Earning My Mouse Ears
(A guest blog by Ron Baker for Phil at Scarlet Opus)
I’ve (Phil) been a huge fan of anything and everything Disney since I was a very young boy; my first ever visit to Disney World Florida wasn’t until I was 24! I took 3 kids with me so that I didn’t look out of place and stayed for nearly two weeks, mesmorised, transfixed and inspired.
Ever since then I’ve avidly read Walt’s ‘quotes’ and about his business philosphies and so when I came across this excellent use of the Disney ‘way of life’ to demonstrate customer service as it should be by Ron Baker I just had to ask him if we could share it with our readership. It’s a great read, if you learn something in doing so then that’s a bonus. Kick back and here you go……..
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” –– Walt Disney
Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse
When Walt Disney returned home from Europe, after serving as a driver for the American Ambulance Corps (part of the Red Cross) during World War I, his father wanted him to work in his jelly factory at a salary of $25 per week. Walt was not interested, and his father, becoming perturbed, asked him: “Then what do you want to do, Walter?”
“I want to be an artist,” Walt replied. “And how do you expect to make a living as an artist?” his father queried. Walt admitted: “I don’t know.”
Indeed, Walt didn’t know how he was going to make it as an artist. Looking back on this episode now, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, the question of Disney’s ability to make a living seems preposterous. But Walt Disney understood one thing about business very well: where profits come from and what an organization has to do in order to maintain them.
WHAT EVERY BUSINESS PERSON SHOULD KNOW
Think back to your Economics 101 course and recall the three factors of production: land, labor, and capital. If land provides rental income, and labor generates wage and salary income, and capital earns interest income, where do profits come from?
When I ask this question, the response is usually, “from combining all three factors.” That’s partly true, and certainly that is the function of an entrepreneur. But it’s not the real answer.
Profits come from risk. There is no other way they could ever materialize. Entrepreneurs are society’s perennial risk takers. Some lose; some win. But profits are the result of giving to others, humbling yourself to their needs first, long before you can expect to take anything in return.
It is the process whereby you put your entire fate into the hands of others—your customers—and provide them with a service that is so good they willingly pay you a profit in recognition of what you’re doing for them. Essentially, profit is an index of altruism.
Walt Disney understood this process, and he took many risks during his lifetime. Some failed terribly, while others gave him the profits necessary to build the empire that exists today.
Perhaps this attitude was instilled in Walt while he delivered newspapers on his dad’s route. Walt’s father wouldn’t allow his sons to deliver the papers from bicycles, carelessly throwing the papers onto porches. He insisted they lay the papers on the doorsteps, and during wintertime they had to be placed behind the storm doors.
Walt learned, at a very young age, the necessity of exceeding the customer’s expectations.
When I hear people say they’re in business to make a profit, I know they are chasing the wrong rabbit. If you’re in business solely to make a profit, you won’t. Profits are a lagging indicator of customer behavior.
In fact, if you look at any organization—from a nonprofit to a government bureaucracy—all of its results exist externally. The result of a hospital is a healthy patient; the result of a school, an educated child; the result of a church, a saved soul; and the result of a business is satisfied customers.
The notion of “profit centers” in a business is a misnomer. There’s no such thing. Internally, in any organization, there are costs and efforts. As Peter Drucker points out, “The only profit center you have is a customer’s check that doesn’t bounce.”
A CAMPUS BUILT ON A VISION
In 1955, after the opening of Disneyland, Walt established the Disney University, the purpose of which was to train Disneyland’s 600 Cast Members (Disney parlance for employees) “to be aware that they’re there mainly to help the Guest.”
This training continues to this day, and all new Disney Cast Members attend a one-and-a-half day Traditions course. The wording is very precise. They are not “orienting” their Cast Members, but rather passing down traditions.
VERY HIGH EXPECTATIONS
We’re all, by now, familiar with how customer satisfaction is measured:
Customer = Perceived Performance
Satisfaction Customer Expectations
I arrived at Disney Institute with very high expectations, to say the least. I had talked with a few individuals who had attended, as well as read quite a bit of good press on its programs.
