Faced with mediocre customer service results and a scheduled relocation to the newly-built Amway Center, the Orlando Magic basketball organization decided it was time to energize and re-train its current employees as well as the center’s new service personnel. The well-respected NBA organization turned to Disney Institute to help introduce a new service-oriented culture to more than 1,500 employees. By implementing a wide range of Disney’s best practices, the Orlando Magic saw improved employee morale and witnessed a significant increase in customer service satisfaction.
Failing To Connect
"Something was missing. Many of our employees just didn’t seem engaged nor were they collaborating with their coworkers," says Audra Hollifield, senior vice president of Human Resources and Administrative Services for the Orlando Magic, when describing the atmosphere among service workers at the team’s old venue, the Amway Arena. Customer service surveys confirmed Hollifield’s observations; staffers were often failing to connect with fans.
"There was a lot of disconnect among the workers," explains Hollifield. "There was no feeling of ‘we are all in this together’." For example, if a fan spilled a drink, a nearby security guard might feel that it was not his job to help.
"We needed to change our culture and make it customer service focused," says Hollifield. With the Magic about to move into a new $480 million facility in October 2010, Hollifield and the team’s senior management felt it was the perfect opportunity to revamp their customer service practices. "We decided we needed to open in the new venue with a clean slate," says Hollifield. To help re-engage their own employees, as well as all those who worked on the frontlines in the new center, the Orlando Magic turned to Disney Institute.
Management thought Disney Institute was "a perfect fit," says Hollifield. "Disney is in the same business we are in: entertainment. They know how to create special memories and they do all this in the hopes of getting repeat business." After meeting with the Orlando Magic’s senior management, Disney Institute consultant Tom Thomson recommended a series of engagements around leadership, management and service —all designed to improve the customer experience and positively impact the bottom line.
A World-Class Experience
Thomson began by presenting several training seminars to management. "Think of your new arena as a sports theme park," Thomson told an audience of Orlando Magic senior managers. He explained that in addition to the basketball game being played on the court, there are so many experiences that happen outside of that; from a fan parking his or her car to buying a souvenir or having a meal.
"Every one of these interactions with a customer, from their door to your door, has to be superb," said Thomson. "Each is an opportunity to enhance the fans’ experience or negate it." He pointed out that even if the Magic won their basketball game, a bad experience with an arena employee could prevent a fan from returning. "It’s similar to Disney World," said Thomson, "Whether it’s your fan or our Guest, both come expecting to have a world-class experience. We can’t afford to give them anything less."
Thomson stressed that change had to come "from the top down." Employees need to know that management is part of the team and walking the walk. "They also have to understand the operational standards you are setting and exactly what you expect of them," said Thomson.
The Disney Institute team told the frontline workers that, when it came to improving customer service, even small gestures mattered. Smiling, greeting a fan, making eye contact; they all add up to produce an environment that can lead to a legendary experience. Details count, said Thomson. For example, using cell phones in Guest areas is a no-no because, as he explains, "The focus needs to be on the Guest."
Of course, even great customer service organizations make mistakes. The trick is in what Disney calls customer service recovery. A Disney Institute-produced video shows the right and wrong way to achieve this. In the first scenario, a customer is shown dropping an ice cream cone she has just purchased, and the clerk says only "Sorry." In another version a clerk is shown coming around to the front of the counter, helping the customer clean up the dropped ice cream, and giving her a free replacement. Says Hollifield, "That really resonated with our employees. They now feel more empowered in their jobs and are willing to go above and beyond."
Getting It Right
After several weeks of Disney Institute sessions to more than 1,500 employees, the Orlando Magic played its first game in the newly-opened Amway Center. "The instant I entered Amway Center I saw the difference the Disney training made," recalls Hollifield. Greeters, who used to be called ticket takers, were smiling, making eye contact, and were eager to answer fans’ questions. Other employees were quick to accompany a fan if he or she asked the way, instead of merely pointing.
Tom Thomson recalls watching as a fan asked a concessionaire for a vegetarian burger. Instead of just saying she didn’t have any, the staffer took out her new Amway Center A-Z fan guide and said, "Let me find out where you can get one." Says Thomson, "She was using that opportunity to engage with the customer. As we often say in our customer service presentations, ‘It may not be your fault, but it is your problem.’ It was rewarding to watch her responding to that."
As Hollifield and the Orlando Magic management admit, changing a company’s customer service culture is an ongoing process. But Hollifield says they are off to a dramatic start. She reports that friends, and even the competition, comment on the improvements the Orlando Magic made in customer service. "I get lots of emails asking, ‘What did you guys do’?" says Hollifield. NBA commissioner David Stern visited the Amway Center and joked, "Can you please ask your employees to stop saying hello and telling me how happy they are that I am here? They are so nice it’s unbelievable!"
The mystery shopping numbers reflect the change, too. The company’s surveys now reflect around 95 percent satisfaction. "That means, when it comes to customer service and customer interactions, we’re getting it right nearly 95 percent of the time," explains Hollifield. "The turnaround has been remarkable."