Friday, June 27, 2008

A Passport to the Happiest Place on Earth

Passporter Disneyland Resort and Southern California Attractions (First Edition), By Jennifer Marx and Dave Marx. Ann Arbor, MI; PassPorter Press, 2006; 282 pp.

Just for the sake of variety, I thought I'd do a review this week of a guide to the Disneyland Resort. Now, being a native southern Californian and having been to Disneyland so many times I can't even begin to count, I need a Disneyland guidebook like a fish needs a bicycle (sorry, Gloria Steinem). But if I did need a guidebook for a visit to Anaheim, I'd most likely choose this one.

Several years ago (no, I don't know how many - I'm not going to ruin my blog by doing silly things like research!), Jennifer and Dave Marx came up with the first of a unique series of travel guides. The PassPorter guides provide a lot of great information about Disney destinations, but they provide a lot more - a planning workbook, a easy-to navigate reference, and a keepsake/souvenir of the reader's vacation. A couple of years ago, with an excellent guide for Walt Disney World under their belt, Jennifer and Dave decided to create a PassPorter guide to Disneyland and southern California. If there was any concern that the original PassPorter was some kind of fluke, they've dispelled those concerns with this book.

Jennifer and Dave have created a great guide for planning a southern California vacation with an emphasis on Disneyland. They cover almost everything you'd need to know in a thorough yet concise manner, all organized for easy access. From accommodations to attractions to dining, the PassPorter Disneyland Resort provides the information you need to plan your vacation, and provides honest opinions on what you'll see and experience. Jennifer and Dave have included lots of references to websites (including theirs), so you can explore your options further and gather additional information; they also provide some of the nicest looking and most useful maps I've seen in a Disney guidebook (and that includes the Birnbaum guides). And it's all presented in a manner that doesn't leave you feeling either overwhelmed or like you've missed something.

But the neatest part of the PassPorter is that it isn't just intended to help you plan your trip - it can also be used to document it. Behind the guidebook text is a series of "PassPockets" that you can use to organize and plan your trip before you go and to record your expenses, photos and recollections of the days' events; the PassPockets even include sleeves where you can store items like receipts, ticket stubs, and other items you might want to save. When the planning's all done and you're on your way, bring the book along -- you can add a few autographs, notes, and photos to your PassPorter (there are pages for that, too), and when you get back home you can fold over the flap in the back of the book, close it up with the elastic band, and now you have a memory book of your vacation.

My problems with the PassPorter Disneyland Resort are very few. First off, if you're planning a trip to Disneyland later than a couple of months or so from now, I'd recommend holding off on purchasing the PassPorter until the new edition comes out in a few weeks; since the book was written in 2006, several items are out of date. Of course, guidebooks begin to go out of date almost from the minute they're published, and most of the book's tools for planning and preparing for a Disneyland vacation are as valid now as they were back in 2006, so if you're going sooner, don't give the PassPorter a pass (pun intended).

Second, if you're searching for optimal touring plans, you'll probably want to supplement this book with another book or website that emphasizes touring plans, like the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland; the Marxes provide one touring plan per theme park, but don't provide plans optimized for certain age groups or for varying lengths of stay. But both of these are very minor complaints.

The PassPorter Disneyland Resort is an excellent, thorough, and unique guide for planning and enjoying a trip to southern California; like its counterpart for the Florida theme parks, it'd be one of the two or three books I'd recommend to anyone making their first trip to experience the Disney theme parks. Now, how about we take up a collection to send Jennifer and Dave on some research trips to the overseas parks so we can have some great guides to those places, too?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What A Mouse Can Teach You About Customer Service

Inside the Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney's Success, by Tom Connellan; Austin, TX: Bard Press, 1997, 193 pp.

Sometimes I'm so enthralled by the Disney magic (or the wizardry that makes the Disney magic) that I tend to forget that the Disney theme parks are a business. Needless to say, they're a very successful business, so inevitably the question comes up: Why are the Disney parks such a big success, and is there anything people could learn from that suceess that could apply to their own businesses?

In Inside the Magic Kingdom, Tom Connellan uses a fictional narrative of a group of five businesspeople who go on a business retreat to Walt Disney World to learn seven lessons about Disney's approach to customer service. Along the way, they learn that every customer service experience impacts perceptions of their own company's customer service, they learn how many little details combine to make up the Disney guest experience, how everyone and everything at the parks works together to enhance the guest experience. They also learn how Disney depends on many types of guest feedback to measure their success at pleasing guests, how Disney recognizes, rewards, and celebrates outstanding customer service, and how everyone - even people who don't deal directly with guests - can make a difference in providing excellent guest experiences.

I'm not a big fan of the "here's how to do it" type of business books, but Tom's done a pretty good job with Inside The Magic Kingdom. Tom's not going to win any awards for his characters - they're pretty much superficial creations intended to show how different types of businesspeople have different approaches to customer service - but his protagonists help to quickly get across the key points of the narrative. As the plot progresses, Tom introduces additional characters to share anecdotes about how Disney applies the lessons he's teaching, and he has his main characters share some interesting"Disney details" - some that you've probably have heard many times before, a few that may be new. Tom even has one of his characters go through the cast hiring process so they (and we) can experience a little of the Disney approach to hiring and training new cast members - an element of the park experience that we seldom hear much about in books about the parks. Best of all, the book is a quick read considering the amount of information you learn - I was able to finish the book over the course of a few hours over two days.

While Inside the Magic Kingdom is a pretty good business book overall, I have a few minor quibbles. The book's biggest problem is that it's starting to show its age; it mentions several senior Disney executives who are no longer with the Walt Disney Company, and there have been some changes to the Magic Kingdom since the book was written. (Admittedly, most businesspeople reading this book aren't going to notice, but Disney fans will.)

While Tom's narrative style for the book is fun, the plot's kinda weak at a couple of points. One character's transformation from confirmed grump to customer service fanatic is a bit of a stretch, and appearances by former CEO Michael Eisner are just plain unbelieveable. Also, if you're really fanatical about discovering Disney details, you may decide that Tom's telling you a lot of things about Disney you already knew. But I consider myself pretty fanatical about learning useless Disney trivia, and even I learned a couple of things I didn't know by reading this book

Inside The Magic Kingdom is a fun way to learn a little about how the Disney theme parks make the guest experience a little more special and how Disney creates and maintains a corporate culture that's fanatically devoted to customer service. If your boss asks you to recommend a book to add to the office's collection of training materials, you may want to have him or her take a look at this one, or maybe you can pick up a copy for yourself and sneak it in there when nobody's looking! Perhaps it'll inspire someone to add a little of Disney customer service magic to your workplace.