Be Our Guest - Critical summary review - Disney Institute

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Be Our Guest - critical summary review

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Management & Leadership and Career & Business

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 1423145844

Publisher: Disney Editions

Critical summary review

No matter who you are, we guess that we are not far-off supposing that, for many years of your life, you would have reacted to a trip to Disneyland pretty much as you would now react to a lottery winning ticket. And you know how we know that? Because the same holds true for us. Not that there’s any need to point it out, but this was our dream holiday too!

Now that we are adults, however, we are more intrigued by something other than Mickey and Minnie, something other than the theme park itself, something most suitably expressed in a simple, five-syllable question: how do they do it? How has Disney World – even in an age of smartphones, Netflix and Instagram – remained the most visited vacation resort in the world? How is it possible that almost every single child on this planet cries tears of joy anytime you surprise them with a trip to Disneyland? 

Written with the help of noted ghostwriter Theodore Kinni, Disney Institute’s “Be Our Guest” endeavors to answer these questions. But make no mistake: even though the book will definitely remind you of some parts of your best vacation ever, it is not a book written for those looking for a trip down memory lane. It’s more about those who are interested in delineating and establishing these lanes.

In other words, “Be Our Guest” is, at its essence, a brief guideline on “the practical magic of customer service,” a neatly structured nuts-and-bolts manual on how to satisfy and exceed your customer’s expectations, a highly readable tips-and-tricks handbook on how to earn a place in your clients’ hearts and never risk losing it. And it doesn’t hurt one bit that it’s coming from the best in the business, does it?

No need to remind you of the rest: we’ve read it from cover to cover, and, being the good pals that we always are, are dying to share with you its best bits! Care to hear them out?

The Quality Service Compass

As Disney’s Chairman and CEO Robert Iger wrote to the company’s shareholders in his annual letter back in January 2011, “no name shines more brightly in family entertainment than Disney.” We think that most people would agree that not many companies can use superlatives of this kind without risking disapproval and even ridicule from the general public. And yet, the above is taken to be true almost axiomatically in the case of Disney.

Among so many reasons why this turned out to be so, we must start with that it was Walt Disney's objective. But it was only after his death that the company would become the world’s largest media corporation, thanks in large part to the Walt Disney World Resort, which opened 16 years after Disneyland and half a decade after lung cancer would claim Walt’s life.

Ever since then, people go to Walt Disney World to be amazed, delighted, and entertained, “looking for the kind of magic that will transport them from their everyday lives into worlds that can only be created by Disney.” Aware of this, precisely "magic" is what Disney offers.

Though magic is not a much-used word in the corporate world, it is one of the commonest words in the executive suites at The Walt Disney Company. Of course, what is magical and hidden to the viewer is something entirely else to the magician: “a highly practical process made up of a series of meticulously planned, well-rehearsed steps that are designed to delight the audience.”

This offstage component of the show is what Disney refers to as Quality Service, defined jargon-free as the act of “exceeding your guests’ expectations by paying attention to every detail of the delivery of your products and services.” 

To consistently allow its workers to live up to these two requirements of Quality Service, Disney has devised a well-structured, well-oiled Quality Service Compass. Even though it has a Mickey Mouse hand instead of an arrow in the middle, like any other compass, Disney’s too has four letters attached to it: G, Q, D, and I. They stand for guestology, quality standards, delivery systems, and integration and they form the content of “Be Our Guest.”

Compass point 1: guestology

Guestology is Disney’s quirky and memorable name for the art and science of knowing and understanding customers. It is, in their words, “Disney-speak for market and customer research needed to learn who guests are and understand what they expect from your organization.”

Knowing and understanding guests

Guestology is the first point of Disney’s Quality Service Compass for a reason: the needs, wants, perceptions, and emotions of Disney’s guests are, after all, the basis for the action that takes place in all of the other points. In practical terms, it encompasses the conception, readjustment, and thorough analysis of countless surveys, questionnaires, and forums, which subsequently should reveal two major kinds of information about your guests: demographics and psychographics.

Demographic information is factual knowledge and mainly describes the physical attributes of a group. It often comprises quantitative data – age, place of origin, class – and is primarily used to correctly center the Quality Service Compass.

Psychographic information, on the other hand, is all about the guests’ mental states. It is, thus, qualitative and speculative by nature, which means it can only be acquired through open-ended questions and through the encouragement of customers to speak their minds up. It gives four types of clues that form the Guestology Compass, which shares letters with the usual one but  jumbles them up a bit to present these clues in order of priority:

  • Needs: what the customers require.
  • Wants: what they really want from it.
  • Stereotypes: what preconceived notions they bring to the table.
  • Emotions: what they experience during the visit.

The power of a common purpose

Knowing your guests’ expectations is the first step toward exceeding them. However, you can only move in the proper direction if you know your final destination, your sense of purpose, that is.

Expectedly, Disney’s customer service is an organized, streamlined experience-for-all designed to correct itself and constantly improve because it has never steered away from its common purpose: “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.”

As stated, Disney’s purpose includes three components that all the powerful mottos must include if they want to echo loud and clear in the ears of their employees and clients:

  • Goal (“to create happiness”).
  • Plan of action (“by providing the finest in entertainment”).
  • Customer base (“people of all ages, everywhere”).

