Customer Service Spotlight: The Secrets Behind the Magic of Disney


In today’s experience-driven economy your business’ mission and goals must extend beyond dollars and cents. Every business has service-based processes—taking orders, tailoring products to fit specific needs, customer support. Each one presents its own opportunities for creating memorable customer moments. Nobody understood this better than Walt Disney, and it’s one of the reasons that Disney customer service is so revered today.

An early adopter of customer-focused experiences, he understood that customers don’t just want to go to a theme park. They want to create unique memories with their families, and that key difference has been setting the Disney brand apart ever since.

In Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, Theodore Kinni, in association with the Disney Institute, pulls back the stage curtain to reveal what makes Disney the pinnacle example of building a brand centered on carefully curated (and memorable) customer experiences.

The “Magic” of Disney

While everyone’s heard of The Magic of Disney (that warm, almost other-worldly feeling you have after leaving one of their parks or resorts and re-entering the real world), it’s not actually magic. It requires a lot of thoughtful planning and strategic improvement to make their hard work feel like magic to customers or guests, as Disney calls them. At the center of this “magic” is Disney’s Quality Service Compass. They define Quality Service, which is always capitalized to signify its importance, as: exceeding your guests’ expectations by paying attention to every detail of the delivery of your products and services.

Simple? Yes—in theory—but taking that simple philosophy and turning it into reality across all its properties, attractions, and people while consistently living up to it isn’t simple at all. Though, meticulously creating a detailed training program and standout branding does establish an easy-to-follow roadmap.

The Four Compass Points of Quality Service

From the outset, Walt Disney was focused on quality. He built the corporate culture, including brand guidelines, in tandem with the training program. He understood that to make his vision a reality, these two pieces needed to be fully aligned. From that, Disney’s Quality Service Compass was eventually born. Over time, the compass points (listed below) have been refined, but much of the foundations remain the same as they were when Walt Disney conceived the brand and its mission: create happiness by providing the finest entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.

  1. Guestology

According to Kinni, Disney defines guestology as “the art and science of knowing and understanding customers” (p.19). Their needs, wants, perceptions, and emotions dictate what happens in the rest of the compass. Guestology puts Disney’s service strategies in context. It gives the answers to two critical questions: Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing it this way?

  1. Quality Standards

Quality standards establish the criteria for everything that’s done to accomplish a service strategy. They serve as measures for Quality Service. For Disney, there’s four: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Everything they do for the customers, all their strategies and planning but especially their delivery systems, circle back to these four quality standards.

  1. Delivery Systems

Disney has three major delivery systems: cast (employees), setting, and processes like check-in and line management. All of these have the potential to deliver happiness and create moments for guests. Each delivery system has its own set of guidelines and benchmarks to enhance delivery, ensure quality, and improve attention to detail.

Cast members, for instance, must adhere to:

  • a strict dress code
  • “performance tips” or standards for interacting with guests that focus on tone, posture, gestures, and what you say (It’s why cast members never point with their index finger but gesture with two.)
  • carefully crafted “Disney-speak” like how they call themselves cast members and customers are called guests

Individually, each guideline doesn’t seem like much, and it’s likely that the guests themselves don’t pick up on all the nuances. Together, though, they create a unique experience and strong brand that reinforces the idea that guests won’t find another experience like this anywhere else.

  1. Integration

Simply, integration is the combining and aligning of the three delivery systems to create one fully-functional, all-inclusive operating system. That’s also what makes it one of the most difficult—yet crucial—steps.

Continuous Improvement at Work

Walt’s fundamentals for success are simple: Build the best product you can. Understand that proper training supports the delivery of exceptional service and then invest time, money, and resources accordingly. Learn from your experiences—both good and bad.

It’s the learning part that Disney pays close attention to. According to Kinni, “Walt not only reveled in sharing the experience of Disneyland, he made a regular practice of wandering the park collecting the responses of guests” (p. 29). He even went so far to dress up in straw hats and tourist clothing to evaluate the park in disguise for a more authentic experience.

Though, Walt called it “plussing” not continuous improvement. Again, that little re-phrasing is completely on-brand for Disney.

Today, that same spirit of improvement persists. To keep customers coming back, Disney needs to not only create better experiences every day, but also offer new ones to returning guests that make their new trip equally as enjoyable as the first one. Achieving this through guesswork is expensive and not at all reliable. They know the best way is to hear it straight from the mouths of their customers.

Disney customer service collects feedback directly through secret shoppers, face-to-face surveys, on-site listening posts, focus groups, and comment cards. They also get indirect feedback from utilization reports, which shows usage and visitation patterns. This helps them decide things like whether a park need to open earlier or stay open later. It lets them know when rides might be ready for retirement or relocation to a different area of the park.

Demographic vs. Psychographic Data

There are two kinds of information developed through guest research. There’s demographic: factual or quantitative data—physical attributes, where guests come from, how much money they spend. Demographic information helps leadership reconcile goals with reality. It can often reveal marketplace insights like who else they can market to, why, and how to best accomplish it.

Then there’s psychographic data. This captures the mental and emotional states of guests. What guests need or want. The preconceived notions they carry which Disney calls stereotypes. How they feel during and after the parks, simply called emotions.

Together, both sets of data help the organization build guest profiles that enable leadership to make informed decisions about how to enhance the guest experience and Disney customer service.  Building a new attraction that doesn’t get used or meet expectation, for example, isn’t just a waste of money. It also affects the guests’ impression of their trip and could impact future sales. Whatever the organization does always circles back to their common purpose (create happiness by providing the finest entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere) and their four compass points.

This rigorous, detailed—and very effective—approach isn’t exclusive to Disney. As Disney Institute has shown over the years, these same thought processes and data collection can be used in any industry, even B2B brands. Every customer has needs, wants, preconceived notions, good or bad emotions, and demographics that can help you chisel out your own Quality Service Compass and improvement models.



Kinni, T. (2011). Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service. Los Angeles: Disney Editions.
Featured Image Source: Shutterstock/Robert Noel de Tilly

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