Courtesy: A Disney Key to Excellence

Courtesy: A Disney Key to Excellence

Disney has four keys for creating happiness. One of those keys is Courtesy. We’ll look at how Disney creates a courteous guest experience, and what it means to you and your organization.

You can find the podcast here on Podbean and here at iTunes. You can also type in “Disney at Work & Play Podcast” when you visit Spotify. Be sure to subscribe!

You may also want to refer to our first and fairly recent podcast/post on the Four Keys, which was on Safety. Look for future episodes where we focus on Show and Efficiency. These concepts are taught from day one of Disney Traditions–their orientation–and are applied daily.

What is Courtesy?

There are many synonyms to the word Courtesy. Kindness, Caring, Sincerity, Polite, Civil, Respectful, Cordial, Friendly. Nearly ever organization needs some form of courtesy to ensure a great service experience.

Here’s the challenge: Many Cast Members–for that fact, many people today–do not have a skill set around being courteous. They aren’t mean or discourteous. They simply are ambivalent in their service. Many don’t know how they come across. Many lose opportunities simply because they don’t use a smile and some simple courtesies.

Too often our “robotic” default is less than cheerful or courteous. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And yet, Courtesy can be so much more than just a smile and some simple courtesies. Let’s look at some important aspects of Courtesy. Consider how they apply and align to your organization.

Courtesy is a Hallmark of Disney

Disney parks have had a long tradition of being a place that was friendly and courteous. An example of this is a guest letter that Disneyland used for many years as a training tool. The author, a Mr. Schuch, supervised American Airlines ticket agents and baggage handlers and wrote the letter to inspire his own employees.

American Airlines, Inc.
December 6, 1957

To: All Terminal Service Personnel
From: Superintendent-Terminal Service – LAX
Subject: Customer Service

“I recently broke down and finally agreed to take my family on an outing to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom – Disneyland. Many of you have already been there and no doubt have made the same observations that I am going to talk about, but I thought some of you might be interested in the marvelous reaction that my family received from this visit.

“…My two daughters, ages 3 and 5, made a beeline for Fantasyland and surprised me by heading for the cheapest ride in the park – a ten-cent whirl on King Arthur’s Carrousel. We noticed that every attendant was in immaculate uniform. They took charge of our kiddies at the entrance, placed them on their horses, strapped them on, and gave them a big reassuring smile. After they rode in circles for several minutes, the same attendants gave them another big smile, helped them down and gave each one a little pat on the back as they left. My oldest daughter made this comment, ‘I don’t want to ride on the merry-go-round at Redondo Beach anymore, daddy, because the man there isn’t as nice as that man.’ Here is service having an impact on a five year old, but Walt Disney’s standards are high and ten cents is still a piece of revenue.

King Arthur Carrousel. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

“The next thing that caught the children’s eye was the Canal Boat Ride through Storybook Land, and they insisted that mom and dad join them. Wow – $1.20 for seven minutes, but it was worth it. A fantastic ride that enabled you to relive your youth. What impressed me most? When we disembarked from the canal boat, the lady attendant – and I repeat ‘lady’ – assisted my children and my wife to dry land. She didn’t stop there, however, because all of a sudden I felt that she had hold of my left arm and was assisting me to the wharf. What service I thought –this and this alone was worth $1.20. 

Storybook Land Canal Boats. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

“We spent seven hours in this Magic Fairy Land and at every turn we noticed the same immaculate uniforms and the same outstanding courtesy being shown to every one of Walt Disney’s guests.”

He goes on to talk about the cleanliness of the park, and then concludes:

“All of this might sound corny, and it also might convey the thought I have a side line job as one of Disney’s public relations representatives. This, of course, is not true. His Magic Kingdom impressed us so much that I could not help comparing his operation with that of American Airlines. His standards of service must be extremely high. He must screen and re-screen every employee that applies for a job. There must be a constant inspection activity going on, otherwise, his domain would not present such an appearance or his employees would not offer such outstanding service.

“We were impressed – not just with the fantasy, the splashes of vivid color or the immensity of the operation. No, this didn’t impress us half as much as the things that are outlined above.

