Learning about the magic behind customer experience

A behind-the-scenes look at how Disney achieves leadership excellence, employee engagement, and quality service.

I am a strong believer in learning from the experts across all industries to accelerate our journey to best-in-class. My search took me to one of the pioneers, and arguably still a world leader of customer experience, The Walt Disney Company. Disney is committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience, and so many companies around the world have asked them for assistance, that they founded The Disney Institute.  Through the institute, Disney shares how they make “magic” and provides guidance in designing and delivering a magical customer experience.

I recently took a group of CA leaders to the Disney Institute for training that offered us a behind-the-scenes look at how Disney achieves leadership excellence, employee engagement, and quality service.  After four years of leading Customer Experience (CX) at CA, I know that while we have made significant improvements in the CX we deliver, there is still much more we can do to make CX a source of delight for our customers that drives customer loyalty and long-term growth.

The training did not disappoint and in fact, we left as a group of delighted customers. When we returned home and consolidated our thoughts, three big ideas stood out around the importance of 1) a Shared Purposed, 2) Shared Priorities and Quality Standards, and 3) Employee Experience.

A shared purpose

Disneyland employees, from ticket takers to top execs, view themselves as one “cast” and their customers as “guests.” The person selling bottled water in Fantasyland feels ownership for guests’ happiness just as everyone including Disney leaders accept responsibility for picking up litter along Main Street, U.S.A.

From day one on the job, Disney cast members nurture a sense of common purpose and shared values that guide how they choose to relate to guests and to one another.  The park mission is to “create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere!”  The customer outcome Disney seeks to deliver is “happiness” which informs everything they do.

They know that happy customers are loyal customers, who tell others, and who are willing to try new products.  On a financial basis, “happiness” translates into the Disneyland theme park’s revenue performance in a single month equaling what their next largest competitor makes in a year!

Shared priorities and quality standards

Disney achieves a leading customer experience by concentrating on details that competitors ignore or undermanage. They empower their employees to delight customers but within a set of clearly defined shared priorities or what they call quality standards: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency.

For example, cast members are trained on how to run a specific ride in a very specific way (can you say a 600-page operator manual for Space Mountain?).  But HOW they show up to engage and delight their customers is open to personal interpretation within their quality standards.  If a cast member is ever confused, they think, “safety first, courtesy to guests and cast, deliver a flawless show, and always look to make things operate more smoothly.”  Its simplicity is beautiful and shows how they orchestrate magical experiences over and over and over through close to 200,000 employees around the world every day.

Some people may find the idea of quality standards constricting. I find them exciting. By setting operational guidelines to provide a superior experience for Disney’s guests, quality standards serve to free up the creativity of those 200,000 cast members.

Employee experience (EX)

Ultimately, the extent of an organization’s customer experience depends on the quality of its employee experience.  At Disney, the managers focus on enabling a great employee experience and supporting their employees who deliver a great experience, which drives high levels of loyalty, referenceabilty, and repeat business.  Disney training gave us new insight into how to remove roadblocks for employees, optimize communication, provide continuous training, and recognize team members for upholding our shared values.

As we’ve seen, a big part of Disney’s CX “magic” begins with EX. Equipping leaders to focus on EX in new ways offers a clear opportunity for taking CX to new levels.

Do yourself and your organization a favor and enroll in a Disney Institute program and bring back some new perspectives as to what is possible when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. Until then, check out the Disney Institute Blog, which contains very interesting posts including:


Read these articles, attend the Institute, and create some CX magic of your own. I’d love to hear about the changes you made to delight your customers.


Dayton is general manager Global Customer Success at CA Technologies. His team is dedicated to…


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