If Walt Disney Were a Surface Finisher

Tips for Quality and Service from the Magic Kingdom


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Ah, the quintessential Disney vacation. About to hang my shingle on a new door, I recently took advantage of a one-week lull between jobs, packed my family of four into an airborne cattle car and careened south toward the Great Orlando Mousetrap. Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Jr. (of National Lampoon’s Vacation fame) could not have been prouder.

In fact, it was an absolutely fabulous holiday—a time to reconnect with family in Walt Disney’s magical wonderland. I have traveled often to Orlando in recent years to attend conventions and deliver speeches, but this was my first trip there in more than a quarter century with leisure as its sole purpose. In between dazzling parades, tummy acrobatics delivered by roller coasters and nearly vomiting after experiencing EPCOT’s Mission: SPACE, I took time to marvel at the genius present in the Disney business model and ask myself “If Walt Disney had opted to earn his fortune in the coatings industry, how would he have done it?”

Customer-Focused Across the Board
The woman working at the desk of the hotel, the people taking tickets at the gates, the checkout person at the Disney Store, the waiter at the stylish Jiko restaurant were all unbelievably welcoming, friendly and helpful. “You should expect that,” you say, “they deal with the public all day long, that’s their job.” You are right. But get this: even the guy whose guest services responsibilities were limited to driving the Tennant sweeper in the hotel parking lot delivered a huge smile and giant wave as he went by. Every “cast member,” as they are called, was like that. Regardless of what role each played in the Disney Experience, they all seemed infected with the need to deliver great customer service.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, every employee would place the customer at the absolute top of the priority list and would be completely committed to perfecting each customer interaction.

Easy to do Business with
Weeks before we were scheduled to depart on our vacation, an envelope arrived at our door. It contained all of our paperwork and park passes and even luggage tags like the ones placed on your suitcase when you check it at the airport. We attached the tags to our luggage, dropped the luggage off at airport security, and the next time we saw it was when it was delivered to our hotel room in Orlando. We exited the plane, drove to our hotel, and our bags were waiting there to be unpacked. It was virtually the same routine in reverse when we left the hotel bound for home at the conclusion of our trip. This was by far the easiest vacation I have ever taken.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, doing business with his company would be easy—completely free of paperwork issues, late deliveries and poor service hassles.

Appearance Bigger than Life
At the Magic Kingdom everything appears huge. Cinderella Castle, for example, is 189 ft tall but appears way, way bigger. This is due to use of an optical illusion known as forced perspective, wherein as the building is built higher, the proportions get smaller. Walt Disney understood that perception is reality.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher the reality of his company would pale in comparison to its huge image.

You get what you pay for…and it Rocks!
Disney World offers something for every sized bank account. One afternoon I took a spin on the infamous Monorail and ducked off at the Grand Floridian, a high-end luxury hotel a stone’s throw from the Magic Kingdom, to have a look around. It was posh, gorgeous… and out of financial reach for many. However, Disney offers economy level accommodations for those on a budget as well.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, he would offer multiple levels of everything; lead times, service, access to information, quality, inspection, certifications, and so on. He would also ensure that those requiring higher levels of each paid top dollar for them.

Customer Espionage
All over Disney I saw people in white shirts with the word “Research” emblazoned on them. Curious, I made it a point to ask them what it was it was they were researching. From customers’ behavior in a store to how people use the turnstiles, Disney was gathering data on all kinds of customer conduct, no doubt for the purpose of improving the Disney experience and maximizing margins.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, he would know more about his customers than they knew about themselves and would use this customer data to better serve them.

A system for everything
According to Ray from Detroit (a really friendly sort who captained our ferry boat from the Magic Kingdom to the hotel) there are 60,000 employees on the grounds at Walt Disney World. Clearly evident to me was that there had to be bullet proof operational systems behind everything to enable all 60,000 to work in concert to provide the perfect Disney experience. Every nook and cranny was clean. Lawns were manicured to perfection. Flowers in beds were eternally in bloom and not a weed was found. Amusements and rides were aggressively managed for throughput (i.e., there were systems to ensure that every elephant on the Dumbo ride was full and that every available seat on Space Mountain had a body in it), thus ensuring that riders moved through the rides as expediently as possible to make room for those behind them.

If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, there would be a system for everything from maximizing production efficiency to keeping the bathrooms spotless.

One other thing. If Walt Disney were a surface finisher, he would make a TON of money.