Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Be Our Guest Q&A

Adriana Dunn over at StellaService's happycustomer blog kindly invited me to do a Q&A on Be Our Guest. Here it is:

Book of the Month: Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by Ted Kinni

Walt Disney shows Disneyland plans to Orange County officials in December 1954. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

In the Disney Institute’s Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, author Ted Kinni reveals the secrets to delivering magic to your customers the Walt Disney way.

The Walt Disney World resort enjoys a 70% return customer rate, and the Disney Approach to service has led to three decades of providing professional development programs through its Disney Institute. But just how does a company that was “all started by a mouse” and now employs 175,000 cast members worldwide ensure that its customers’ expectations are consistently being exceeded on such a grand scale? The Disney Magic, as you’ll read in Be Our Guest, is part art and part science — and Kinni details how the company approaches raising the bar at every customer touchpoint.

We think this book makes for a great read regardless of your industry or job title, especially given how much room there is for improvement when it comes to customer service. We spoke with Kinni over email to get a sense of what it takes to deliver Disney-level Quality Service to customers.

Your book discusses the “offstage” – the nuts and bolts of creating practical magic at Disney. What are some of the key takeaways from the process in which Disney consistently delivers exceptional customer experiences?

TK: The key takeaways in Be Our Guest are embedded in something that the Disney Institute calls the Quality Service Compass. There are four points on the compass. The first point is the art and science of guestology. You need to know and understand your customers (at Disney parks and resorts, customers are called guests, which helps create an entirely different mindset about how they should be treated). The second point is quality standards. You need to establish the criteria necessary to deliver great service and the metrics needed to determine how well you are delivering it. The third point is delivery systems. They are the three systems—cast (that’s Disney-speak for employees), setting, and processes—needed to deliver your quality standards. The fourth compass point is integration. You need to integrate the three systems so that they work together as one. If you box the compass—that is, if you work through each compass point in sequence, you can consistently deliver exceptional experiences.

Businesses are often faced with the challenge of scaling customer service operations. Disney employs 175k people worldwide — how have they successfully scaled Quality Service as the organization continues to expand?

TK: The secret is a systematic approach to service. When you look at companies that fail to scale customer experiences and service efforts, you usually find that they have missed one or more of the compass points. Sometimes, a company loses touch with the market as its customer base grows and changes. Sometimes, a company fails to define and measure its quality standards, and thus, there are no clear targets to hit. And often, the delivery systems break down or work at cross purposes to each. Maybe there’s a big influx of new employees who don’t get trained properly or the company’s technological capacity is overwhelmed by a surge of new customers. If you haven’t taken a systematic approach to service, you don’t have anything to scale.

What are some of the benefits the Walt Disney Company has enjoyed as a result of its relentless dedication to Quality Service?

TK: Brand equity, longevity, financial success. In 2013, Disney was #14 on Interbrand’s list of the world’s most valued brands. The brand is valued at $28 billion. The company has been around for 90 years and it’s now the largest media conglomerate.

A lot of this success is attributable to Disney’s park and resorts business. Walt Disney founded the modern theme park industry in 1955, when he opened Disneyland. Today, the industry is highly competitive and guests just don’t come back if they have a bad experience, especially when discretionary spending is constrained. Yet, Disney’s parks and resorts earned $14 billion in 2013 compared to $11.5 billion in 2008. And the Disney name is on eight of the top 10 most visited parks in the world. That’s a testament to Quality Service.

You note several times in the book that the simple fact is that everything speaks to customers. How does this apply to ecommerce websites where the customer is typically only interacting with technology throughout the transaction?

TK: The idea that everything speaks to the customer—that every customer touch point, whether it involves person-to-person contact or not, communicates something about a company’s attitude about service—is really important in ecommerce. Visiting a website is like visiting a theme park; using an app is like getting on a ride. Everything on every page and every click in every process should be designed to enhance the customer experience. If it doesn’t, you risk losing the customer.

What can ecommerce executives focused on customer service learn from the Disney approach to service?

TK: They can learn a lot, but here’s two big things. The first is that customer satisfaction is not enough. Exceeding customer expectations is the key to brand differentiation and customer loyalty in ecommerce and every other kind of business. Every customer arrives with a set of expectations. If that set of expectations isn’t satisfied, that customer isn’t going to come back. But that doesn’t mean the opposite is true: Customers who are satisfied might or might not come back. They might not come back if a competitor launches an interesting, new website or if their friends recommend another site. That’s why Disney thinks that the goal of service should be exceeding guest expectations instead of simply satisfying them. If you’re are committed to exceeding expectations, you will be the company with the best site and your customers will be recommending you to their friends.

The second is that service excellence isn’t built on heroic saves. It’s about eliminating the need for heroic saves. Quality Service is the result of a measured, consistent, and managed approach to understanding and exceeding the expectations of every guest at every touch point. It is hundreds and hundreds of little things that add up to world-class service, and for all of those things to happen, service excellence has to be embedded in the mindset of every employee, in the corporate strategy, and in the day-to-day operations of the business.

What types of objective data does Disney collect on its customers, and how is it applied to improve operations and service levels?

TK: The data that guestology generates comes from an ever-growing number of demographic and psychographic sources—surveys, listening posts, utilization studies, etc. Right now, the parks and resorts business is spending upwards of $1 billion to roll out the My Magic+ system, which will provide RFID-enabled wristbands to park visitors. Eventually, these wristbands will streamline and personalize the experiences of 30 million park visitors annually. They will also generate an endless stream of data about how Disney’s guests spend their time in the parks. All of this data will become fodder for continuing to improve every aspect of the guest experience.

How do you think Walt Disney would answer the question: Is the customer always right?

TK: Channeling Walt is way above my pay grade, but I bet he would say yes and no. Everything Walt ever did—animated and live films, television, and theme parks—was created with the customer in mind. He said, “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.” So, in that sense, Walt was convinced that the customer was always right.

I don’t know if Walt would say that every individual customer was always right. Nobody is always right. But we do know that he believed that all customers must be treated with respect and that whenever possible their expectations should be exceeded. That’s the ideal, right?

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