I recently had the good fortune to experience a magical few days in Disney World. Though I spent most of my time enjoying the parks as my six-year old did, I could not help but notice how thoughtfully and thoroughly the Disney Company does its job. If ever there was an enduring - perhaps, indestructible - brand, it's Disney.
That kind of success and endurance does not occur by accident. The culture of Disney was clearly set in stone (or castle rock) by its founders and has been protected and carefully enhanced ever since. I'm certainly not the first to be struck by Disney's operating style and culture - countless business books have been written about the company over the years. But below are one small business person's takeaways from a five-day immersion in the Disney experience.
Exceed expectations. Disney prides itself on over delivering and delighting customers. If an employee (who the Disney company refers to as a "cast member") learns you are visiting the parks for the first time, you will be given a "First Time" button. And if you wear that button, you are likely to receive not only kind words and warm greetings, but extra scoops of ice cream on your cone or free stickers as you wait in line for a ride. When my husband commented on how much he enjoyed the raspberry sorbet in Cinderella's castle, our server appeared with an extra serving in a to-go cup (which served as a great distraction from the bill he was signing at that moment). Are your employees encouraged to look for ways to exceed customer expectations? Is your leadership setting the example to do so?
Make it personal. Cast members say "Welcome home," every time a guest walks into a hotel. While it may feel a bit saccharine or presumptuous to the curmudgeonly visitor, by the third or fourth reference, you really start to believe it - and you do feel at home. Who wouldn't want to live in the most magical place on earth?
Own every mistake. If something goes wrong with a food order or during a ride, cast members are quick to acknowledge the problem, apologize for the inconvenience and offer some small reparation, such as a fast pass (to skip lines on a ride) or a Mickey trinket. The folks at Disney know that large crowds + hot weather + bad service = recipe for disaster. Cast members cannot control the weather and they welcome the crowds, so they do everything in their power to ensure that your experience is pleasant and your irritations are minimized. Is your company quick to acknowledge customer concerns and address them? Are your employees empowered to do so?
Protect the brand (and propagate it wildly). Disney is famous for fighting to preserve and protect its greatest asset â€“ the Disney brand and everything it encompasses. You don't find the Disney mark stretched out or misrepresented in weird colors and crazy fonts. And by and large, toys, apparel and even cultural experiences (think "Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast") are high quality products that are well marketed across all types of consumer goods. I happen to be a Perry the Platypus fan - you wouldn't believe how much Perry paraphernalia is available! Are you cross selling your services and leveraging your business investments creatively?
I know. I sound like a crazed mom who had a little too much Disney cool aid on spring break. That may be true - my family had a wondrous vacation and I'm grateful. But as we rode the monorail one night after a parade in the Magic Kingdom, I pulled out my iPhone to look at the historical performance of Disney stock (NYSE:DIS) against the Dow and decided these folks know a thing or two about how to run a business over time. Have you adopted any Disney principles in your small or large business?
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