Once upon a time, many years ago, I attended a quality service course at The Disney Institute in Florida, which was probably the best course I have ever been on. I have just looked online and the course is still being run.
From my own experience, I cannot recommend the course enough. Its introduction states: “Excellent service does not simply come from a friendly transaction or helpful technology – it is the result of truly understanding your customer’s expectations and putting the right guidelines and service standards in place to exceed them. When an organisational framework properly unites its people, place and processes by putting the customer at its core, exceptional service becomes possible across customer touch points. This creates greater intent to return and recommend, as well as a stronger competitive edge.”
The course helped align our whole organisation around every element of customer service. Every point made on the course was supported by a visit to the park itself to see principles put into practice. Those lessons have stood the test of time – so much so they keep coming to mind almost 20 or so years since I attended the course. They are still as relevant today as they were then.
One lesson was the concept of on stage and off stage. Disney customers save for years to visit the park so their holiday is the fulfilment of a family’s dreams. It has to be perfect in every way. Visitors don’t need or even want to see what happens behind the scenes – it’s the front of house that matters. Seeing Cinderella having a surreptitious fag behind the scenery breaks the dream and shatters the illusion. The customer (and their dreams and expectations) is central to all Disney does.
Once a Disney character appears on the park, the staff member in the costume is on stage. The same principle applies to all other team members. Off stage and below ground, team members can say what they want or wander around wearing only half an outfit but once on stage they are immediately in character and their focus is to keep the dream alive for their guests.
This is not always as easy in pubs, bars and restaurants these days. There isn’t always such a clear delineation between on and off stage. Is a bartender behind the bar on or off stage? Is the chef in an open kitchen on or off stage? Is a glass collector on or off stage? Of course the answer is they are all on stage as far as the customer is concerned. They are part of the play, the expectation and the experience a guest pays for.
Yesterday I was waiting to order a coffee in a Starbucks franchise. The manager (I assume) handed my server a list of instructions on a laminated sheet while she was trying to take, and make, my order. No glance in my direction from him. No apology. No “do serve this person first and then I need to talk to you” request. When the manager left, my server turned to a colleague and said: “If he thinks I’m doing any of this he has another think coming.” She then proceeded to chat to her colleague while I was paying her. Nice.
There was no point in me commenting, although I was tempted to ask if she could actually see or hear me. I felt ridiculously cross with everyone there – the manager, my server and her colleague. I don’t want to hear a conversation that should be kept back of house and private. I don’t want them to air their dirty laundry in public. I don’t want to feel like they couldn’t give a monkeys about my experience or whether I returned or recommended them. I don’t care about my £2.90 but I do care how they made me feel.
The Disney principles still hold good. When you’re in front of a guest you are on stage. The customer deserves your full attention – now more than ever.