Bring some Disney magic to your learning customers

The ASTD2013 session M319 with Disney is packed. It’s hot (it’s Texas!) and there is a promise in the air of a great session on the importance of customer service in business and in learning.


Disney is famous for its customer service. Many years ago, dear old Walt said that his people should “give the public everything you can give them”. Is this relevant for learning? If so, how?


Firstly, a question: What is customer service anyway?

The classic definition is about having the highest standards and meeting needs. At Disney, it’s about exceeding expectations through attention to details. In order to achieve this kind of service, you first need to have a clear idea of your own customer service values and mission. And then you need to act accordingly.


Exceeding customer expectations

Stu Levine shared a story about a small boy who lost his teddy bear at Disney, unknowingly leaving for home without it. When the staff found the bear in room 217, their customer-centric values came into action….

Classic (poor) service would have meant putting the bear in the lost and found and waiting to see if the family calls. Unrealistic and unsustainable customer service would have been sending the top employee to drive the bear back to the boy’s home 1000km away and hand-delivering it to the boy with full-on Disney movie music and heavenly lights.

What did Disney do? They took the bear to 2 or 3 attractions in the theme park and took a few pictures of it on the rides. Then they printed the pictures and put them in a box with the bear and a note saying “Sorry I was late home. Had a great time at the park.” Then they sent the box back home to its owner. The motivation for this? Well, for Disney, “even if its not our fault, its our problem.” According to Stu Levine, this “little Wow” is what Disney is thriving for in their customer service. They go the extra mile because they have a clear idea of their customer service values and mission. And then they act accordingly.


It’s all in the details

A major principle that Disney uses to deliver magical customer service is that in everything they do they put the customers’ needs and context first. In order to do that Disney relentlessly studies their guests and what they really want. And then they act accordingly.

For example, one of the most regular questions that Disney theme park employees receive is “What time is the parade?” A bad customer service would be to answer that “It’s in the brochure you received on arrival.” Classic service would be to answer “It’s at 3pm.” Good customer service would be to answer that “The parade starts at Frontier Land at 3pm and it’ll be here by 3.15 so you want to be standing over there by the restaurant by about 3pm.”

The Disney approach is to think about what the customer really wants (their situation, values and needs) and then to go the extra mile to deliver what really counts for them. This means not focussing on facts and process, but focussing on delivering real value to the customer: “The parade starts at 3pm in Frontier Land and will pass by here by about 3.15. But if you have the time to go over to Frontier Land now, there are less people watching the parade there and you can get some shade from the sun with your kids. The tram is over there, just about to go, but I’ll get them to wait a moment for you.”


Listening to Levine, I want to propose 6 simple ideas to help you deliver this kind of service

When you read these notes, ask yourself: “What does this mean to me and how will I use it to improve my learning offer…?”

  • Know your values and priorities and use them as guiding principles to make service choices. In a Disney theme park its all about (in order of priority) safety, courtesy, show and efficiency
  • Do an outstanding job of getting to know your learners
  • Be aware of the impact you can have on the emotions of your customers. People might forget the details and might forget what happened, but they won’t forget the feelings they had.
  • Create the customer experience from the very first second
  • Pay attention to the little details. No one of them is by itself going to ruin the show for everyone, but every one of them has the potential to be noticed one of your learning customers. For better or for worse.
  • Make sure you can always deliver the answer to your learners most important 3 questions


To wrap the session, a few wise words from Mr Disney himself:
“You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them”


Good luck!



Published by Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: