The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney

by J. Jeff Kober | Release Date: April 1, 2015 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Treat Your Customers Like Guests

In this updated, second edition of his classic book, J. Jeff Kober draws on his years as a Disney Institute Cast Member to teach businesses big and small how to apply Disney's world-class customer service principles.

Kober teaches you what Disney taught him, and illustrates each important principle with an anecdote or a scenario from the Disney theme parks so that his advice is easily grasped and easily implemented, while also being entertaining to read.

Whether you're a sole proprietor or business professional who wants pointers on how to more effectively engage clients, or a small company or large corporation looking for a framework from which to design an organizational approach to customer service, Kober's book has what you need. You'll learn how Disney:

  • Uses its famous "Four Service Keys" of Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency, and how you can easily adapt them for your business
  • Practices "assertive friendliness" to make each guest feel welcome and special
  • Keeps guests on the right path with "wayfinding", and how you can do the same no matter what product you sell or service you provide
  • Goes beyond the "Golden Rule" with the "Platinum Rule": treat others the way they want to be treated
  • Creates "customer compliance" with inspired rules and principles that guests want to follow

You can't afford to have your competition treat its customers better than you treat yours. Learn how Disney keeps its guests happy, excited, and eager for more, and then do the same for yours.

Table of Contents

Why Write This Book?


Section I: The Mind of Service

Chapter 1: Disney's Heritage of Quality

Chapter 2: Creating the Experience

Chapter 3: Understanding Customer Needs

Chapter 4: Every Guest a VIP

Chapter 5: Providing Great Guest Experiences

Chapter 6: Getting Everyone on Board with Service

Chapter 7: Disney's Four Service Keys

Section II: The Hand of Service

Chapter 8: Disney's Service Behaviors

Chapter 9: Providing a Genuine Smile

Chapter 10: Greeting Guests

Chapter 11: Making Guests Feel Special

Chapter 12: Front of the House-Back of the House

Chapter 13: Wayfinding at Disney

Chapter 14: Waiting in Line at Disney

Chapter 15: High Tech/High Experience

Chapter 16: Getting Guests to Comply

Chapter 17: Service Netting

Chapter 18: Providing Service Recovery

Chapter 19: Providing Service That L.A.S.T.S

Chapter 20: Three Lessons in Service Recovery

Section III: The Heart of Service

Chapter 21: Walking in the Shoes of Guests

Chapter 22: Leading by Example

Chapter 23: Every Employee a Guest

Chapter 24: The Gift of Empathy

Chapter 25: Magic to the Very End

Chapter 26: Service vs. "Serve Us"

What's Your Next Step?

The decision to write this book is rooted in many experiences. Some of my earliest memories were family vacations to Disneyland. I grew up watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. I was spellbound by how the magic was made. How did they create the Happiest Place on Earth? I simply had to know the secrets that made Disney great. That interest and love of Disney grew when Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller, granted my request to tour the studios at Walt Disney Productions as a teenager. As I walked the corridors and back lots where classics like Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, and The Jungle Book were created, I became all the more determined to be part of the Disney magic.

Life experiences led me to believe that I needed a profession more stable than animation or film production. I was introduced to training and organizational development where I would labor for the next quarter century. But I still wanted to connect with Disney in some way. I appreciate the wise counsel provided by my professor, Stephen Anderson, regarding my graduate thesis at Brigham Young University: “Choose a topic you really love, because you have to live with it for a long time.” As I pondered why I had gone through so many topics, I came to the conclusion that I really liked Disney. So my thesis and first publication were centered on Disney educational media.

It would be a few years and some valuable career opportunities creating organizational solutions for a number of corporations before I finally joined The Walt Disney Company. It was great to be part of what would become the Disney Institute family, learning amazing insights from people like Judi Daley and other Disney leaders who modeled excellence. Unlike most people, who are assigned to work in a particular park or resort, my role was to benchmark all of Walt Disney World. My work encompassed the entire property. There I learned so much more than I ever could have learned behind a desk or in only one area of the operation. Many of those lessons formed the content that became Be Our Guest, prefaced by Michael Eisner.

But while I was excited that my programs became the core of the book, I was disappointed at not being its author. I was also disappointed by Disney business books written by outsiders who attended our programs, but really did not have the inside/outside view of Disney that I had. Moreover, no one had the kind of experiences I had in helping outside organizations adapt these very ideas to their own location.

