Almost five years to the day since I cut my ID in half and handed in my second-best name tag I put pen to paper about my life After the Mouse.
Working for Disney is undoubtedly special, there is a feeling you only get from being a part of the Disney Cast Member family. What comes After the Mouse is the real challenge. In this article I intend to look back at my own journey since working in the Parks and Resorts and what legacy has Disney left me.
Being a Cast Member is easy, - if you have what it takes that is - then it is lots of common sense, a little know how and a heap of smiling. Let’s face it none of us was the first Cast Member; somebody had been there before and done the job. The creases had been ironed out and a well-trodden path lay before all of us. Costuming was over here, our work location over there and Disney-U was behind us.
If you then stayed on and advanced a little in the company you learn a whole heap more. Different jobs, new skills from the most mundane to the most challenging. Then after years working in the comfortable, close, closeted microclimate of the Disney family I moved on. It was time to get a real job.
For some the experience is an easy transition. You find an employer who looks upon your Disney training as a positive thing, they see a trained customer service professional with a wealth of experience. Some however see a job applicant who had a ‘holiday’ job with a Mickey Mouse company.
Regrettably mine was more the second experience. It may be a European thing but Disney is still seen as the summer job. Of course Shawn Cleaves (writing for Jim Hill) had a different experience and perhaps its an American thing, the perception of Disney’s service is more a part of the culture. When I went for interviews in London it was certainly different.
Initially I concentrated on employers who had a reputation for good service who said they were looking for ‘Customer Service Professionals’. The reality however was a little different. Many asked for customer service and meant telesales staff. The service offered was in most cases the fabulous opportunity to but an extended warrantee on your mobile phone. Ok I could do the job but I couldn’t see myself having the phone slammed down on me fifty times a day.
Stranger still, in more than a few interviews I had to stand my corner and defend my resume. After the first few times though I began to appreciate that any employer who didn’t realise that making customer service run as smoothly as Disney does is a lot of hard work, and the staff who provide that service are well trained professionals. It took a while but I realised that if the interviewer didn’t get that then they just weren’t the right employer for me.
Making customer service run as smoothly as Disney does is a lot of hard work!
The other lesson I learned was to de-Disney the resume. Lose all Disney words and nomenclature from the job titles. Another quick interview killer was I had listed ‘Guest Relations’ on my CV – everyone understands that... right? When asked to define the work at City Hall I’d give a list of the responsibilities but if I ever mentioned the VIP team, Bang, interview derailed! “Oh, did you meet the Spice Girls?” Over, done, finished! ‘Guest Relations’ out ‘Customer Services’ in.
The other concept I keep bumping my head up against is defining who is the customer we are meant to be serving.
If you remember your Disney Traditions training, chances are you’ll remember that whole pyramid of service thing a Maslow diagram of sorts, Where the Guest was at the top of the inverted pyramid, The Cast Member was on the next layer down servicing the Guests needs, then came the Leads, servicing the Cast Members needs, then the managers etc, all the way down to the last inverted point where Michael Eisner sat, serving everyone’s needs… okay so it was a little idealised but it seemed to represent the way the company worked. Everyone there facing the Guest and looking out for them.
And why? Because Disney knows that the best way to get Mr Family Man put his hand in his wallet is to exceed his expectations! And in the Magic Kingdom that’s not an easy thing. He cannot be forced to give you a dollar, but the same guy will turn out his pockets happily if you’re there to look after him and his family that once in a life time vacation. Good Service = Revenue! Simple. So why do so many companies get that so wrong?
I have been to meetings where the whole concept of look after the customer and they in turn will look after you is rejected as a fairy tale, just so much hot air. Get them while they’re fresh, lock them into a contract and bleed them, ‘they’ll only leave our company as soon as they can so get the maximum dollar now’ is almost the mission statement.
I am not foolish enough to think Uncle Walt was some utopian philanthropist who only wanted to give joy to the world, he was a businessman, and a good one, a financially successful one. It is a simple idea, give people what they want, be nice to them while your doing it, and if you can exceed their expectations the all the better. Then when they left the Magic, they left smiling. The man was a genius.
This ethos is what sells Disney to the public, it is seen as so seductive people literally want to buy into the dream; the understanding that what ever happens Disney will be a good family experience. Look after the customer and they will become loyal to your brand, they will come back to your product willingly.
What I am seeing more and more of in this current economic climate - though it was common enough before - is the idea that as a worker you serve your boss, the boss is your customer. Your focus from clocking on to clocking off is to follow your employer’s business plan and if that plan doesn’t include a comprehensive customer care policy then where do you go?
