Turn on great customer service–A little Disney magic helps light the way

by Bruce Jones, Disney Institute

Customer satisfaction with electric utilities has declined for a second consecutive year, according to the J.D. Power and Associates “2012 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.”

Looking to reverse the trend, companies are turning to experts outside the industry for guidance to differentiate themselves in customer experience.

Disney Institute offers a unique approach, using Disney theme parks as living laboratories to demonstrate how the company’s best practices are implemented. Engagements also may be conducted at customer locations. Courtesy Disney.

For decades, The Walt Disney Co. has been regarded as the benchmark in creating a powerful customer experience culture.

Disney Institute was created to provide business solutions and insights for organizations looking to discover how they can adapt time-tested Disney best practices to their needs.

Disney’s success in customer service and building loyalty is more than magic; it’s grounded in time-tested business practices refined over many years.

Plenty of differences exist between the entertainment industry and yours, but so do core similarities.

Both rely on an integrated matrix of people, systems and processes to deliver their products.

Both operate in competitive environments.

And both strive to provide exceptional service that exceeds customer expectations rather than meeting them.

Culture by Design

Disney looks at every interaction between its “cast members” (Disney-speak for employees) and guests as an opportunity to build connections with the brand.

With utilities, attending to customer needs doesn’t fall exclusively to resolving a power outage, making a repair or accurately reading a meter.

From frontline technicians to corporate leaders, everyone in the organization should understand the company’s values and how every action can impact the customer experience.

Disney calls this a “culture by design” as opposed to a “culture by default.”

Culture by design means that everything about your company is managed carefully to foster an environment in which employees are engaged, empowered and emotionally connected to the brand.

It permeates recruitment and selection, orientation and training, ongoing communication efforts, reward and recognition, and the list goes on.

Disney’s powerful culture originated with Walt Disney, but countless Disney leaders have nurtured it in the decades since.

This ensures the company stays true to its heritage while remaining relevant to the times.

Many companies overlook their first opportunities to shape their cultures and convey company values to employees: recruitment and training.

Hiring journeymen and engineers for specific technical skills is a priority, but utilities also should look for people who can fit with and buy in to company culture, mission and values.

Disney relies on a refined recruiting and training process.

From the beginning, Disney looks for specific behaviors and attitudes among potential cast members.

The cast member orientation program, Traditions, is designed to ensure each cast member understands Disney culture and how his or her role contributes to the company’s success.

Cast members graduate the program with a sense of pride and commitment, which helps set the tone for their interactions with every guest.

Case Study: Putting the Mouse to Work

Leaders of Minneapolis-based Multiband Corp., one of the largest DirecTV Master System Operators in the U.S., saw an opportunity to differentiate the company by providing an outstanding service experience in a competitive industry.

Multiband turned to Disney Institute for help and began a multiphased approach to enhance its customer service.

Multiband services thousands of satellite TV customers each day and recognized that to create a consistently superior customer experience, it would need to root its values in its company culture.

“Rather than taking a top-down approach and having management communicate new standards and best practices, we sought to bring frontline employees directly into the fold,” said Don Snyder, vice president of human resources at Multiband. “To shift company culture, we needed to alter the entire organization’s view of quality service from all sides.”

Since July 2010, nearly 600 Multiband associates from senior leaders to frontline technicians have participated in customized Disney Institute sessions presented at Multiband headquarters.

It didn’t take long for Multiband to see improvements.

“Since we started with Disney Institute, our turnover has gone down nearly 20 percent, and our employee satisfaction has increased roughly 20 percent overall,” Snyder said.

One of the reasons Multiband has been successful is because it understands employees are its greatest customer service asset.

Like Disney, they’ve discovered a direct correlation between how employees are treated and how those employees will treat customers.

In January 2012, Multiband took over as a service provider in the Miami area.

The previous company ranked last out of seven regional providers for quality, customer service and efficiency.

By October, Multiband ranked first in all three categories.

What drove such a swift change? Many technical factors were at work, but Multiband credits the interactions its technicians and staff have with customers.

Making Customers Feel Like VIPs

One way Disney works to make the best service interactions is through “magical moments,” special experiences and memories unique to each guest.

A magical moment may be as simple as a cast member’s going out of his or her way to provide assistance or as involved as building infrastructure that lets us know our guests better.

Large or small, the philosophy behind each is to make guests feel like very important individuals.

This strategy has applications for others.

A utility wins when the company and individual employees pay attention to details and incorporate creative thinking.

Multiband gathered ideas directly from employees during brainstorms conducted during its Disney Institute sessions.

One idea was to always wear shoe covers at client sites, which is now a standard procedure for the company.

Leaving a client’s house free of dirt and service parts is a small detail; however, small changes such as this can make all the difference to a customer.

Listening With all Ears

Enhancing the communication between all levels of an organization also helps effect change.

Multiband might not have identified customer-experience details without listening to its frontline employees.

Field technicians know what is and isn’t working and the questions customers commonly ask.

“What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” is a common question at the Magic Kingdom.

There seems to be one obvious answer, but cast members are trained to identify what the guest is really asking.

Usually it’s not about the parade start time, but rather when the parade will pass by a certain location or tips on best viewing.

What are your organization’s “3 o’clock parade” questions?

In your complex industry, most customers probably aren’t looking to understand how the electrical grid works or where their power comes from; more likely they want answers to billing questions, ideas for reducing their bills and confidence their power will stay on.

Improving the customer experience takes a commitment across all levels of an organization.

As Disney and Multiband demonstrate, with employee dedication, some creativity and the customer first in mind, organizations can create a service culture that will turn customers into advocates.


Bruce Jones draws on more than 25 years of Disney experience and as programming director for Disney Institute oversees the team that develops engaging content built around the five core topics Disney is best known for: leadership excellence, talent selection, training and engagement, quality service, brand loyalty and creativity and innovation.

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