What I Learned From A Mouse With Big Ears
According to Bruce Kimbrell, a facilitator for the West Coast operations of the Disney Institute, people come back to Disneyland for three reasons: cleanliness, friendliness and safety. A few weeks ago Bruce took me on a behind-the-scenes tour of Disneyland to show me how Disneyland employees make the enchantment happen. This is what I learned:
1. Focus on the right stuff and the money will come
The top three priorities of Disneyland management is leadership excellence, cast excellence and guest satisfaction. The fourth priority is financial results. My interpretation is that if you do the first three things right, money is a natural outcome.
2. Take care of your employees (cast members)
Disneyland has “team centers” to serve the needs of its employees. These centers provide insurance, discounts, tickets, transportation services and payroll services. The message I picked up was “be good to your employees, and they’ll be good to your customers.”
3. Everybody should do the “dirty jobs”
How many people are there in the park sweeping up trash? Take a guess. The right answer is an astoundingly low number: eight. (I guessed 250 when Bruce asked me.) This is possible because every employee is supposed to keep the park clean, not just the janitors.
4. Everybody is customer service.
Here’s another question for you: How long do you think the training is for the people with brooms sweeping up the trash? The right answer is an astoundingly high number: six weeks. This is necessary because guests ask janitors questions, so the folks with brooms must be experts about the park. By the way, the training for parking lot attendants can be as long as eight weeks.
5. Pay attention to the details
Bruce told me that Walt Disney himself specified the type of trash can for the park. These cans are currently swapped out every two years and Disney repaints them every four months. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist about the Macintosh trash can icon—the similarity between Steve Jobs and Walt Disney is not a coincidence.
6. Pay attention to even more details
A hairdresser in the wig department told me that it takes 30-45 minutes to wash and set the wig for Ariel. Then it takes 90-120 minutes to dry it. Finally, there’s another 30 minutes to comb it out. This is for a wig. Most entrepreneurs don’t spend this much time practicing their pitch for venture capitalists.
7. Make your customers feel close and important
The buildings on Main Street are 5/8th scale. This is to make people feel like they are closer to the action and important. Most companies erect edifices to make their customers feel small, and their bosses feel big. Disneyland does the opposite. Walt Disney used to crouch down to see Disneyland from a child’s perspective.
8. Know the facts
Here’s yet-another question for you: What is the ratio of adults to kids at any given moment in the park? Believe it or not, there are four adults for every kid. I would have never guessed that. This has big ramifications: Disneyland can’t just be a place for kids since kids are only 20 percent of the customers.
9. Green is good
The floats are all battery-powered. The fireworks are launched with compressed air, not explosive charges. The trains are bio-diesel and burn the oil from the park’s restaurants. Currently, 80 percent of the 1.3 pounds of trash that each guest produces per day is recycled.
9. Keep customers coming back
The Star Wars inspired ride called Star Tours has six different destinations, two beginning scenes and three holograms. This means that there are 54 different combinations. If you’re very lucky, you can see all the combinations in three rides—or, much more likely, you’ll have to keep coming back for more.
You should check out the Disney Institute for its seminar offerings. The institute covers topics such as leadership, brand loyalty, creativity and service quality. Many programs include behind-the-scenes tours like the one I went on. And the next time you schedule an event, consider a Disney meeting facility because of the blend of inspiration, education and entertainment that’s offered. There are few institutions that can put theories into practice like Disney can.
*Disclosure: Disneyland provided a room and board for two kids and I as well as passes to the park and a VIP tour guide.