Care Like a Mouse

The Key to Delivering Disney Quality Service

by Lenn Millbower | Release Date: January 31, 2018 | Availability: Print, Kindle

The Method of Walt Disney

Don't let them fool you. The magic of Disney is really method. Walt Disney developed sophisticated yet common-sense methods for everything he did, from films to theme parks. Once you know those methods, you can create some magic, too.

Lenn Millbower, the Mouse Man, learned up close how Disney turned method into magic. He spent 25 years at Walt Disney World, starting in Epcot Operations, stage managing at Disney-MGM Studios, opening Disney's Animal Kingdom, writing training material for the Disney Institute, and leading training at Walt Disney Entertainment.

In Care Like a Mouse, Lenn teaches Walt Disney-inspired customer-service strategies and tactics applicable to your organization and your career so you create your own pixie dust. You'll learn how Walt did it, and how you can do it—once you know the method behind the magic.

“As he breaks down the magic into bite-sized advice, models, and methodologies, Lenn helps you to understand why the Disney magic isn’t actually magical. Rather, it’s a result of hard work, solid method, and persistence. He spices all this knowledge and insight with intriguing insider stories that you’ll find useful as you convey the service message inside your own organization.”

Martin Lindstrom, Best-selling Author, Buyology, Small Data

Table of Contents


Pre-Show: World Drive

Part One: The Message Key

Chapter 1: Purpose

Chapter 2: Operating Priorities

Chapter 3: Behavior Priorities

Part Two: The Interaction Key

Chapter 4: Serving "Castomers"

Chapter 5: Engaging Customers

Chapter 6: PREsponding to Problems

Part Three: The Context Key

Chapter 7: Staging the Platform

Chapter 8: "Themeing" the Performance

Chapter 9: Fixing Process

Finale: Imagining Possibilities


Additional Reading


Some years ago, a Swedish research team set out to explore the impact of a simple smile. Teaming up with a local travel agent, they temporarily replaced the regular staff with actors tasked with an unusual job: to smile—or not to smile.

They offered exactly the same product and exactly the same service. The only difference? Some customers were welcomed with a warm smile, and others weren’t. The impact was remarkable. The customers met with a smile spent 17% more than those who found themselves dealing with a non-smiling agent.

There’s nothing complex about a smile, is there? It sounds so simple. And yet, as a former member of the Qantas board once said, “You have to be capable of smiling at 4 a.m. every morning.”

As our world has turned increasingly rational, companies have become increasingly dependent on technology to manage their dealings with customers. In the process, they’ve turned their backs on the need to provide any sort of personal service.

If you were to ask customers which they prefer—super-quick delivery or excellent service—most of them would say, “I’ll take the quick delivery.” And yet, I’ve learned over the years that what we say and what we feel are often remarkably different. If we’ve become so addicted to instant gratification, why has the number of Americans visiting farmers’ markets increased by 17%? Why did the number of people attending live concerts go up by double digits last year? Why did 10% more people in the United Kingdom go to the theatre last year, even though sound quality, proximity to the stage, the comfort of the seats, and even the quality of the refreshments don’t compare to those in your home entertainment set-up?

Many years ago, Alfred Hitchcock revealed one of the secrets to his great movie creations, the blue and the green script. The blue script is what he called “the theatre of the stage.” It’s the conventional, on-the-surface, visual and aural script: dialogue, action, sets, costumes, music, sound effects, camera angles. On the other hand, the green script, which he called “the theatre of the mind,” dealt with the audience’s emotions. He would map out how the audience should feel, minute by minute and even second by second, as they watched his movie. Here they should feel anxiety, turning on a dime into fear, followed a moment later by a sense of relief. As a perfectionist, he would create a detailed map of the emotional results of his storytelling.

Whenever retailers or brands approach me for advice, I always ask, “What are your blue script and your green script?” In actuality, of course, few brands have ever thought about their marketing in those terms.

In our never-ending search for operational efficiencies, we’ve squeezed the emotional dimension out of the equation. The end result? Retailers and brands are barely differentiated from each other. When you fly, you may never realize which airline you flew with. Check-in takes place at a self-serve terminal representing some 20 airlines. Multiple airlines share the lounge. The aircraft you’re boarding might be a co-share, owned and managed by another airline. Catering is practically non-existent, and so is the service. Forget about blue scripts and green scripts. These days, the only script is grey.

Why should I choose to visit a conventional book store rather than Amazon? Why should I visit Macy’s shoe department, rather than shoe-shopping online at Zappos? Overhead costs in brick-and-mortar stores practically guarantee a higher price, and limited shelf space means they can’t offer the nearly unlimited selection of an online retailer. So how can the brick-and-mortar retailer differentiate itself? The green script, of course. The shopping experience, the personal service, the human touch.