As any world-class service provider knows, customer satisfaction is no longer enough to ensure customer retention and loyalty. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, 65-85% of customers who chose a new company said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier. In today’s marketplace, a company has to exceed customer expectations and achieve customer delight.
In 1996, 75% of the Guests at the Walt Disney World Resort were repeat visitors. More than 100 million Guests have made more than 500 million visits to the Walt Disney World Resort in its 25-year history (as of 1996). Some Disney resorts have achieved a return rate of over 90%. I attended the Disney University eager to discover how they achieve these results.
The Disney Approach to Customer Loyalty: Creating Service that Keeps Your Customers Coming Back was a new course being offered by the Institute when I attended in September 1997.
The program began at 4:30 Sunday afternoon. The 63 participants got a chance to mingle. It was a diverse group with participants from California, Minnesota, Singapore, Uruguay, and everywhere in between.
Industries such as healthcare, retail, and banking, nonprofits such as the YMCA, educational institutions, and governmental organizations such as AMTRAK, and the U.S. Air Force, were all represented.
The first two hours consisted of the program overview and introductions. Our program was facilitated by Karen Gable and Jeff Soluri, two long-time Disney Cast Members with diverse backgrounds. The Institute prefers to hire from within in order to effectively pass down the Disney traditions from Cast Members who have had front-line experience.
When Jeff and Karen asked participants what made Disney special, the stories all focused on the people aspect of Guest service. And I find this is true anytime people relate stories of extraordinary service: It’s always about the way they were treated, never about the quality of the particular product or service they purchased.
The Disney Institute
This is an important facet of providing quality service. It’s not so much what people get, but how they get it that determines their feelings about your organization.
Disney uses the Customer Relationship Scale to illustrate this. Any organization can be placed along a continuum depending on how passive or interactive they behave with their customers:
When I think about the professional firms we work with, many of them are passive. That is, they simply satisfy the customer’s need for compliance work. They do their work and get paid, never really taking the customer relationship beyond the fulfilling of a particular need. Disney says over 75% of businesses have passive relationships with their customers, and I believe that’s true of professional firms as well.
Moving into the active phase requires a firm to solicit feedback from its customers about what they want and need. Fifteen to 20% of organizations are in the active phase.
That leaves approximately 5% of organizations in the interactive phase, in which the organization develops a partnership with the customer that is so deep, it can anticipate the customer’s needs and desires. This is the level that all world-class service providers strive for. It not only requires continuous feedback from the customer on how you’re doing, but also on what they want and expect. It’s a commitment so deep it is often compared to marriage—except the onus is on the service provider to exceed the customer’s expectations, not a 50-50 responsibility.
When you start looking for this type of behavior, you realize that Disney has achieved the interactive level with its Guests. In fact, they claim that Guests are “paying consultants.” Isn’t that an interesting way of viewing learning from customers?
That’s Easy For You, You’re Disney
Probably the most profound lesson I learned was during the opening session. After the participants told stories of why Disney was special to them and how many “moments of magic” had been created for them and their families, one participant said: “Yeah, well, that’s easy for you guys. You’re Disney, and you have all this wonderful magic to spread among your Guests. It’s easier for you to do these things.”
The instructor, Jeff, responded: “No, we’re Disney because we do these things.”
Disney faces competition, government regulation, labor shortages (Orlando’s 1997 unemployment rate was a paltry 3%), union problems (Walt Disney World has over three dozen labor unions to contend with—Mickey Mouse is a Teamster!), and all of the other hassles that businesses have to deal with. The difference is Disney’s culture.
Until Part II…(to be found on Ron’s website)
I began to wonder why it is people can wait 30 minutes to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean and have a good time, but if they’re in the Post Office or bank line for more than one minute, they get irritated. What’s the difference? That difference is subtle but telling. And it has to do with whom we compete with.
The Disney Institute
I would like you to think about whom your competition really is, and in my next post I will share more of the lessons from Disney’s Customer Loyalty course with you.
Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute - www.verasage.com Ron’s book: Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms: http://amzn.to/1aQJxG4