In time, I left Disney to embark on other consulting opportunities. As chief learning architect of The Public Strategies Group, I focused on improving organizational performance at the federal, state, and local levels. Thanks to Lorraine Chang, Stephen Blair, Anne Teresa, Babak Armajani, and Chuck & Mary Lofy for their mentoring and support as I transitioned out of my full-time experience with Disney. They were especially supportive in letting me bring my own unique experiences with Disney to other organizational settings.

With that mentoring I established my own consulting firm, Performance Journeys, and built a business sharing the lessons I learned from Disney and elsewhere. I’ve worked with Fortune 100 corporations, universities, hospitals, and other non-profit groups to create excellence through the lessons of Disney. Later I saddled up with my business partner, Mark David Jones. Together we’ve been able to continue celebrating Disney as well as other best-in-business entities through our current company, World Class Benchmarking. Here we have supported organizations with thought leadership and practical solutions in building great brands, creating high-performance cultures, and in establishing world-class results.

Still, I had a gnawing concern that no one had really done a thorough job of putting all of the wonderful stories about Disney together in a way that could help other organizations learn and grow. Finally, after years of being away from Disney, I came to a paradigm shift: I didn’t have to be a current Cast Member to be the expert on Disney and best-in-business practices. I soon began to write online, and the response from readers validated my feelings. It’s also allowed me to put together these stories in a way that can be brought to others.

So with the help of my colleague and illustrator Justin Rucker, plus reviews and edits from David and Leah Zanolla, I’m pleased to introduce the second edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. To all who read this, may you find not only ideas, but also hope and inspiration in adapting the lessons and experiences of Disney to create magic in your own organization.

And finally, my gratitude overflows to my family. As always, to my mother and father, Cora and Dale Kober, who believed in the power of a family spending time together. Most of all to my wife Kathy and my children: Mikell, Cameron, Braedon, Jennica, Madison, and Preston. We’ve enjoyed (and even endured) so many visits to the parks. Kath has been an un-ending source of support and joy for so many years. To her, I may be no prince, but being a part of her life is as close to “happily ever after” as it gets. To her and all of my children, I dedicate this book.

See you at the parks! Jeff.

J. Jeff Kober

J. Jeff Kober is CEO of World Class Benchmarking, where he provides a programming series that studies and benchmarks many of America’s greatest corporations such as Google, Nordstrom, McDonalds, The Mayo Clinic, and Harley-Davidson. He is also president of Performance Journeys, a training and development group devoted to creating and implementing improved customer service and performance excellence in the workplace.

For nearly thirty years, Jeff has focused on organizational transformation for the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Those diverse activities have ranged from providing leadership programming for executives at GE to elevating the Starwood Hotel brands of Westin, Sheraton, and St. Regis. Other clients have included Federal Express, Office Depot, MetLife, City of New York, and Volkswagen of North America. Topics have ranged from leadership to performance accountability, and from customer service to team building.

Jeff was formerly a leader with the Disney Institute, a best-practices institution modeled on America’s first corporate university. While there, Jeff was responsible for working across the entire Walt Disney World Resort and designing Disney’s customer service programs. The programs Jeff has created have been seen by scores of thousands of participants in hundred of organizations across the world. He continues to be the benchmarking watchdog for best-in-business practices throughout the Walt Disney Company, having created the Disney at Work interactive app series available on the iPhone and iPad.

In addition, Jeff is the author of Disney's Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz [Theme Park Press] and the co-author of Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence. He currently resides in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and family.

A Chat with J. Jeff Kober

Coming soon...

Other Books by J. Jeff Kober:

Disney doesn't wait until something goes wrong to provide great customer service. That's "service netting".

Consider this analogy. Envision yourself at Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba in Downtown Disney. One of the best parts of the show is the spectacular team of trapeze artists. They are excellent—even phenomenal—but even the best performers risk the possibility of falling at some point.

Imagine that the management at La Nouba decides (because of the cost and hassle) not to provide a net—after all, it’s the trapeze artist’s fault if they fall! Management is willing to install a sign near the phone backstage to call 911 in the event of an emergency. In fact, they even say that should anyone need to call, let management know, and they will call 911 themselves (that way, we don’t have people calling unnecessarily).