Service today is defined somewhat differently then Mr. Schuch described it back in 1957. Still, the foundations are important. Whether it’s maintaining a great product, or offering attentive service, or simply providing a smile. Those things don’t go away. That’s the experience Walt wanted to create. They are foundations that make Disneyland succeed. Indeed, they are the matters that make any organization succeed.

The Language of Courtesy

Foundational to the concept of being courteous is speaking in a language that is just that–courteous. Words do matter, and Disney focuses on courtesy by emphasizing languaging such as the following:

  • Guests: Not Customers
  • Guest Service: Not Customer Service
  • Guest Concerns: Not Customer Concerns
  • Guests with Special Needs: Not Handicapped People
  • Guests with Visual Impairments: Not Blind People
  • Guests with Mobility Impairments: Not People in Wheel Chairs

Disney’s Service Behaviors: Courtesy

Like Safety, Show and Efficiency, Disney finally drilled down on what the behaviors were that exemplified Courtesy. You see those outlined below:

I project a positive image and energy.

  • Smile
  • Be approachable and make eye contact.

I am courteous and respectful to Guests of all ages.

  • Greet, welcome, and thank all Guests.
  • Engage in Guest interactions.
  • Keep conversations positive and appropriate.
  • Treat each Guest as an individual.

I go above and beyond to exceed Guest expectations

  • Create surprises and Magical Moments
  • Anticipate needs and offer assistance.
  • Provide immediate service recovery.
Greeting Guests at The Edison in Disney Springs. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Courtesy Evolved

When people think of Courtesy, they naturally think about the 1:1 interaction Guests have with Cast Members. This is critical–and can make up for so much that might go wrong. But perhaps the real Disney difference is that they think not just about how courtesy extends to their Place, Process & Products. Here are just a few examples

  • Building a canopy over the queue at the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom in the often event of summer rains
  • Asking a Guest if they want their plush in a bag or to carry
  • Bringing Disney characters to the hotels to entertain guests during a hurricane
  • A Guest assistance passes to those with special needs
  • Comping a Guest popcorn after the first one accidentally falls to the ground.

Some of these things also provide for Safety, Show and Efficiency, but all of them touch on Courtesy as well.

The difference between the Mad Tea Party in Walt Disney World (Left) and Disneyland (Right) is the addition of a canopy to block out rain–an act of Courtesy in the setting. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Courtesy Begins Backstage

Back in 1979 there was a booklet printed for Cast Members. It was called Disney: Four Keys to Guest Happiness. Here is just one section from the pages devoted to Courtesy.

Courtesy…our way of work life

Without question, courtesy is as contagious as the common cold. We can’t expect Hosts and Hostesses who greet our guests to be courteous on stage if there is not a climate of courtesy throughout our entire operation.

“Courtesy must be involved in all of our relationships. It is in the pleasant sound of our voice on the phone…or in a friendly “Good Morning” to a newly arrived Cast member.

Courtesy is…

…a friendly greeting from a Security Host

…two-way understanding at Wardrobe.

…a friendly greeting at our work location.

…giving the right of way in the Parking Lot.

Roz is only funny because unfortunately, we see this kind of behavior too often in the work place. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Souvenirs for Your Organization

If showing Courtesy or a similar attribute is important to your organization, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does our organization define being courteous?
  • How can we better instill courtesy by modeling courtesy?
  • Do we project a positive image and energy?
  • Are we seeking greater guest interactions?
  • How do we individualize guest service?
  • How do we create magical moments?
  • Do we have systems in place to provide service recovery?
  • Beyond people, how can we extend courtesy in the Place, the Process & The Product?
  • Does courtesy begin backstage?
  • How can we make courtesy a way of work life?
  • Is the courtesy we share part of the magic of your organization?

We’ll focus on the other two keys in weeks to come. To know more about the evolution of Disney’s Service Behaviors, visit this article on Disney at Work. For a larger treatise on this topic, be sure to check out The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney, available on Amazon.

2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.
2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober