Saturday, July 18, 2009

Disney Experience

A friend asked me a question I had discussed in an old term paper. It dealt with my time at Disney. After reading the paper again I decided to share it here. It's only three pages but I hope it summarizes the most important things I learned during my first 7 1/2 month contract.

Coop Summary
Richard Reed
Disney-Epcot Turnstiles
January 2003

The other day while going through a drawer I found something I had forgotten about. I had written a mission statement on the outside of a calendar that I brought with me to Florida. The two points were to learn and be myself. This summary will be based on evaluating how I’ve followed the first part of this mission statement.

The First Few Months
During the first few months here I was becoming acclimated to being part of a huge organization and realizing I was just a single cell in a body. I had a role that related to the rest of the body so I belonged. But mine was just one voice screaming into the wind. Also I learned to be comfortable working with thousands of people at one time. At closing I stood at the main exit while thousands of people passed by all around me. I learned to process large groups like cattle and try to direct the flow instead of manage each person. While working the turnstiles during the day I had the stress of potentially offending guests if I tried to take control of the situation. I also had the constant worry of being terminated for offending a guest and being sent home. So I learned to not be obsessive compulsive and to control the situation in a new way. Going back to the cattle analogy I tried to direct each guest when I could and at least thank each guest when they were finished when it got busy.

These first few months were also stressful due to living with other workers who were younger then me and still saw the world through high school eyes. Although they were all college students, this was the first time many of them had lived away from home. One of my roommates is twenty-three but has always lived with his parents. I also had roommates and others who still saw their world through bigoted and narrow-minded eyes.

The Final Leg
Since August when I submitted my first summary I would describe my experience as a process of maturing. I have further refined my skills in anticipating and addressing guest situations, dealing with crowds and questions and handle special situations.

The first thing I would like to discuss directly relates to my major of communication. This is anticipating a question and then effectively responding. After having the same question asked several hundred times you begin to recognize a question before someone finishes asking it. With working here came field specific jargon relating to my work. One of the words we use here is spiel. Most people see the word as having a negative connotation. But I would define spiel as a well thought out standard response to a common question. In developing a working spiel you first come up with a short one or two sentence answer to a common question. Then you think through the many ways what your saying can be interpreted as well being every person sees the world through their own eyes. We have park maps in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Japanese, German and English since we have guests from around the world. Then you check to see if it is working. By working I mean is it effectively communicating the meaning you want to convey in the shortest manner possible. Like all great works a spiel is always being refined.

The following is an example of what I mean when I use the word spiel. Working at the turnstiles my main job is processing tickets. A park hopper ticket as the name would infer allows a person to park hop or to visit all four Walt Disney World theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) every day they have a valid park hopper ticket. You can buy a 4,5,6,7,8 or 10 day park hopper. Many guests don’t understand how their park hopper ticket works. Many guests will approach me and be fearful that putting their ticket through the turnstile again will deduct another day. My response or spiel is, ”No it will not take another day. (This immediately communicates their ticket will not be deducted. This also begins to calm them and gets their attention since it contradicts their initial understanding.) You can visit all four parks twenty times each and every day. (Explains why it won’t take another day and also educates they that their pass is a greater value then they thought) Park hoppers run on days not on parks.(Further explains your point and answers again their initial fears)” After you have given your spiel for a common question you make sure the guest doesn’t have additional questions and then thank them and give them a spieled greeting. My standard greeting is, “Enjoy your day.”

In dealing with crowds I have learned to watch what people naturally do when not given direction. Then I think of a way to direct their behavior to accomplish what I need done. In the parking lot we have a tram that takes people from the front entrance out to our parking lots. A tram is basically a fancy tractor that pulls seven trailers that collectively hold a lot of people. Our goal is to stop guests from entering the tram lane (A special area only the tram is suppose to use) or running in front of the tram and getting hurt. The tram when loaded with guests weighs twenty tons. Thus slamming on the breaks and stopping on a dime if someone darts out in front of it ain’t easy!

Through watching guest flow I realized if I place two foot tall cones side by side at the beginning of a crosswalk and then smaller cones on the sides guests would abide by the cones more then with just small cones spaced apart. Also I realized that I could discourage guests walking between cones by placing then no more then 8 inches apart and in a uniform line. This accomplished my goal of discouraging guests from leaving the crosswalk and sidewalks and walking in the tram lane.

Another crowd control issue is clearing the park. Clearing the park is basically like controlling the floodgates on a dam. Our goal is to drain the lake as quickly and safely as possible. This is most effectively accomplished by watching guest flow. Through opening gates and giving mass instructions you can discourage bottlenecks and aid in flow. People move in crowds and will all follow the first few people who move. If you have a gate open everyone will try to walk through that one gate. Unless you tell them the turnstiles surrounding the gate are also exits no one will attempt to use them. Guests will also not look for another exit if the one everyone is going through is backed up. Mass crowd control is all about study, preparation and then active management.

The last area I’ve matured in is handling special situations. Guest Situation is one of the work related words we use like spiel. It’s understood as meaning a guest has a problem that requires more then just directions or a quick answer. It also infers that we give extra attention and assurance to the guest. When someone approaches me with a special situation there are a few things I always try to do. The first is to remember guests want to know everything is okay and there is an immediate solution to their problem that’s simple and readily available.

When a guest approached me while doing parking crowd control claiming his car has been vandalized, I handled it in the following way. I carefully listened to his problem and let him know I was as concerned as he was. Then I calmed him by saying I would immediately contact Disney Security and asked him to follow me. While we walked the short distance to where I thought a security guard would be I continued to listen to his concerns, asked relevant questions and reassure him we could assist him. Like I shared above, the key is to first listen and let the guest know you understand their problem and then to comfort them and begin to share immediate solutions.

Part of the image of Disney is that we are the best in the world at what we do. Thus it’s assumed we have planned for anything. This is mostly true but like all large organizations we also have a philosophy that guides us while were thinking on our feet. Disney has seven basic service guidelines. The philosophy that relates to this issue of image is within the 'Exceeding Their Expectations' service guideline and referred to as "Preserving the magical guest experience." This means always keeping the fantasy alive. We always reassure the guest that we are in control. Following are the seven basic service guidelines.

-Make eye contact and smile
-Greet and welcome each guest
-Seek out Guest Contact/Acknowledge Children
-Provide Immediate Service Recovery
-Display appropriate body language at all times
-Exceed their expectations and make them tell their friends and want to come back!
-Thank each and every guest

So have I learned? Yes. I have learned the key to guest service is study, preparation and responsiveness to a dynamic environment. I’ve learned the importance of keeping up appearances. Walt Disney was right when he described what we do as a show. As long as we keep up a great performances the guest will follow along. I’ve learned that even at twenty-eight I still don’t understand people and may never. But the key is a willingness to close my mouth, open my ears and listen. I may not adopt all the practices and policies I’ve learned. But I do know my experiences at Disney will affect the way I relate with the world for years to come. Yes. I have learned.