Sound ridiculous? Certainly, but the analogy emphasizes how organizations typically fix customer service scenarios. They provide for service recovery in the event something goes wrong. They stress that management should handle service recovery so that no one takes advantage of the system.

The fact is that customers will experience challenges—including mistakes of their own making. Proactively anticipating issues and challenges is a term I call “Service Netting”. Responding after the fact is often referred to as “Service Recovery”. There should be both a net and a phone on hand, but most only think about the response afterwards, rather than creating a net so that the crisis, or the customer’s dissatisfaction, doesn’t happen in the first place.

Disney does many things that act as service nets to keep customers from having problems later on. Some—such as the tip boards near the front and center of each park—allow Guests to make choices as to how they want to spend their time so they aren’t frustrated walking all over the park only to discover long queues at their desired destination.

Here are some other excellent ways Disney approaches service netting. Many of these are processes that make it easier for Guests to do business with them. Let’s take a look:

Remove Service Barriers

Picture your arrival midday at China in Epcot’s World Showcase. As you shop through the streets and stores, you discover a beautiful ivory statue. It’s perfect for your home. You would like to purchase it, but were planning on spending the rest of the day in the park. What do you do? Do you purchase it and carry it around all day? Do you take it back to your car? Do you wait and come back at the end of the day? What if you aren’t passing by the store later? What if the store has closed by the time you return? Making such a purchase like this may feel punitive rather than rewarding.

The good news is that Disney removes the service barriers to buying your dream statue. They provide a service that allows you to make your purchase and then pick up the item as you exit the park later in the day. Resort Guests can even pick up their purchases at their hotel the following day. For a nominal fee, Guests can make arrangements to have whatever they bought shipped directly home. It’s all part of removing service barriers.

Ask yourself, what barriers keep our customers from taking advantage of the products and services we offer? What no-cost, low-cost, or cost- competitive options can we offer that support the services we provide?

Continued in "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney"!

Disney customer service doesn't end at closing time.

On our very first trip to Walt Disney World after Thanksgiving of 1988, we spent five days exploring every nook and cranny of what then was only the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. By the last night we were exhausted. We had walked all day. While we budgeted carefully for this trip, we splurged on a formal dinner at L’Originale Alfredo Di Roma in the Italy Pavilion. After a meal and IllumiNations, we decided to sit down and enjoy our last moments in the park before the long walk back to the buses. When it seemed that most everyone had filed out, we began to get up to leave. All of a sudden, out of nowhere came one of the double decker buses that used to circle World Showcase.

“Would you folks love a ride?”

“Would we? Absolutely!” We got on board and soon headed around World Showcase—past Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico. We figured he would drop us off at near the Port of Entry stores at the entrance to World Showcase. But the jitney took a right turn through Future World and right up to the front of Spaceship Earth. It was a little thing, but it meant so much to us.

We left our first trip at Walt Disney World on such a positive note. In the years since, we’ve spent many an evening on a date night at Epcot. We still stand in awe over IllumiNations, and we’ve enjoyed nearly every restaurant in Epcot. But nothing will compare with that small moment when someone offered us a ride back to the front of the park.

I learned later that those driving the buses were scheduled to close the park, and that they could not go home until the park was cleared of all Guests by security. Since Guests were seated in table service restaurants right up until park closing, they were often dining in World Showcase long after IllumiNations, and so the buses would keep running until the restaurants were clear. It didn’t help that some Guests were a little inebriated, so getting them back to the front of the park was a chore in and of itself. To support the third shift, which had to wait until security verified the park was clear, the staff of each restaurant kept World Showcase operations informed as to when Guests left each dining location so they could be whisked back to the Epcot exit. Cast Members often enjoyed giving this 1:1 type service, and like us, the Guests were very appreciative of it.

Certainly it created magic to the very end.

At the Time of Closing

One of the things that Cast Members enjoy most about working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that the park usually closes sooner than the other three parks at Walt Disney World. Most days, minus summer and special holidays, the park closes at 5:00 pm. That means that many can be home by suppertime. It’s a nice perk.

But then comes the long summer when the park closes around 8:00 pm. Most Cast Members are ready to go home long before that, but many Guests like to come during those last hours of the day since the weather has often cooled off and is less hotter and stickier.