Now, that’s why Disney is a purpose-driven company – and why yours should be one, too! Once you have a well-formed purpose, both your employees and your customers will enjoy their time with your company much more for the simple reason that they’ll know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

Compass point 2: quality standards

A common purpose is just the beginning of your journey toward quality service. Since it naturally acts as both a promise to your customers and a mission for your employees, fulfilling this promise and accomplishing this mission is the necessary next step toward success.

And to do that, you need to establish quality standards. Defined by Disney as “the operational criteria that ensure the consistent delivery of a common purpose,” quality standards are, in fact, those service values which support the common purpose. In Disney’s case, there are four of them, always listed in this particular order:

  • Safety. The welfare and peace of mind of its guests is Disney’s foremost priority. That’s why their safety features are often above and beyond local codes.
  • Courtesy. Every guest at Disney is to be treated as if a VIP, for example, the way that they want to be treated, “with recognition and respect for their emotions, abilities, and cultures.”
  • Show. The standard here is a seamless performance that is exceptional and uninterrupted from the beginning to the end of a guest’s stay at the resort. That’s why the show is always framed within a story, supported by every element of the resort.
  • Efficiency. Efficiency is all about the smooth operation of the theme parks and resorts.

Let us sum up Disney’s quality standards for you: as far as they are concerned, nothing can be offered to a guest unless it’s safe, presented in the best possible way on an individual level, framed within a magical story, all the while working like clockwork.

Compass point 3: delivery systems

There are three service-delivery systems that all companies share: their employees (i.e., their cast), their setting, and their processes. Unsurprisingly, the people at Disney know a thing or two about all of them.

The magic of cast

Also The Walt Disney Company employs over 150,000 people worldwide, with the Walt Disney World alone employing over 62,000 people. Needless to say, “hiring, training, managing, and retaining such a large workforce is a huge undertaking.”

There are two ways Disney achieves this:

  • Performance tips, i.e., “generic, organization-wide set of image and behavioral standards” taught at training centers and during an employee’s first on-the-job experience. This is why Disney’s employees – oh, sorry, the members of its cast – talk differently: using Disney-speak means you are part of Disney’s family.
  • Performance cultures, i.e., the creation of location-specific “behaviors, mannerisms, terms, and values.”

The magic of setting

The setting is, of course, the place where your customers meet you (retail store, website, hospital, etc.). According to the Disney Institute, “the importance of managing the effect of setting on the guest experience can be summed up in two words: Everything speaks.” In other words, you remember Disney World fondly not just because of what you can see there, but also because it’s an all-round joyride for your other four senses.

Does Disneyland remind you of the smell of popcorn? The music of your favorite songs as a child? The touch of water and the taste of saltwater taffy? Of course it does! Well, you should create a similar experience for your customers as well! Remember: they’re your guests, and you want to leave the best possible impression.

The magic of process

Processes “encompass and utilize both cast and setting, and they comprise the most prominent service-delivery system in most organizations.” At Disney theme parks, these include everything from the check-in and check-out processes at the hotels to moving the guests through the attractions.

Of course, all processes presuppose issues (Disney calls them: combustion points) even when perfectly planned, so a company should be prepared to readily address them. For example, the four most common combustion points for Disney are the following ones:

  • The lost-car problem, or helping people who don’t know where they’ve parked at the end of the day.
  • Cast-to-guest communication, or ensuring that each member of the cast can solve guest problems.
  • Guest flow, or the “how long is that line?” issue.
  • Service attention, or handling guests who cannot utilize a service process.

Compass point 4: integration

The final point in the Quality Service Compass is integration. Expectedly, it means nothing more – but also nothing less – than combining and aligning all three delivery systems (cast, setting, and processes) in a complete fully operating mechanism. Because, after all, even if the employees, the setting, and the processes are perfect by themselves, they need to combine well to create a fault-free experience for all of the guests.

This is a logical process that employs a very simple integration matrix. The matrix, in turn, is nothing more but an expanded tic-tac-toe board that lists all of your company’s quality standards in the first column, and the three delivery systems (employees, setting, process) in the top row. For the perfect experience, all of the quality standards should be addressed and implemented by all three delivery systems before a guest is even allowed to experience your presentation.

Final Notes

The bad news is that “Be Our Guest” is not a customer-service magic wand; the good news, however, is that you are probably getting the next best thing: guidelines validated by both history and experience! 

The even better news is that once you close the book, you’ll probably be in a cheerful mood and you won’t resist the temptation to start singing a certain Disney song. You know what, we’ll join you: “Be our guest, be our guest/ Put our service to the test/ Tie your napkin ’round your neck, cherie/ And we’ll provide the rest…”

They really do, don’t they?

12min Tip

Being a part of a company should not be that dissimilar from being a part of a family. Achieve this by establishing a powerful purpose, framed within a story with an alluring beginning and a fairylike happy ending. The beginning should be your “company myth” and the ending – your objective. That should make your employees something more than your inferiors: may they become your Fellowship of the Ring, your own Mickey Mouse Club!

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Who wrote the book?

The Disney Institute has been advising and training organizations for three decades, basing this service on their own insights and practices of the Walt Disney... (Read more)

Theodore Kinni is a veteran business writer, journalist, and reviewer. He has authored, ghosted, and edited more than 20 business... (Read more)

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