Ted Topping, Creative Insights Inc.

Vancouver, BC Canada

Experiencing Disney’s Service Standards and Values

In many organizations, small groups of strategic thinkers get together and, over time, develop a vision (“Our organization will be…”) and a mission (“Our organization will do…”).

The process is far more difficult than it appears to be from the outside, and it typically requires people to make some tough choices based on inevitably conflicting values.

But once the vision and mission are complete, the process too often ends there. Things stop just as the entire effort could have become useful.

By this, we mean taking the next step and translating the vision and mission into things that management and staff can actually use: service standards and service values.

Service standards are typically used to communicate a brand to external customers. Service values are typically used to communicate a service culture to internal customers (your employees).

The author benchmarks Paradise Pier (now called Pixar Pier). Customers experience retail and other service environments with all of their senses.

Disney’s Four Service Standards

Disney has four service standards and values: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Learning about them and starting to understand them through firsthand experience are highlights of our Benchmarking the Guest Experience program.

We start from the understanding that customers experience retail and other service environments with all of their senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste). It is a total experience that we all inevitably have.

But asking a program participant to monitor all of their senses in the overload of a theme park would probably be asking too much.

This is why we explain that service standards and values provide a framework for behavior in the workplace. That they are empowering tools that enable people to take action in the moment. And that they should be applied consistently across all functions in the organization.

Mickey’s Fun Wheel (now called the Pixar Pal-A-Round), demonstrates that Disney’s service standards and values are easy to observe once you know what you are looking for.

In the case of Disney, service standards and values are easy to observe once you know what you are looking for:

  • Safety is always the first priority. This is a matter of guests knowing and sensing at every level that they can trust themselves to Disney in what may appear to be a threatening situation (for example, a high- speed roller coaster).
  • Courtesy is always the second priority. But if you believe that reflecting basic standards of etiquette is a “no brainer” in business, consider how complicated things can get when guests come from culturally diverse backgrounds.
  • Show is always the third priority. This is Disney, after all. People from around the world feel that they understand the Disney brand, and they have exceptionally high expectations about everything when they visit one of the theme parks.
  • Efficiency is always the fourth priority. In most situations, this is a matter of moving as many guests as possible through an attraction or experience in a given period – reducing the time that guests spend in a queue as a bonus.

The real power of these standards and values is that they help Disney Cast Members at every level know precisely what choice to make when they face a decision. The Cast Members simply need to base their decision on the highest relevant standard or value on the list.

An equivalent list would do the same for any organization. This is not a matter of having a big budget. It is a matter of thinking clearly, knowing exactly what kind of customer experience you want to provide, and then empowering people to execute on those values.

In Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience, we build everything around the way that adults learn: through personal discovery and by doing. This is what makes the Disneyland program so powerful. Simply reading or watching videos provides knowledge, but most of that never results in people actually doing something differently. Learning through personal discovery does.

Safety is always the first priority, a matter of guests knowing and sensing at every level that they can trust themselves to Disney.

The Lesson of Mickey’s Fun Wheel

As an illustration, let’s consider a visit to Mickey’s Fun Wheel (as it was known until being renamed the Pixar Pal-A-Round in 2018). This is one of the most popular attractions in Disney California Adventure Park and a great place to observe in practice what we have learned in theory about service standards and values.

  • As we approach the attraction, we start to become aware of the area music that surrounds us. It is appropriate to our Paradise Pier surroundings, and it is neither loud nor overbearing (show).
  • Next we notice a greeter at the attraction entrance. This Cast Member greets us (courtesy), answers any questions we have about the attraction and handles individual needs such as mobility challenges (safety, courtesy, efficiency). He or she also identifies guests who may not meet certain ride requirements before they line up (safety, efficiency). That seems like a huge amount for one person to be doing – much more than the word greeter would suggest.
  • We then must decide which of the two queues to join. The line on the right will take us to a so-called free- mounted gondola; the one on the left will take us to a so-called traditional gondola. For anyone prone to motion sickness, or young children who may be overwhelmed by an extended, uncontrollable experience, the traditional gondola is the better choice (safety, courtesy, show, efficiency). We chose that as well.
  • As we progressed through the queue, we noticed that the Cast Members loaded three gondolas at a time (efficiency). And that four Cast Members had to indicate through a hand signal that their station was clear before the wheel cycled to the next set of three gondolas (safety).
  • When it came our turn to board, the costumed Cast Member asked how many people were in our party and she then held open a safety gate so that we could enter the gondola. She asked us not to move around the gondola or to change seats once the ride started (courtesy, safety, show, efficiency). We promised to behave.
  • After we were in the gondola, we noted the rubber stripping on the doors that would have prevented injury if the doors had unexpectedly closed while we were boarding, and the wire mesh on the gondola openings that both would keep us safe and prevent misfortunes such as our camera falling out during the ride (safety, courtesy).
Show is always the third priority, although people from around the world bring exceptionally high expectations when they visit the Disney parks.

Once we were 150 feet in the air, however, we forgot to look for service standards and values, and simply enjoyed the ride experience for nine exhilarating minutes.

This is exactly what guests should be able to do in any retail or other service environment. Disney knows how to do it consistently and for literally millions of guests each year. It’s why they remain an excellent company to benchmark and learn from.

Now… let’s discuss the ways that you can apply this Disney benchmarking experience to increase the success of your business.

Written and photographed by Ted Topping

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience is a unique, two-day benchmarking program. It demonstrates a service standard to which every consumer-facing business should aspire

This intense, small-group experience helps you to see the business behind the magic of Disney. Although you will be among thousands of guests, we will help you notice and study specific things – both good and bad – that most people will not see. You will interact constantly with the facilitators, and have time to discuss issues that are specific to your business.

While the Disney setting is amazing, this “learn by experiencing” program delivers practical ideas that you can apply immediately in the real world. And you don’t need to be part of a huge operation because Disney’s tactics, methods and standards work in any size business.

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience will be most effective for people working at a level where they can influence both the service environment and the people in it, and who already “get” why those things are important.