Think about the last time you bought a product or a service that you were dissatisfied with. Let us for the sake of argument carry on with the mobile phone company from before. This is a competitive marketplace, lots of choices, lots of customers to make those choices, this should be the height of a competitive market, and as every company is selling much the same product then their customer service should give them the edge. Look out for your customer base of regular, paying customers and it will be loyal to you, right?
In reality the corporate mindset seems more focused on winning new customers than looking out for the existing clients and if they leave then, hey you've had their money already.
Recently Disney went in a different direction, radically enough treating their existing customers well - in fact better that well, they did that already. They implemented a scheme where Cast Members had the opportunity to ‘plus’ their Guests trip with small gestures. A food and Beverage host for example had the power to offer a free desert to a family of Guests who were clearly watching the holiday budget. What did it cost? In real terms it cost pennies – but what did those pennies buy? Whole truck loads of goodwill and that is priceless. can you see your phone company giving you a free case to protect your new phone?
Now we come to the point of this article where I finally get to the point, what my Disney legacy has been.
Since I left the Mouse I have worked for a company who outsource the bureaucracy of local government. I work in an office where the government is the client, the all mighty client. Their wishes are all that my employer has to worry about. The Government is also the traditional bogeyman, (who isn’t just a little cautious in dealing with the government?) And yet, despite everything I have written here, I think I do my job of focusing on the customer, the resident, well and they seem to agree. Just add a little, carefully disguised Disney service to the job – (wishing people a Disney Day does not go down too well) - and customers find dealing with the government quite a nice experience.
You see despite having to work to constantly changing rules and regulations of the city, the increase in taxes, the contentious issue of managing the parking on one of the worlds most traffic congested city’s I still do things in a way I learned at Disney.
Working truthfully, honestly and professionally, not forgetting the all-important smile, I still get the job done and both the taxpayer and the government are happy. It’s funny but those simple, throwaway things you learn at Disney work well outside the realm of the Mouse.
Pointing with your whole hand, answering honestly if you don’t know the correct reply – ‘I’ll be happy to find out for you’ works wonders – and clean shoes and a shave impress too. Most importantly though is a willingness to look out for that elusive positive side, want to find a solution not another problem. I may not be able to give my customers a free desert but I can give them my respect, the benefit of my experience and 100% of my attention, and where appropriate the 100w Disney smile.
I have also been training others in the Disney way of doing things.
Besides training and mentoring new members of staff in my workplace I was honoured to be asked recently to lecture to the local university in one of their lunchtime lectures. The topic was “Customer service – the Disney way”. The room was filled with an informal crowd of students, faculty, and I discovered later people from other facilities around the area. I talked for an hour on the finer points of looking out for people, exceeding expectations the whole nine Disney yards. And it felt so good to be preaching the word according to Walt again.
At this point I should be writing a snappy summery. Having started it many times I realise I am singing to the choir here on After the Mouse.com. You guys all know how real life can be kind of flat after Disney. My solution to the post Mouse blues has been to just carry on in the same spirit. Be nice to people and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be nice rite back at ya!
Having spent a couple of days rewriting this I’d like your feedback so please don’t be shy. In fact please leave comments or submit an article or two yourselves.
Wishing you all a Disney Day!
It has been over a decade since I wrote this and while I still cringe at my own writing style, I still think in much the same way. It's funny reading this again after so long.
This was a comment from Kay at the time
"Congratulations on a fabulous article, just finished reading it with a nice cup of tea!!
Wonderfully written and utterly true in all aspects, I think most of us must have felt like this trying to enter the working world outside of Disney.
No other company can dream of having the standard of Guest Service which we are trained in for Disney.!!
I went to work as a staff trainer in a luxury 5 star Hotel some time after Disney and like Tim I tried to pass on some of my knowledge in a way that didn't smack of Disney,.. the hotel got the results and the business, staff turnover lowered but I never really felt like any of the staff truly cared about the guests, not like we did in Disney...myself included.
I used to get annoyed going for job interviews when potential employers were not impressed enough with my Disney experience, raging mad in fact!!! I was like for ***** sake I have had training from the best in the world...!!
Sadly unlike Mr mouse I never really found my niche in the working world and for that I am a little sad, I never felt any company was truly worthy of my experience and I never really cared about any other organisation after Disney
Oddly enough though at the time I worked for Disney I didn't feel quite as fond of the company as I do now as a proper Adult and regret leaving when I did- I definitely feel I had a lot more to give and can't really understand why I left in the first place as now I feel it would have been my ideal career to have progressed as you did.
Anyway I am now fulfilled as a full-time Mum, part-time concert worker and have my own photography business!!!
However if ever there was a way back into the organisation without leaving my current life I would be very happy!!!
Again a fantastic article , you really have a cool writing style