The Extraordinary Customer Service of Disney World

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A Strategy for Service— Disney Style
Rick Johnson

The organization's customer service philosophy was established over 35 years ago by its founder. Today, every aspect of the resorts and theme parks is geared to serve—and satisfy—its "guests. "

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Rick Johnson is Manager of Business Programs for Walt Disney World Seminar Productions in Orlando, Florida—a part of the Disney University. He instructs executives in the "Disney Approach" through business and management seminars.

any organizations are striving to improve the level of quality ser­ vice through the per­ formance of their employees. Some have recognized the importance of corporate culture and environment in the process. Our com­ pany strongly believes that the culture, the environment, and the performance of people lie at the heart of a successful quality service program. Guests at the Walt Disney World Resort, located a few miles southwest of Orlando, Florida, typically comment on three main aspects of the quality of ser­ vice: the cleanliness of the place, the show itself, and the friendliness of the employees. These reactions are com­ piled through comments, surveys, focus groups, and letters. Together, they reflect the original business philosophy of Walt Disney, who summed it up by saying: • "Quality will out! • Give the people everything you can give them; • Keep the place as clean as you can keep it; • Keep it friendly; • Make it a fun place to be."

While this philosophy applies to a place of entertainment and family vaca­ tion fun, it applies as well to any service-oriented organization. What brings this philosophy to life at the Walt Disney World Resort is a well-struc­ tured, complex, and fast-moving organi­ zation of people. Committed to a single goal of creating happiness for customers (called guests), the Disney people live in a corporate culture—a way of life—that places the guests' enjoyment above all else. After a visit here, which includes the Magic Kingdom Park, EPCOT Center, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, resorts, and recreational facilities, many are prompted to ask, "How does Disney get over 32,000 employees (called cast members) to perform more than 1,400 different jobs (called roles) and deliver quality service with a smile? How do they do this for millions of guests, 365 days a year, often in 98° heat and 100% humidity? How do they maintain a quality service standard that many say is unmatched anywhere?" The secret to the Disney approach is that there is no secret. Disney demon­ strates that high levels of quality service can be attained by developing, refining, and living a business strategy based on

DISNEY'S SERVICE STRATEGY

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hard work, attention to detail, and ex­ ceeding customer expectations. The first challenge in developing such a strategy is to define a company's busi­ ness. Disney strives to provide quality entertainment in its theme parks. It also serves food, sells merchandise, operates resorts, runs transportation systems, and provides recreational facilities along with a myriad of other guest and support services. More important, the company recognizes that the common thread run­ ning through it all is the ability to make guests happy. If guests are happy, they'll return. Repeat visitation is the name of the game. In fact, most of the guests who will visit the resort this year have visited before. Disney recognizes that it has a loyal audience with high expectations. Many people travel great distances to spend time there. Disney understands that it can't disappoint a guest, even once; if it does, the guest may never return. It's this understanding that defines Disney service as "guest-driven." Actually, what appears to be a com­ plicated service strategy is in reality an easily understood formula. Each cast member serves each guest in a series of "magic moments" that add up to the overall experience. With each cast mem­ ber, Disney knows its name and image are on the line; the show is that...
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