Lessons from Disney for ANY Business, Big or Small

meeting donald duck

As I mentioned, we spent last week at Disney World, our first week-long family trip (we’ve done day trips before while visiting my grandmother).

While I love to watch my girls and experience the joy and wonder of it all through their eyes, the adults in our family also spent a lot of time marveling at Disney as a business. They set a bar for customer service that few other companies reach, and there’s no doubt that that is one of the reasons that people are willing to shell out the kind of money that they do.

I couldn’t help but look for ways that I could apply some of their customer service model to my own business, and I think these are things that every business — big or small — should consider.

disney world

Set expectations high and still over-deliver.

Families like ours go to Disney expecting a lot. The high level of customer service isn’t a secret, and that’s exactly what we expect when we show up. And yet they still continue to over-deliver. Disney cast members constantly spotted our daughter’s names on their shirts and bags and greeted them by name, even as we were just walking through the park. Over and over, we heard them wishing someone happy birthday or happy anniversary, and so many of the cast members we met seemed genuinely happy to see us.

Considering the number of people that visit Disney World each day, it is incredibly clean and well kept. Cast members handed out freebies right and left. Every time we walked into a situation thinking we knew what to expect, we would walk out impressed anyway!

Smile. Have fun.

During our trip, we had a running joke about the parking attendants we encountered each day. It simply didn’t seem possible that they could truly be as happy as they were. We watched them greet car after car with the same enthusiasm, offering a smile and cheery “Good morning!” over and over again. And the same could be said of the waiters and waitresses, dancers, ride operators, etc. Almost all of them seemed happy to be there and like they genuinely enjoyed their jobs.

Eliminate pain points wherever possible.

Another thing that I really noticed was how Disney worked hard to eliminate pain points, especially wait times in ride lines and before parades. The FastPass system makes it so easy to ride the rides you want without having to actually stand in line. That means that you have more time to actually enjoy the park and make memories.

In addition, we loved the pre-parade entertainment in the Magic Kingdom. From the talking, walking trash can (which, by the way, is the job my step-dad wants when he retires from his “real” job) to the Frisbee games and juggling acts, there was plenty to keep the kids engaged and entertained even while we waited.

gluten-free, dairy free dessert at Disney

Go out of your way to accommodate special needs.

By far, the thing that left us most impressed on this trip was the accomodations they made for our two-year-old’s gluten/dairy/soy-free diet. Many a chef came out to speak to me directly to help us create a special meal just for her, and even at the quick service counters, they were willing to show me ingredient lists, create special meals and more.

Truly, our expectations for these alternative meals weren’t high; I don’t really expect other people to accommodate her special dietary needs. But Disney over-delivered time and time again with beautiful meals and desserts that left the rest of the family drooling. For a baby girl who hears, “I’m sorry, you can’t eat that” a lot,  it was heaven to have her own delicious desserts, and we let her enjoy every single bite of them!

Make it personal.

The last time we were at Disney, we were selected to meet Chip and Dale and walk in with them during a show at Fort Wilderness. This time I really noticed how often Disney looked for ways to include guests in their shows and performances. As they lowered the American flag at the end of the day, they presented it to a member of the audience and dedicated a song to a veteran in the crowd. They chose families to ride floats in the parades, and to be part of shows like Lion King. And before the Wishes fireworks, they projected hundreds of pictures of guests from that very day onto the castle.

disney world customer service

Anticipate and recognize needs.

Our four-year-old fell while jump-roping one afternoon at the Magic Kingdom, and before we could even react, several cast members were on their way over with bandaids and stickers for her. Talk about anticipating needs!

It really seemed like they had thought of every possible thing at every turn. From well-stocked baby stations with snacks, diapers, wipes and even formula to the special meals and snacks available, it was obvious that Disney employees work hard to anticipate guest’s needs before the guests even had opportunity to think about them.

dancing with prince charming

Was everthing at Disney perfect? No, of course not. It is run incredibly well, but it’s still run by people. At 1600 Park Avenue, where we went specifically to meet Prince Charming and Cinderella, our table got missed in the character rotation, and we’d eaten our whole meal before we got to meet even one (and then they only came to our table because I approached management about it). But that was the same restaurant with the amazing dessert that our baby girl devoured, and when the characters did stop by, they oohed and ahhed over the girls in their princess dresses, and all was forgiven!

The routine at Bippity Boppity Boutique could also use some help, as it always seems to be overcrowded and chaotic, and despite our appointments, we didn’t get in until almost an hour after our appointment time. But again, the rest of the experience made up for it, and our girls didn’t complain once as they anticipated their fancy makeovers.

Last January, after hearing Scott Stratten speak at Blissdom, I made a dramatic shift in the way I approached customer service — specifically comments here on Life Your Way. Observing Disney’s customer service practices through an entrepreneur’s eyes strengthened my commitment to providing that same level of customer service to our visitors and readers.

Will I always do it perfectly? No. Not only am I human, but I’m also only one person.

But I’m going to keep trying and make sure I do my best to focus on each individual person who comes to Life Your Way, because I think that’s the key that makes the difference!

Have you been to a Disney theme park? What stands out to you about their customer service?