But here’s the problem. Service is an intangible. Our Swedish experiment was able to quantify the value of a smile; but for most retailers, it’s difficult to directly correlate great service with an increase in sales. There are just too many other factors disguising the benefit of great service.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that service isn’t part of most organizations’ DNA, and as a result it takes a remarkable effort to improve service. Some tough emails and town hall gatherings with the CEO might have an immediate, short-term impact. For a few days or weeks, everyone will force themselves to smile. Management will fool itself into believing the organization’s quality of service has improved permanently.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Genuine excellent service is a fragile, sensitive, very rare species, and it evaporates almost as fast as you can say the word. Service is directly linked with the organization’s internal culture, and the company’s default mindset is to revert to old ways of doing things.

Service cannot be an afterthought or one of ten points on a to-do list. It cannot be the responsibility of one department, nor an initiative unconnected to the employees’ KPI (key performance indicator). It has to be embedded into the core of the company—into the organization’s very DNA.

Improving service takes time; it must be a mandate to all the staff—from the bottom of the org-chart to the very top—and it requires ongoing training. The default mindset has been stitched into the muscle memory of the organization; to change that muscle memory requires long-term commitment. So long, in fact, that management may observe superficial improvements, pat itself on the back about its “success,” lose interest in the initiative, and move on to another shiny object.

As you read this book, ask yourself how committed you are to implementing the core of Lenn Millbower’s philosophy. If you’re truly committed, then believe this: you have a wonderful tool in your hands for changing your organization’s service culture. But this topic is a bit like feeding the birds on your balcony during the summertime; you need to know that you’ve assumed a certain degree of responsibility, and as winter arrives and things turn a little more difficult, the birds will have come to rely on your effort.

In Care Like a Mouse, Lenn provides some fascinating, unexpected insights into the Walt Disney Company’s service culture—a philosophy that still, many years after the passing of the company’s founder, is appreciated by children, adults with a child inside, and service-minded CEOs. As Lenn breaks down the magic into bite-sized advice, models, and methodologies, he helps you to understand why the Disney magic isn’t actually magical. Rather, it’s a result of hard work, solid method, and persistence. He spices all this knowledge and insight with intriguing insider stories that you’ll find useful as you convey the service message inside your own organization.

As you read the book, please do me a favor: pause, and then reflect on how you really intend to live what Lenn is preaching. Don’t latch onto Lenn’s insights as quick, easy solutions. Make a genuine effort to explore what it would take to truly change your own organization’s default mindset. How can you make divisions collaborate? How can you encourage change through tools of motivation? Most importantly, how can you ensure that your good intentions won’t end up in the corporate dustbin with this year’s customer-service initiative, but will embed itself into the very DNA of your organization?

I know it’s an enormous task, but as a British journalist once wrote, “The world has never changed this quickly—and it will never change this slowly again.”

There’s just one perfect time for this: right now! As almost every industry is being commoditized, as technology infuses itself into every corner of our lives, as what we say and what we really want are increasingly out of balance—the timing for change has never been better.

Lenn Millbower

Lenn Millbower is the founder and president of Offbeat Training LLC, an organization specializing in teaching Disney methodology so that business professionals can make their own magic.

Lenn has extensive experience in healthcare, training and education, instructional design, customer service, leadership, innovation, and presentation skills over the past three decades in a variety of organizational environments. His lauded learner-focused strategies give him a real-world perspective on the relevant application of brain-based adult learning methodologies.

Prior to founding Offbeat Training LLC, Lenn was a training leader at Walt Disney World Learning Solutions where he managed the team that wrote and documented all operational employee training. He wrote leadership, technical, and soft-skills training as the instructional design training manager for Walt Disney Entertainment, including the Disney character training program and the technical fireworks training. At the Disney Institute, Lenn was the instructional designer and content owner for the Disney Approach to Loyalty, the Disney Approach to Quality Service, and the Disney Approach to Quality Service for Health Care Professionals.

Working as an instructional designer for Disney University, Lenn wrote several training programs, including Housekeeping, Custodial, Attractions, Ticket Sales, and Customer Service, and orientation programs for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Walt Disney World.

On the Animal Kingdom opening team, Lenn wrote and established the entertainment training offerings and department.

In the continuing courtship of customer service between Disney and its theme park guests, the company makes of what they call "touch-point tools."

There are numerous and less obvious cast-guest encounters that occur every day at a Disney park. Walt Disney World has identified specific Touch Points where guests and cast members are likely to intersect. Every one of those Touch Points has been orchestrated for maximum emotional impact. Tools for enhancing each interaction have been devised, trained, and delivered.