That was my experience with my son when we came around 4:00 pm one day. Now ten years old, his itinerary was to see Festival of the Lion King. Mine was to check out the new Wilderness Explorers interactive game. Less technologically based than other interactive activities that had been introduced at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, I wondered if my autistic child would show interest.

On the bridge leading to Discovery Island, we met up with a very lively Kalah, who handed out books to several children, including mine. She taught all the Caw Caw Roar, handed out the Wilderness Explorer Call Badge sticker, and sent us on our way. My son was not the least interested. We tried another stop or so, but his interest was Festival of the Lion King. So we journeyed on to that location.

Afterward we came to DINOSAUR, his second favorite attraction. Not the ride—just the pre-show. He’s yet to do the actual ride. After spending quality time with Phylicia Rashad, he mentioned interest in getting something to eat at Restaurantosaurus. It was about 7:35 pm. I wasn’t hungry—I just ordered him a children’s meal and waited. And waited.

There were only two or three other people in the restaurant ordering food, but my meal took over ten minutes to come back to us. I watched through the opening in the wall to see what was going on. The Cast Members seemed to be chatting away while waiting for a food product to be readied for another Guest, not thinking about going on to the other orders. When they got around to my order, they pulled out a burger from the steamer, slapped it between two buns, and added fries.

I commented on how long I had been waiting to the Cast Member working the counter. She apologized, but offered no explanation.

We sat down and I looked more closely at the meal. Twelve French fries were all that were there at the bottom of the bucket. What was most frustrating was observing the manager on duty, who seemed more concerned about closing up areas of the kitchen and restaurant than making certain that Guests had a great experience.

Given the price, it was disappointing.

My son finished his meal and we left. Heading back to the entrance of Dinoland, U.S.A., we happened to pass by another Wilderness Explorer station where a Cast Member was busy putting things away—it was now around 8:00 pm. Suddenly she turned, noticed us, and called out to us. “Hey, I met you earlier today at the bridge when you received your Wilderness Explorers Handbook.”

It was Kalah. She gave direct eye contact with my son and invited him again to do the Caw Caw Roar. He wasn’t focused on her, and I apologized for his cognitive challenges. But she would not be deterred. She invited him to see the fossils and to name some of the animals displayed there at the Troop Leader Post. Soon he had worked through a very short version of earning the Fossil Badge. I thanked her and started heading to the exit, when I realized how she was really in no different a position than the cast at Restaurantosaurus. She wanted to get home, too. She could have ignored us, or simply waved at us. Instead, she chose to interact.

I found the same thing happening when I reached the bridge at Discovery Island. It was well after closing, but several Wilderness Explorers were helping youth with the final qualifications of their badges.

It’s not easy to give your all each and every day when you provide customer service. It’s even more difficult when you’re exhausted and ready to head home. But sometimes the most important service is offered in the final hours of the day more than at any other time of day.

Continued in "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney"!

About Theme Park Press

Theme Park Press is the world's leading independent publisher of books about the Disney company, its history, its films and animation, and its theme parks. We make the happiest books on earth!

Our catalog includes guidebooks, memoirs, fiction, popular history, scholarly works, family favorites, and many other titles written by Disney Legends, Disney animators and artists, Mouseketeers, Cast Members, historians, academics, executives, prominent bloggers, and talented first-time authors.

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Theme Park Press Books

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion The Ride Delegate 501 Ways to Make the Most of Your Walt Disney World Vacation The Cotton Candy Road Trip The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney Disney Destinies Disney Melodies The Happiest Workplace on Earth Storm over the Bay A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World: Volume 1 Mouse in Transition Mouseketeers Down Under Murder in the Magic Kingdom Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City Service with Character Son of Faster Cheaper A Tale of Two Resorts I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand The Adventures of Young Walt Disney Death in the Tragic Kingdom Two Girls and a Mouse Tale Ears & Bubbles The Easy Guide 2015 Who's the Leader of the Club? Disney's Hollywood Studios Funny Animals Life in the Mouse House The Book of Mouse Disney's Grand Tour The Accidental Mouseketeer The Vault of Walt: Volume 1 The Vault of Walt: Volume 2 The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? Amber Earns Her Ears Ema Earns Her Ears Sara Earns Her Ears Katie Earns Her Ears Brittany Earns Her Ears Walt's People: Volume 1 Walt's People: Volume 2 Walt's People: Volume 13 Walt's People: Volume 14 Walt's People: Volume 15

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