The Customer Service Superlative

If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you’ve probably heard of “The Disney Experience” or “The Disney Difference.” Many regard it as the superlative service benchmark; you can hear it invoked frequently across every spectrum of the service industry. But just like a trending buzz phrase, these Disney-esque ideas seem to propagate through the business landscape with little attention to context or detail. When attempting to emulate Disney magic, we’re often too easily satisfied with a vague notion of smiling faces and the way we felt on that trip to Disneyland. Notions of the ideal only get you so far. There’s an artful science behind the magic, and it applies whether you’re serving dinner, coffee, clothing, theme parks, or mobile app platform support. So, what’s the secret? There are certainly more facets to Disney’s service standards than can be written here, but if we dig into just a few key principles it can open dozens of doors leading to endless opportunities for improvement.


Disney strives to connect with their guests relationally in every interaction. Whether you’re booking your stay, waiting in line for a ride, searching for a particular attraction, or trekking back to your hotel at the end of the day, Disney “cast members” will make an intentional, proactive effort to help you. Rather than wait for you to reach out, they’ll anticipate your questions and needs, and treat you as a valuable and unique individual. Referring to their patrons as “guests” is no accident and reflects a philosophy that defines the customer as being much more significant than just a stranger paying for goods and services.

Given that it costs much less to keep fans than it does to acquire new ones, it’s no surprise that Disney has placed such an emphasis on establishing long term relationships by building trust and valuing their guests. Absent of the hussle and bussle of being processed through a system, this feeling of being valued and engaged helps breed an incredible brand loyalty that keeps fans watching the movies, buying the merchandise, and coming back to the theme parks again and again.

Quality Service

Quality service is, of course, about much more than pleasant interactions between guests and cast members. Every process a guest passes through and every environment they find themselves in has been meticulously fashioned to improve the total experience. Every physical feature of the park and every step in a guest facing process has first been viewed through the lens of guest needs and expectations. Knowing your customers’ perspectives and perceptions of the experience you design gives you the chance to exceed their expectations and deliver unparalleled service at every turn.

Attention to Detail

The most visible example of Disney’s attention to detail may be in their relentless pursuit of spotless, trash-free parks. Have you ever noticed how bright and clean Disneyland appears when compared with other theme parks? This incredible mandate is achieved through a top-notch team of custodians that clean every inch of the park at night as well as maintain it throughout the day. But the dedication doesn’t end there. To achieve their unprecedented standards, they task every cast member, regardless of their seniority, with the responsibility of keeping the park neat and clean. This unity of mission and commitment to high standards makes possible what would otherwise be an unreasonable goal.

“Magical” Moments

Beyond the courtesy, the planning, the details, the commitments, Disney wins the hearts of millions by creating “magical” moments as often as possible. Waiting in line for an attraction is usually considered uncomfortable, boring, tiring, and just no fun at all. A day at Disneyland reveals almost every line is themed, interactive, and entertaining. If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot hundreds of “hidden Mickeys” all over the park. Birthday, anniversary, and first-time pins can be picked up at guest relations; cast members are on the lookout for those pins, wishing you happy birthday, congratulations, and offering fun ideas and advice to first-timers. Even the trip back to your hotel room after the park closes hasn’t been forgotten. While riding the tram your driver might start up a game of Disney trivia, and upon entering your Disney Hotel room, you could find your recently purchased stuffed animals tucked in bed, watching tv, playing cards, or even posed cleverly to depict a famous Disney movie scene. Great care, attention, and creative energy have been spent to keep the magic alive throughout your stay and ensure you always remember your visit as fun and full of wonder.

Thoughts and Application

So now you should ask yourself, “How can I apply these ideas to my organization?” With a little creativity and some intentional thought, I’m sure you can. You don’t have to be a CEO, a pastor, or a manager to make a difference. Even if your sphere of influence is modest, you can still be a catalyst for delivering delight and improving the culture around you. You know you’ve seen it before. It’s that smiling server who remembers your favorite meal at your local restaurant. And the vendor who personally delivered a shipment to your business even though you missed the order deadline. And the tech support who helped you solve a difficult and frustrating problem, yet you were certain they were actually happy to do it.

Putting the guest first is an attitude, but it’s also a resolution to never miss an opportunity for improvement. It requires innovation, a drive for excellence, and a bit of humility as well. It means committing to these values and following through with your resolve to gracefully listen and serve, even when some of your customers have been less than gracious. This is especially important when receiving negative feedback.

Let’s be honest, most of us tend to seek positive affirmation for what we do well while playing down our shortcomings. But research shows experts and top performers take that habit and flip it on it’s head. They ascribe more “weight” to negative feedback than positive feedback. In this way, excellence can be wrought from the flames of customer complaints. And if we’re wise, we’ll request constructive criticism from our peers as well. It might sting a bit, and sometimes it will be wrong, but there is almost always some useful truths to be extracted and an opportunity for improvements to be made. And if we’re humble, honest, and driven to correct our mistakes, we’ll seize the moment to learn something, and thank them for their feedback.

So I’d like to challenge you, set aside some time to take a step back and ponder, “How can I deliver delight in my place of work?” Even if you already excel at what you do, being proactive, thoughtful, and taking a few tips from the Mouse is sure to have a positive impact. And if you’re really on board, schedule it on your calendar and make it a regular thing! Get others involved. Be intentional. I’ve made the same commitment in 2013, and it’s already yielding results. Once you start planting seeds of delight, eventually some will grow, and you might just make a big difference.

Thanks for reading.

+ Stephen