These Touch Point Tools provide several advantages:

  • They encourage conversations between guests and cast.
  • They make it difficult for cast to avoid talking to guests.
  • They give guests a topic of conversation for talking to cast.
  • They structure otherwise random conversations.
  • They help cast identify the occasions guests are celebrating.
  • They build lasting connective memories for guests.

Some examples of Disney’s Touch Point Tools are:

NAMETAG PERSONALIZATION. Cast member nametags are personalized with hometown, favorite movie, favorite character, or other information relevant to the Walt Disney World marketing campaign of the year. These personalizations provide commonalities between cast and guests that help them relate to each other at a personal level.

TRAINING RIBBONS. Cast members in training have an additional nametag adornment; an Earning My Ears ribbon. The ribbon communicates that the cast member is still learning his or her role. Although a Touch Point Tool, the ribbon often evokes guest sympathy for the new cast member. It functions as an escape valve for understanding and forgiveness.

TRANSPORTATION TRADING CARDS. Baseball-inspired trading cards featuring the boats, trams, and monorails in the Walt Disney World fleet were created so that transportation cast members could give them to guests as collectible keepsakes.

JUNIOR ENGINEER CERTIFICATES. Guests too small to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad—a Magic Kingdom roller-coaster—can receive a certificate allowing them to bypass the line when they grow tall enough to ride. This certificate turns what would otherwise be a guest disappointment into a special perk to look forward to on a future visit.

SECURITY CITATIONS. Security cast members can issue “citations” to guests for having fun, impersonating children, or dancing in the streets. The citations honor the guests receiving them by calling attention to, and celebrating, the fun that guest is having.

PASSPORTS. At Epcot, in alignment with its World Showcase of countries, children can get a “passport” stamped at every “country” they visit. Passports are customized for special events, especially Epcot’s Flower and Garden and Food and Wine festivals. Each time the guest gets a passport stamped, there is another chance for a cast-guest connection and conversation.

PIN TRADING. Cast members wear lanyards loaded with pins commemorating Disney company characters, movies, TV shows, theme parks, and attractions. Guests can trade any pin of their own for any pin on the cast member’s lanyard. The cast member lanyards and the pins on them are company issued and worn as a part of the cast member’s costume. Pin trading has become so popular that guests often show off their pins to cast members. The cast members then use the trading transaction as an opportunity to make a personal connection.

CLOTHING AND LOGOS. Cast members are taught to comment positively on the items of clothing a guest is wearing, especially if, as usual, the guest is wearing clothing with a logo on it. A guest wearing a sports team cap, for example, might be asked how that team is doing. A man with a bright orange jacket might be asked if he’s a Florida orange grower. A woman wearing earrings might be complimented on the uniqueness of the jewelry. Whatever the clothing item, the comments relate to the guest.

Continued in "Care Like a Mouse"!

Case studies leaven the lecture, and cogently show how Lenn's principles can put a shine on the customer service in any business entity, from corporation to candy shop.

Imagine that a candy store named Tommie’s Candies has experienced slipping sales. In response, Tommie assembles a small team to revitalize the store. They decide that the store is not unique enough and agree to give it a themed story. The team then brainstorms a theme and a message.

During brainstorming, they determine that the candy has two main attributes. It is delicious. It is also, given its caloric and sugar count, a “sinful” pleasure. Using those two attributes, they list several good/bad ideas. The winner is “wicked good candies.”

Message: “Our candies are wicked good.”

Wicked good candy fits the “good for you/bad for you” dichotomy. It has a slightly naughty, but not evil, connotation. It implies witches and enchantment. A witch theme could also become problematic. Some people might object based on religious grounds. The theme could also limit perceptions of the candy shop as a Halloween-only store. Enchantment is, on the other hand, a theme that should resonate throughout the year.

Theme: “Enchanting Candy”

The team discusses renaming the store to “Wicked Good Candy.” But they decide, because the store is already known as Tommie’s Candies, to modify the name to Tommie’s Wicked Good Candies. They further decide that the focus will remain on the candy and its “enchanting” qualities.

Just as they were concerned that a witch theme could alienate some people, they decide that enchantment should be understated; that the store, the employees, and even Tommie should acknowledge rumors of enchantment, but without confirming whether or not they are true; and that it is the candies, not the people, that should be enchanted.

Story: “Is the candy enchanted? Perhaps. See for yourself.”

With the theme, message, and story identified, the next step is to align all the content in the store to communicate the enchantment story.

Continued in "Care Like a Mouse"!

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