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.

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