Want to Provide Exceptional Service? Go Beyond the Obvious

Find ways to exceed members’ expectations.

April 17, 2014

One of the most commonly asked questions at Disney World might surprise you: What time does the 3 o’clock parade start?

Kendal Jolly, a 22-year “cast member” of The Walt Disney Co.—as its 60,000 employees are called—acknowledges this is the type of question that drives service industry employees batty, and poses the danger of prompting snide remarks or aghast silence.

But Jolly, speaking Wednesday during the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations’ annual conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., said the question provides a perfect opportunity to showcase exceptional customer service by answering the question behind the question.

“Don’t just look at it at face value—answer it so you exceed the customer’s expectations,” said Jolly, a second-generation credit union member. “When they ask, ‘What time is the 3 o’clock parade?’ what they want to know is, ‘Where is the best place to watch the parade?’”

Credit union leaders should turn around this exercise on themselves, Jolly advised. “What’s the seemingly obvious question members ask you again and again and again? How are you training [staff] to give people the answer they really want?

Disney leaves almost nothing to chance in this respect, “overmanaging” aspects of the operation that most companies either hope develops organically or ignore, Jolly said.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as micromanagement but rather as contingency planning, he said. In addition to carefully designing service standards and delivering that service flawlessly, companies must provide a safety net for employees.

"What happens when a member isn't happy?" he asked. "What recovery process are we putting in place?"

At the Disney Institute, a training and development center, new employees learn the company’s common purpose: “We create happiness.”

Although employees have specific duties and guidelines, that ethos trumps all, and staff are given latitude to break from the norm to make sure guests go home whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

“Exceptional service is ‘architected’ from systems and processes that you control,” Jolly said. “It’s not enough to put the ‘right people’ in place if they’re handcuffed with poor processes and policies.”