Monday, August 13, 2018

Why Your Brand Needs a University and Other Tips for an Amazing #BrandExperience

I may be unique in my choice of favorite social media platforms, but I've met a myriad of amazing and inspiring people through my Tweets, conversations, and chats on Twitter. Recently, I met Dennis Snow, a fellow advocate for creating positive and memorable customer experiences. Since we've both worked for "the company that started with a mouse," as Walt Disney used to describe The Walt Disney Company (Dennis at Walt Disney World, and me at Disneyland Paris in France), I invited Dennis to appear on my blog to share some of his insights about customer service and customer experience marketing. 

At the end of an interaction between a brand and a customer/fan/guest/client/media rep/stakeholder, a positive and memorable experience results in an amazing brand experience. Tips to create an amazing brand experience and highlights of my conversation with Dennis follow a brief introduction.

Dennis Snow is a business author, speaker, and consultant who helps organizations deliver a world-class customer experience. He is the author of two best-selling business books, "Lessons from the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization and Career" (DC Press), and “Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service” (Wiley). Visit Dennis' website at, read his blog at, connect on LinkedIn (, and follow on Twitter @DennisSnow.

QUESTION: You've spent a great deal of time teaching others about the secrets of customer service from "the company that started with a mouse." What are three of your favorite lessons that all brands can learn from Disney about customer service?
DENNIS SNOW: Here are my three:
1. Walt Disney World cast members (employees) are relentlessly reminded that, “We’re not selling rides, we’re selling an experience.” Most companies’ products (including rides and shows) are commodities, and consumers have countless choices for where to spend their money and time. An outstanding experience, however, is very rare and encompasses every touchpoint of the customer’s interaction with an organization.
2. “Everything speaks.” From the appearance of the facilities to the tone of voice of the employees, every detail impacts the customer’s perception of an organization’s brand. In fact, the number one compliment Walt Disney World receives is how clean the place is. There’s a good reason for that. It is the responsibility of EVERY cast member (employee) to pick up any stray piece of trash they see on the ground. With 66,000 cast members focused on keeping things looking good, it’s no wonder that cleanliness of the place is the number one compliment.
3. “Little wows add up.” While grand gestures are wonderful, and customers appreciate them, the magic is in the little wows. Walt Disney World encourages its cast members to consistently exhibit simple but effective niceties, such as, offering to take a photo of the family, smiling, asking where guests are from, interacting with children, making recommendations, etc. Taken individually, these behaviors seem like no big deal. But over the course of an entire Disney vacation (or even one day), those little niceties add up to a very big deal.

TWEET THIS: While grand gestures are wonderful, and customers appreciate them, the magic is in the little wows. ~@DennisSnow #CustomerExperience #BrandExperience #BizTip
QUESTION: You were a part of the Disney University team, during which time you taught the Disney corporate philosophy and business practices to cast members and members of the leadership team. How can other orgs create and maintain a University for their brands?
DENNIS SNOW: The Disney University came about because Walt Disney himself understood the vital role that employees (cast members) would play in the Disneyland experience. Since 1955, the Disney University has been the first step of any cast member’s career. There, they learn about the Disney culture, as well as what will be expected of them. And throughout a Disney career, the Disney University provides ongoing learning opportunities that reinforce the organization's culture. I’m regularly asked, “How long is the training at Walt Disney World?” The answer is that begins when you join the company and continues for as long as you work there.

Creating and maintaining a corporate University requires commitment from the top level of an organization as well as an iron-clad belief in the importance of ongoing training. Even in tough financial times, the best organizations don’t cut back on training. They see it as an investment, not an expense. And that takes commitment from those at the top.

QUESTION: One of the ways that you teach about creating a culture of excellence is to "Ensure that your organization's backstage environment never impacts the onstage customer experience." Can you please explain for those who've never visited a Disney theme park?
DENNIS SNOW: A good way to think about the onstage/backstage philosophy is to imagine a high-end retail store or luxury hotel. Everything about the environment communicates elegance and quality. In that scenario, imagine an employee accidentally leaving a supply room door open, with full view of dirty mops, cleaning products, employee schedules, etc. Backstage just came onstage, causing a disconnect between the image the organization worked so hard to create, and the reality of the what the customer sees.

You can imagine the logistics involved in running a place like Walt Disney World. There are delivery trucks, cast member break areas and cafeterias, management offices, warehouses, storage areas, and thousands of other elements required to run a place that is twice the size of Manhattan. But remember, Walt Disney World is supposed to be a magical place. So, all of those operational elements are located behind the scenes (backstage). Here’s a graphic example of the importance of the onstage/backstage philosophy: Imagine a child at Walt Disney World seeing Cinderella on break smoking a cigarette...the result might be years of therapy!

QUESTION: What is a customer-focused culture?
DENNIS SNOW: A customer-focused culture is one in which everything is designed with the “lens of the customer” in mind. Too many organizations design their processes and procedures for their convenience, not the customer’s convenience. A customer-focused culture asks, “What do we want the customer experience to be?” and then designs all processes and procedures to deliver that ideal experience.

TWEET THIS: A customer-focused culture is one in which everything is designed with the “lens of the customer” in mind. ~@DennisSnow #CustomerExperience #BrandExperience #BizTip
QUESTION: A favorite question among cast members at Disneyland in California, the Magic Kingdom in Florida, and other Disney parks around the world is, "What time does the 3 o'clock parade begin?" Can you explain what the question really means in Disney-speak and how it cuts to the core of Disney's customer experience?
DENNIS SNOW: “What time is the 3 o’clock parade” is the classic example of a legitimate question masquerading as a silly question. Since the Magic Kingdom parade route is nearly a mile long, the question the guest is really asking is, “What time does the 3 o’clock parade get here?” In this case, "HERE" means a specific spot along the route. Disney cast members are trained to recognize that guests are out of their comfort zones and likely overwhelmed. So, of course they may not know how to phrase certain questions or may not even know what questions to ask. It’s the job of the cast member to understand what the guest really needs.

In the late 1970's, I worked at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. I was required to wear a Captain Nemo costume. I was approached by countless guests who asked, “Do you work here?” Rather than respond, “No, my mother just dresses me this way,” I understood that what they were really asking was, “Can you help me?” The bottom line is to look at things from the customer’s perspective.

Dennis Snow the Disney Cast Member

QUESTION: Your pinned Tweet on Twitter says, "No matter what business you're in, every employee at every level has numerous chances to wow customers. You just have to be on the lookout for chances to amaze." Can you elaborate on this?
DENNIS SNOW: This goes back to what I said earlier about little wows adding up. It’s so easy for employees to fall into robotic mode and to simply process customers through a series of transactions. However, by being present in the moment, it becomes clear that there are multiple opportunities every day for creating moments of wow. And it doesn’t have to take any additional time or cost anything. It’s simply a matter of being present and caring about the customer’s experience.

TWEET THIS: This photo of Walt Disney at Disneyland (probably in the late 1950’s) is my all-time favorite Disney photo. The message it communicates is timeless: effective leaders walk the talk. #WaltDisneyWorld #Disneyland #CustomerExperience #WalkTheTalk #EmployeeCommunications
My gratitude and appreciation to Dennis for sharing his customer experience marketing insights. What will you use from this post to improve your brand's customer experience? Please chime in.

To read about a memorable customer experience story from a visit to Walt Disney World, check out my blog post featuring Kevin Leifer (@KevinLeifer on Twitter) – it’s truly an unforgettable story. Click here.

Image Credits: Dennis Snow (Walt Disney and Dennis Snow photos). Debbie Laskey (Disneyland Paris cast member guidebook photo).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!