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5 Things I Learned from Disney, Part 2: Goofy Goes Out of His Way, or, “The Right Way to Treat Your Customers”

By Tom OlsonJuly 17, 2019

**This is the second part of a five-part series about how a terrible vacation experience turned into one of the best life and business lessons I could have learned. Please click here to read Part 1: Our Cruise Vacation Falls Apart if you have not already.**

If you read Part 1 of this series, then you already know how I ended up missing a speaking engagement, not going to Cuba, watching my entire family meltdown into tears around me, and nearly getting ejected from a cruise line’s central offices. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, then you probably should so you can find out why all of those negative things ultimately turned into one of the best business mini-courses you will ever find. To summarize: When I left off in Part 1, I had realized my family should take a shot at going to Disney instead of just staying in Miami and being miserable.

Here’s what happened next…

We had called Disney and asked them if they had room for us at the resort. Bear in mind, this was a very busy time of year for them. School was getting out. Summer was getting started. I was not particularly optimistic that we would be able to find somewhere to stay. However, I knew I had to try not just because it was better than staying in Miami, but also so my family would know that I was working hard to resolve things for them using the resources we had and the resourcefulness I had discovered was so important in Part 1.

I was thrilled when I discovered they had room for us at Saratoga Springs, particularly given that it was Monday afternoon and I wanted the room for Tuesday. That pretty much never happens. Even the Disney representatives were surprised. However, unlike with the cruise line, where I was lied to, treated dismissively and unkindly, and even misled about my passport situation in a way that could have cost me thousands of dollars to rectify had I believed what they claimed they were doing was true, at Disney I was treated with the greatest kindness and consideration from the very first phone call to the front desk, long before they realized they could accommodate me. To be clear: They were very honest that having a room available was a long shot. They just were so considerate while doing so that it was obvious to me they were seriously trying to work out a solution for me, their customer.

Most people have no idea that running a theme park is a really stressful thing to do. You may not realize it, but every single character, employee, and operator (at Disney they are “cast members,” but really, they are so much more) is responsible not just for their personal job, but also for keeping the people at the park safe. It requires a lot of focus, and that is why at so many parks the characters are off-limits, and you are not supposed to speak to them unless you are invited. That is how a lot of people run their businesses: You are not invited to interact with them in any way other than to input your credit card information unless you are invited.

Related:  The Power of the Mastermind, Part 4: The Network of "Fewer Betters"

So that is the second lesson I learned at Disney:

The customer does not have to always be right, but you should always treat them right.

At Disney, every single person, from the lady at the front desk to the security guards dressed as different supporting characters to Cinderella herself, goes out of their way to make you feel welcome. If they see you looking at them, they wave. If they can, they come over and shake your hand. They smile; they welcome you, and they are nice to parents, kids, and everyone in between, not just to the part of the family they think is the “meal ticket” individual in the group, which is to say the one who pays the bills. On the other hand, at a lot of businesses, they will say, “The customer is always right,” but they treat the customer like they are kind of a pain. They may even treat the customer like a fool by lying to them or otherwise indicating that the customer does not matter. You can agree with someone to their face, then roll your eyes and ignore their needs all day long and the customer will know how you really feel.

I had always heard that other companies send their employees to Disney to learn how to treat customers without having to go so far as the old mantra, “The customer is always right.” Making that a hard and fast rule can create real problems for you, by the way. But they do their very best to treat you like you’re always right, and that makes it so much easier to work with them. Just being kind, offering a listening ear, and demonstrating with everything they say and do that your concerns matter to them changes the entire experience for the better even when they do have to tell you “No” in order to, say, keep you safe.

Read Part 3 Now…

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