Do it like Disney

"Whatever you do, do it well,” said Walt Disney. And for anybody who has visited a Disney property, it’s obvious one of the things they do—and do well—is customer service.

The Disney Institute, which was created to provide business solutions and insights to other industries, has been working with restaurants, recently showing up in New Orleans to help restaurants get ready for the onslaught of Super Bowl customers.

“We value customer service as much as any capital investments we make,” says Bruce Jones, programming director for the Disney Institute, based in Orlando, Florida. Following, Jones shares seven tips on how to create the best possible customer service in your restaurant.

Hire for attitude
“Our philosophy is we prefer to hire for attitude and train for aptitude,” says Jones.

When interviewing candidates, pay attention to personality: does the potential employee smile, make eye contact, seem approachable, ready and willing, and have good posture. “It shows as part of who they are rather than it being an effort,” says Jones. “We’re looking for that natural ability to provide customer service.”

You can also test job applicants during the interview by asking them to describe a scenario in which they delivered exceptional customer service.  Listen closely as they talk you through that experience, Jones says. “What you’re listening for is the moment they really emphasize and then ask them why that moment was important. Because what you’re testing for is not only how they delivered great customer service, but why. The why tells you why it’s a value for them.”

Don’t neglect temporary workers
Many restaurants have seasonal busy times, during which you’ll be welcoming new customers and hiring new employees. The latter may be coming to work for you for the short-term but don’t take the hiring or training process lightly, Jones says.

These employees will often be serving first-time customers, “and the first time has to be a great time,” explains Jones, “especially now that consumers can share their experiences with everyone on social media.” So ensure temporary workers are hired and trained with the same rigorous standards as full-time employees so customer service doesn’t slip.

Role play
On their first day, new hires at Disney restaurants are taught the company’s common purpose: “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment to people of all ages, everywhere.” They then role-play and are walked through the entire dining experience, beginning in the parking lot.

“Through this they realize that every interaction from someone providing service results in some kind of emotion,” Jones says. “So we put employees in the shoes of the guest so they can feel how it is. They often come up with ways to make [customer service] better during this training.”

Seek perfection
Working for Disney means being held to high standards.
Jones cites the example of Walt Disney asking mechanics to ensure that some tiki birds, one of the attractions at Disneyland, would appear to breathe so they were as realistic as possible. The mechanic told him that was too much perfection. Walt’s response? “People can feel perfection.”

The little things you do—the flowers in your flowerbed, the tissues in the ladies’ room, a new picture on the wall—are part of providing excellent customer service through perfection. And your guests notice each of these things—consciously or subconsciously—as great customer service.

Listen to employees
If you listen to suggestions from your employees they feel appreciated and part of your restaurant.

As the eyes and ears of the company, frontline employees also know what customers think, explains Jones.

The creation of Disney Parks and Resorts’ FastPass, to allow guests to bypass long lines by booking a time to visit attractions, was a direct result of this. “It creates an environment of trust that leaders will take action based on input from the team,” says Jones. Listening to employees’ feedback also improves customer service by giving guests what they need before they even realize it themselves.

Reward behavior you want to see repeated
Harking back to Walt Disney’s original tenets for success, which were founded on values-based leadership, today Disney restaurants have several reward and recognition programs.

One is very simple—managers are provided with cards, which they hand to servers when applicable, to thank them for excellent customer service. Every month the cards are put into a box for a drawing to win a prize.

“Employees are rewarded for behavior that it would be good to repeat,” Jones says.

Don’t forget the phone
Often the first experience customers have with your restaurant is when they call to find out information or to make a reservation. Customer service is tantamount, says Jones.

“That initial phone call—if they get a pleasant, smiling person who is knowledgeable and gives them insight—creates a feeling of this being a different sort of place. That phone call is the introduction to the relationship.

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