I think we can agree –- especially after my last post –- Disney does great Customer service. Having written that post and received many great comments I came to a realisation, giving great customer service made me a better Disney Cast Member and that is a skill set you take with you to your next employer after Disney.
City Hall, Main St USA, The Magic Kingdom, Disney! The address for great service and great learning too if you are a Cast Member. I went to City Hall with a lot of Park experience and I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Magic Kingdom –- wrong! Whilst I knew where the wash rooms were and the quickest way to Space Mountain I didn’t understand one key factor in the equation, -- Myself, the Cast Member.
As I have said before I when I went to Disney I was pretty green. The classic Cast Member background, Small town upbringing, family focused, small circle of school friends and I didn’t know what I didn’t yet know. By the time I joined the Guest Relations team at Disneyland Paris (as it then was) I worked to the top of a few serious learning curves. I had encountered and become friends (even shared an apartment) with openly Gay people, I’d worked out you could date girls you hadn’t grown up and gone to school with, and that not everyone was the same –- different nationalities, different religions, different ways of life but at heart we all had something in common.
Working E-Ticket, thrills and spills attractions in a theme park close to high density public housing projects where the local kids figured if the world owed them a life, then Disney at least owed them a day out filled with posturing and displays of machismo. We learned that deep down we were both scared when it came to butting heads over queue jumping and petty acts of antisocial behaviour. The Zi-va’s (Zee-Var-s) as the local gangsta’ wannabees were known liked shows of loud intimidation and wild arm gestures. We, with our nametags and costume learned subtle ways of talking softly and calmly like a Hollywood villain played by an English actor, with just a hint of menace and a clue given about how big a stick nice old Uncle Walt could wield.
We learned that the parents of children that they had lost sight of in the excitement of the parks were often more scared and visibly frightened than their children – and sometimes became defensive and oddly aggressive towards the Cast Members of the lost children’s team when the family was reunited.
Often you’d be taken aback by the people being escorted by undercover security backstage to face the music having been caught ‘forgetting to pay’ before leaving the ‘Emporium’, Or by the danger faced by people precariously hanging off the architecture, video camera in hand to tape the parade.
I saw and heard the women – there was way more than one – who smuggled tiny, yapping, lap dogs into the park in hand bags and couldn’t understand why the ‘imbecile’ attractions Cast Member wouldn’t let them - the ‘whole family’, including the dog – ride the looping roller coaster together… I had seen all of these ‘Guest Challenges’ and more before I wore the ‘Gold D bade’ of a Guest Relations. But joining the team that was the very face of Disney was another challenge.
As I laid out in the other piece, there is a whole ethos, and a living tradition to Disney’s Guest Services. What wasn’t clear to me then and its only just becoming clear to me now years later is the grounding I got then, the way I learned to think about the customer and their needs and desires and fears and how they communicate those emotions has made me a better employee now years later.
I did things during the three years I spent in Guest Relations that I did naturally, as part of my daily job that now looking back I find incredible that did then. Things that were not what I was expecting; facing an angry millionaires wife who’s credit cards were turned down;
searching the parking lot late at night looking for a family to break the news that they weren’t heading home just yet – daddy had had one beers too many and had been arrested – only to find mommy and the eldest son were in the same state and spoiling for a fight;
helping a colleague console the family of a Blue Badge visitor who’s final dream had come true but only just… then having to be a shoulder to cry on in her turn.
Disney, and especially Guest Relations asked a lot of me, and I gave willingly. Only now am I realising how much I got in return. I got to work with some of the best people in the world I got to see and do some amazing things but best of all I got to know myself. Thank you Disney – I owe you a lot!
With almost 20 years between my Disney life and today, I think I can honestly say that I've used these lessons learned in every job since.