There is a school of thought that says that the Name Tag is Walt Disney's finest gift to his Cast Members
When Walt Disney made each of his Cast Members identifiable with a badge he revolutionized customer service at a stroke. The early badges were heavy, made of brass and didn't even have the Cast Members name on them - just their ID numbers - as name tags went they were pretty useless, not even technically living up to the name but when five years later names were added they were the start of something big.
I am a child of England in the 1970s, Disneyland was some far off exotic, magical kingdom and the new Disney World was not yet captured in most people's family albums, as it is now. Affordable flights to Orlando were still a dream in my distant future. Most of my parents' co-workers still addressed each other as Mr. This or Mrs. That. In fact, my Grandmother is still known as Mrs Arkwright (Senior Ladies Fashions Floor Walker, C&A stores) to those who worked with her back in the '70s. The world was a different place back then.
In the intervening decades, the world has evolved into another version of itself. We all address each other by our given names. Many of us now declare ourselves to be "happy to help", or "here for you", we wear it printed above our names on a little plastic badge pinned to our lapels; not a greeting I can ever imagine Granny Anne ever having shared with the fashionistas of 1970s Wigan*. Don't get me wrong - Granny was polite and courteous, just not so in your face and certainly not on first name terms.
At the forefront of that wave of nominative plastic were Walt's employees. In the very early 1960s the name tag came into it's own at Disneyland. Suddenly the steam train conductor stopped being anonymous employee #15833 - he became friendly, approachable Bob - hey we're on first name terms here! Guests were transported via their Disneyland Passport to a world where they were on first name terms with everybody. Every Disney Cast Member from Walt himself down to Attractions hosts and the Guy in the Parking lot emptying the trash cans wore a name tag. And so it continues, find me a corporate photo of Bob Eiger without a name tag.
This deceptively simple device has confounded many outside of the company though. A name tag does not make good service make. Apologies to Aristotle or who ever coined the original phrase but it is true. Sadly many companies out there have not realized that the name tag is only a small part of the Disney service thing, there needs to be a structure of approachable, trained and informed staff behind the name tag to make it work. Have you ever asked for the help that is offered by the name tag and only got a blank look in reply? The answer is I hope "Yes but not at Disney".
So why has Disney got the Name tag thing so right while so many others have got it so wrong? I think the answer is in the way that Disney name tags are seen and used by the company. They see them as a kind of Swiss Army knife of Guest Service. Many companies I have seen may get one or two points from the list but very few see beyond the first and last points in this list.
As far as I can see the name tag has eight major functions;
The Guest feels they know the Cast Member, getting quickly to that friendly first name rapport.
Ah - the Year pin! Such a clever way of marking out those Cast Members who have been around for a little while and who know there stuff. While the 'Earning my ears' ribbon also helps identify those new to the company who may need a little more time to help Guests. Both show seniority in a discrete but authoritative way to both Guests and Cast alike.
Disney awards is best Cast Members with 'Award' pins to be worn on the name tag such as the "Partners" pin and it designates that this individual has won the "Partners In Excellence" award. The Partners In Excellence award celebrates those cast members, both onstage and off, who exemplify the Disney spirit. Or my favorite Gold Jiminy Crickett Enviromentallity pin.
The little 'bump-out' at the top of many name tags is great free advertising space. Each Cast Member effectively becomes a walking, talking bill board for whatever season, promotion or celebration is current.
One of the fist things you receive on your first day as a Cast Member is the Name tag, your name tag with your name, and in many cases hometown engraved on it. It is uniquely yours. No Dymo taped 'CHUCK' stuck on here and ready to be recycled for the next guy.
You have received your unique name tag, you are now a Cast Member - welcome to the family. Insert warm fuzzy feeling here.
Like Disney's Guests its Cast Members speak many languages, to help Guests and Cast talk many modern name tags have language pins denoting the Cast Members communications skills - though for some reason my Klingon pin was fround upon... go figure!
Ouch - here it comes the catch - the disadvantage of everyone knowing your name is that if there is a problem, everyone knows your name! If someone has 'a beef', an issue, 'an axe to grind' with Disney, for whatever reason, they know who to 'talk to'... you! They see you, a representative of Disney, hell you even have Mickey Mouse on your name badge and they have your name, a fact they can't help but remind you of.
But then that is the secret of the Disney name tag, you might not know it but as long as the issues is with Disney and not the Cast member the name tag is 'bullet proof' (that's metaphorical by the way, no getting the shotgun out and testing the idea). One thing I taught many, many newly recruited Cast Members in their early days with the Mouse was when the Guest in front of you talks to you, they are talking to the name on the Badge, they are talking to the representative of the Company, not necessarily you personally.
I also taught this lesson to a university class a while ago, the session was called something imaginative like "Customer Service, the Disney method" (I need to work on that for next time!) The group was mainly for students, but in the audience there were also faculty and museum staff; weeks after the lecture two of them came back to me with a finesse on my theory, something that had escaped me previously. 'When you take your off name tag at the end of the day, you take the weight of the responsibility off too'. When you unpin the name tag and walk out into the rest of your life, denuded of your corporate identity, for all the camaraderie, support and belonging that the name tag gives when you wear it, the freedom it gives at the end of the day when you take it off is liberating.
In conclusion, whether Disney created or merely reinvented the name tag in the world of customer service I think they have pretty much perfected the art. I no longer work for the Mouse but I do still wear a name tag and even if my employers are amongst those who really only see the two points from my list, I wear my name tag with pride. It is after all as good as a Kevlar vest.
* Wigan: Not to knock the town of Wigan, or it's social scene - in 1978, the American music magazine 'Billboard' voted Wigan Casino "The Best Disco in the World", ahead of New York City's notorious Studio 54! Have a look at this YouTube clip.... the Wigan Casino home of Northern Soul music.