Disney Institute Creates Imaginative Programs to Solve Business Blunders

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Disney Institute Creates Imaginative Programs to Solve Business Blunders

The Disney Institute, a branch of the Walt Disney Company, founded in 1986, focuses on offering corporate groups customizable professional development programs based on the time-tested best practices, sound methodologies and real life business lessons used by Disney.

Disney theme parks and resorts are lauded for their entertainment and attractions but many groups don’t see them as powerful learning environments. The Institute is here to change that.

If you’re anything like me and dying to know every Disney detail, you’re scratching your head at this point asking, “But how?”

Here are two case studies that describe how a sprinkle of Disney magic has helped them: Haagen-Dazs and Parker Hannifin.

Working for Haagen-Dazs, the creator of the “luxury” ice cream experience seems like a great idea, with the company’s progressing mindset and fun atmosphere. But how is an employee who doesn’t know very much about the company’s history and importance supposed to carry that message and excitement across to customers?

“We needed to make our employees passionate about the brand,” says Guillermo Sadir, senior training and operations manager.

Sadir and some franchise owners wanted to excite employees worldwide, in hopes of producing improved customer service, sales and higher morale. There had been a recent attempt at implementing an international training program but it failed to receive sufficient interest from employees.

“It was often a tough sell to get an 18 to 25 year-old new employee in Latin America or South Africa to connect with the Haagen-Dazs brand and our culture,” Sadir admits. “Many were hearing but not listening. What we needed was a spark to set the training program on fire.”

Sadir, along with 40 managers, franchise owners and operators from Latin America, the Caribbean and South Africa, sought out to find that spark. And they did—in the form of the Disney Institute.

Disney’s team recommended a customized program that involved pieces of their ‘Disney’s Approach to Quality Service’ program and other parts from their ‘Disney’s Approach to People Management’ series.

Tom Madden, a Disney Institute facilitator said to Sadir, “We’re not going to tell you how to run your business because you are the experts at that. But we are going to show you some things we do that we think you may be able to use when you go home.”

One part of the training involved a behind-the-scenes tour of the Magic Kingdom Park. Here, Madden explained that every Disney employee understands that part of their job requirement is to create those “special moments” that make Disney “the happiest place on earth.”

At that moment a light bulb went off for Sadir.

“We realized that every person coming into one of our shops is also celebrating something or rewarding themselves and our employees should do everything they can to make that moment special,” he says.

Things began to fall into place as Sadir and the others were guided through Disney’s mysterious underground tunnel system. Here they learned about clever ways to interact with guests and watched a video on the importance of immersing employees in a company’s culture.

The program wrapped up back in the seminar room where Madden said to the group, “Employee satisfaction leads to guest satisfaction, which leads to operational results.”

He wasn’t lying.

Since the training, certain countries have reported double digit growth in the company. Customer satisfaction has also jumped. As a result, more shops are popping up worldwide in a time where business is slow and companies find themselves downsizing.

The company has adopted a few Disney terms to spruce up their company like referencing themselves as “cast members,” rather than employees and frequent use of the word “magic” in their corporate vocabulary.

It can all be summed up by Trinidadian franchise owner/operator Robert Hadad, who said to Sadir, “Disney Institute has changed my life.”

walt disney
walt disney

Parker Hannifin is a Fortune 500 company and the world’s leading diversified manufacturer of motion and control technologies and systems. That’s something to brag about. But when the company’s customer satisfaction results came in, vp of customer care, Mark Kugelman wasn’t necessarily boasting.

While they went above and beyond with engineering, manufacturing and selling, they lacked a sense of excitement from customers and were having a difficult time building brand advocates.

“We’ve always been known as a company that strives for on-time delivery of quality parts,” says Kugelman. “But our research was telling us that was no longer enough to stay on top in these highly competitive times. We needed to do more to create Parker advocates; to thrill, retain, and keep our customers coming back to us.”

Kugelman realized that even as a business-to-business manufacturer, Parker Hannifin had to revamp its customer service skills. He believed the employees needed to realize that “they are Parker.”

Kugelman researched companies that are praised for great customer care. His findings brought him to Disney’s doorstep.

“Disney was a perfect fit,” Kugelman says. “All of our employees knew who Disney was, their customers were our customers and, like us, they also have a global presence. Most of all, we knew Disney had a global reputation for creating great customer experiences. We wanted to do the same.”

Kugelman sweat as the Institute conducted their initial test. Disney conducted a “mystery shopper” telephone inquiry, calling various company departments and posing as potential customers. The results showed definite room for improvement. They visited a few company divisions in order to identify specific challenges.

Disney Institute consultant Rob Morton reported on their findings. He said, “We found, for example, that there were conflicts between the manufacturing and sales divisions that were compromising customer service.”

And that’s how the program “I Engineer Success, I am Parker” was born.

A year into it, 85 “I am Parker Champions” were selected to participate in the Disney Institute programs and field experiences for four and a half days. The only requirement for being selected was to have a passion for the customer and to both show and have respect for and from fellow employees.

The program was customized to fit the company’s needs, or as Kugelman referred to it–“Parkerized.”

Like with the last company, Disney Institute facilitators warned the group that they wouldn’t force a change. They would merely teach them the techniques that work for Disney, in hopes that they’d also work for Parker.

Presentations were put together that covered improving customer service, hiring employees for attitude and creating a culture of service for the company, both externally and internally. Site visits followed, marking the second half of the program. Here, group members learned simple tips that would make a big difference for the company. Some were as simple as, for example, greeting guests. Plus, being inside the parks is a guaranteed good time, right?

“They realized it was the little things that made a difference,” says Disney Institute consultant Dennis Frare. “They understood customer service is not about creating the big wow, it’s about doing lots of tiny things really well.”

Additionally, Parker instituted over 50 workshops for employees in North America and Europe. The company has also launched “I am Parker” in Asia, featuring some exciting activities at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.

Improvement has been evident since the training.  Customer rating scores have shot up. Mediocre ratings have upgraded to excellent. The company saw an improvement from 47% to 78% of calls being rated as excellent by customers.

One fun way the company implemented a dose of Disney magic into their everyday business affairs was to replace the word “visitor” with “guest” on parking passes and signs.

“As Disney says, people think of guests differently than visitors and we want our customers to feel like guests, not just visitors. After all, our customers and our employees are our most valuable assets.”

And additional improvement is still underway.

“This is an ongoing process,” Kugelman says. “It’s a change of culture that involves tens of thousands of people. As I have often said: ‘This is a journey, not a sprint.’”

If there’s one lesson that Disney has taught us, generation after generation, it’s that anything is possible. In the words of our childhood hero Peter Pan, “All you need is faith, trust and a little pixie dust.”


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