a coupon allowing them to go straight to the front of the line of that particular ride once they have reached the appropriate height. This turns a frustrating situation (the child might have spent hours in that line) into one where the customer is made to feel appreciated and special.

Before you pass Disney off as nothing more than some Mickey Mouse organization (sorry – couldn’t resist!), look a little harder at what they’re doing to please their customers. Many of the extra steps they take are small details that might go unnoticed individually, but when put together create an unbeatable experience.

If you’d like to learn more about Disney’s legacy of exceptional customer service, check out the Disney Institute’s customer service book, Be Our Guest.

Photo credit: Lee Bailey