Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

Leadership Lessons From Walt Disney: Perfecting the Customer Experience

September 11, 2014 by Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute

At Disney Institute, we were recently reflecting on the phrase, “simple is the new smart,” and it reminded us of a leadership philosophy we share with our clients and training program attendees – keep it simple so that everyone understands.

Walt Disney was a master at this. One of the simplest, yet most powerful and timeless leadership lessons we have learned from Walt is from something he said more than 50 years ago: “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.” These words have defined our companys philosophy from the beginning, and to this day, we continue working to perfect this principle.

OK, so how can we truly know what the people want? The simple answer is to treat them as though they are guests in our own homes, and ask them face-to-face…not by a survey or on-line chat. Think about it. We would never welcome guests into our own home for a dinner party and then “manage the event” from across the street, or even across the hallway. No, we would join in the mix and ask our guests what they would like to drink, or eat, or watch on television.

That does not mean we should ignore traditional research methods. In fact, The Walt Disney Company employs all means of research to know who our guests are, and to understand what they want and expect from their Disney experience. But, we then must go into our parks, resorts, stores, theaters, stadiums, ships, etc. to validate that it’s actually happening and find out how to enhance the customer experience to make it even better.

In our book, Be Our Guest, we share this leadership lesson, which Walt imparted to his team early on:

When it was suggested that an administration building be erected for the management at Disneyland, Walt was vehemently opposed. ‘I don’t want you guys sitting behind desks,” he said. ‘I want you out in the park, watching what people are doing and finding out how you can make the place more enjoyable for them.’” And, when Walt learned that his staff had been leaving the property to eat lunch, he steamed. ‘Stand in line with the people…don’t go off the lot to eat like you guys have been doing. You eat at the park and listen to the people!

Walt even went so far as to construct a personal apartment inside Disneyland, above the Fire Station and overlooking Town Square, from where he could watch Guests as they got their first impressions of the park. Walt clearly understood that customers were the most important – and final – judges of the entertainment produced at his company.

Today, Disney leaders in our parks and resorts regularly spend the majority of their day in their business locations interacting with their Guests and fellow Cast Members. Combined with robust research, this daily, face-to-face contact amplifies our efforts to develop a profound, in-depth understanding of our Guests and their desired experience.

So, to summarize Walt’s leadership lesson: In order to “know what the people want,” get out there, be willing to listen, and then institutionalize learning and continuous improvement on behalf of your customers.

This time-tested business principle is just one of the many ideas and concepts we explore in our in our Disney Institute professional development training courses. If you’d like to learn more about our approach, and use it to strengthen your own personal skills to impact your organization, consider enrolling in our Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence training course.

Think about it: How well do you truly understand what your customers want?

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For nearly three decades, Disney Institute has provided engaging and insightful learning opportunities for business professionals and organizations, teaching them the Disney approach to business….focusing on Service, Leadership, Culture, Brand Loyalty, Creativity and Innovation. To learn more about how you can attend an upcoming course, see our full Course Calendar. Not sure which course is best for you? Try our Course Recommender.

Disney Institute is ready to help you apply strategic rigor to your customer experience efforts - call us at 321.939.4600 or complete our Contact Form

Posted in Leadership Excellence | Tagged Leadership, Leadership Skills, Leadership Lessons From Walt Disney, Leadership Styles, Management, Customer Experience, Service, Customer Service, Customer Satisfaction, Be Our Guest, Walt Disney, Bruce Jones

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