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Disney's Customer Service Model

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The Walt Disney Company is known throughout the world for its commitment to customer service. This is most apparent in Disney's theme parks in Florida, California, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. Disney's commitment to customer service began with the company's founder, Walt Disney. His leadership and vision have made Disney the market leader in terms of customer service. "His willingness to take risks and blaze new trails, coupled with an innate understanding of what his customers wanted, resulted in the legendary business practices for which Disney destinations are famous." (Disney Institute, 2007). This paper will examine Disney's customer service model with particular emphasis on leadership and communication.

Walt and Roy Disney founded the Walt Disney Company began in the 1923 as a simple movie studio producing animated features. In 1934, Walt Disney decided to produce a full length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the time, many believed a full length "cartoon" could not hold an audience's attention; however, Walt Disney proceeded with his vision. In 1937, the film was completed and became the highest grossing film of all time. This success was followed by other animated hits such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi. In 1950, Disney produced its first live action film, Treasure Island, and a television Christmas special. Walt Disney saw the potential of television and began to produce television series' including Davy Crocket and The Mickey Mouse Club. Walt Disney was constantly looking for other entertainment mountains to climb. "One area that intrigued him was amusement parks. As a father, he had taken his two young daughters to zoos, carnivals, and parks, but he always ended up sitting on a bench as they rode the merry-go-round and had all the fun. He felt that there should be a place where parents and children could have a good time together. This was the genesis of Disneyland. After several years of planning and construction, the new park opened July 17, 1955." (The Walt Disney Company, 2007). Disneyland in Anaheim, California put visitors inside the television and movie screen. Walt Disney believed that the theme park would never be truly completed "as long as there is imagination left in the world." (The Walt Disney Company, 2007).

Walt Disney's next vision was for a large, ever expanding world where people could come to experience his vision. The seeds for this vision were begun with the purchase of 28,000 acres in Florida. Walt Disney died prior to seeing the completion of this project; however, his brother, Roy Disney, completed the theme park naming it Walt Disney World. The last of Walt Disney's visions was realized with the completion of EPCOT. Roy Disney died before he could see the completion of his brother's last vision for the resort.

Walt and Roy Disney's deaths did not end their overall vision for the expansion of the Disney theme parks. With Walt's prior leadership and vision in mind, Disney theme parks continued to expand with eventual openings in other countries. Additionally, the Disney theme parks in the United States continued to expand. In Walt Disney World, two theme parks were opened, MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom. In Disneyland, California Adventure was opened. Even today, leaders of the Walt Disney Company look for ways to expand the theme parks using Walt Disney's vision as a guide.

In 1986, the Disney Institute was opened. It was formed to provide professional development programs to help business leaders gain insight to best business practices as demonstrated by the Disney model. The institute provides leaders with direct insight as to why the Disney model is so successful. This includes in-depth behind the scene looks at how the Disney theme parks operate. Clients of the Disney institute include businesses across the world such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Delta Airlines, Duke University, General Motors, IBM, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Department of Education. The program includes staying at Disney resorts and becoming fully immersed in the Disney experience. It goes beyond the classroom to see how leaders across the organization work, and what makes Disney successful.

The background of the Disney Company is important in how it shows what the leadership of one man can accomplish. Under Walt Disney's leadership, the company became one of the premier businesses in the world. Not only was Walt Disney a leader in the marketplace, he was also a strong internal leader. Walt Disney led by example. His visions inspired those who worked for him. His leadership was so far reaching that even after his death; employees of the Walt Disney Company are inspired by his leadership. Walt Disney was a leader in that he was a great communicator. He was, and in many senses still is, the face of the company. He would be on Disney's television broadcasts to introduce the movies being shown. He was the one introducing his new vision for theme parks. Walt Disney was also a great communicator within the company. He was able to convey his visions to everyone. He was able to "sell" his visions and get everyone on board. The most important aspect is how Walt Disney's leadership made Disney the leader in customer service.

Leaders in Disney theme parks are encouraged to think outside of the box to emphasize Disney's commitment to customer service. Examples of this are seen thought the organization when brining new employees on board.

A manager at one of Walt Disney World's premium restaurants has a unique training approach for new dishwashers. When a new Cast member reports to work on the first day, the manager escorts him or her into the restaurant. There, a table has been set with fine linen and china just as it would be set for Disney Guests. In a recent situation, the manager and a new cast member were discussing the restaurant's operation, when the new dishwasher noticed that a glass had lipstick stains, the dishes had crusts of food on the rims, and the silverware was spotted. When the manager asked why she seemed distracted, she pointed out that the dishes hadn't been cleaned thoroughly. "Imagine," said the manager, "that you are a guest who will spend $100 for that meal." (Taylor & Wheatley-Lovoy, 1998, pp. 22)

This example indicates how the leaders at Disney think outside of the box; however, it demonstrates how the leaders the leaders encourage the Cast Members to connect emotionally with Guests (Taylor & Wheatley-Lovoy, 1998, pp. 22). This type of leadership helps the Cast Members see the larger customer service picture. In this example, the Cast Member is able to recognize how these small things can affect the full Disney experience. It also asks the Cast Member to take ownership of every

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