I'm typing this week's column from a Florida resort near 1,100 acres described as "the happiest place on Earth". For the past few days, my extended family and I have charged enthusiastically through the gates at opening time and staggered exhaustedly toward a Peter Pan or Simba parking lot section at closing time.
We rode on a magic carpet, ducked cannons from a pirate ship, held hands with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, unexpectedly picked up a grinning ghost hitch-hiker, were gassed by a gigantic stink bug, survived a seeming free-fall from a historic Hollywood hotel and consumed gallons of water, buckets of popcorn, a gigantic turkey leg and countless Mickey Mouse ice cream bars.
Of course, we are in Walt Disney World. The undisputed leader in theme park attendance, its gates now welcome about 52 million people a year.
Fifty-two million. People. A year.
Walt Disney is credited with saying, "Do what you do so well that people will want to come back again and tell their friends."
There's no question that the incredible imagination and attention to detail throughout the rides and performances in the parks are a compelling repeat attraction.
But, to me, it's the corporate culture embodied in the dozens of employees (or cast members as they are called) like Eric from Indianapolis, Joe from Cleveland and Rose from Costa Rica that continues to drive attendance year after successful year. Their attention to customer care was at the utmost.
Now don't get me wrong. Not everything was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
I'm not such a Mary Poppins that I didn't notice the lines, the heat and the flash tropical storm that first left us drenched and then frozen after we sought shelter inside an attraction with a thermostat apparently set on "meat-locker". But I'm talking customer care. So, using my three cast members as an illustration, I want to share some of what we experienced. It's what you can help your own customers experience as well and it's accomplished through communications training and practice. If you've been reading my column for any length of time, you already know that everything boils down to communications, doesn't it?
Okay let's go. First lesson from Eric.
We approached Eric in mid-stride as he strode rapidly across the transportation depot area. He could have lowered his head and continued walking - in "pretending not to notice" mode - but instead he looked up, stopped and then kindly redirected us to the proper location to take a bus to the outlying theme park we sought, Animal Kingdom.
How many times have you been in the middle of a project, on deadline, answering a tricky email or getting ready to leave your office for an 'important' meeting - when a client or customer calls? Do you drop everything so they feel important and valued? Or do you ignore the call? I know there are plenty of 'it depends' answers out there, but more often, attending to the customer comes first. Make them the priority and the project or meeting can be successfully accomplished too.
Joe greeted us at the Magic Kingdom near the Mad Hatter's Mad Tea Party ride, wearing a lanyard bedazzled with Disney pins.
My daughter Lulu had one too. It was given to her years ago by a dear friend of mine in anticipation that someday she would visit Disney World and have pins ready to trade.
She shyly asked Joe if he would swap pins. Other cast members had already exchanged pins with Lulu, choosing which pin to give. But Joe gave free rein. "Take any pin you like," he offered. Beaming, Lulu lifted a Tsum Tsum-style Donald Duck. Joe revealed he had begun working part-time at Disney after he retired. "But I started working full-time six years ago," he said. "I love still being able to give."
The more you have, the more you should give back. You'll find your reward on the other side.
As we left Animal Kingdom at the end of one particularly long day, we passed Rose near the exit holding a plastic bubble machine. Her small stature combined with her smile transformed her into a sort of fairy godmother as she stood surrounded by tiny bubbles flickering in the waning light.
"Good bye," she called. "Have a magical night!" I don't know what her specific job title or responsibilities might have been. But I know she felt valued. You can't make up that kind of genuine goodwill. Night after night.
Each of the Disney cast members we encountered was part of the entire organisation's cohesive high standard of customer care.
How committed are you to achieving the same standards for you and your own team? On an emotional level, what do you want every customer to feel? Depending on your sector and the product or services you offer, is it wonder? Is it care? Is it safety? Is it joy?
You must teach, train and empower every employee to ensure the customers feel this from them too. Consistently.
And that's not magic. It's real.
In The Workplace
Q I am the general manager of a family-run haulage company established 10 years ago with a staff of just five. We now have 25 people working with us and we are set to expand significantly over the next five years. We have decided to appoint a non-executive director to the business to help us with our strategy to address Brexit challenges, serious competitive threats and a lot of change going on within our customers and marketplace. But we don't really know where to start. Where should we go and what should we look for?
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It is 15 years since the insurance industry launched an end-of-days advertising campaign, replete with dodgy looking characters wearing outsized, white neck-braces, to convince the public that insurance fraud is not a victimless crime, etc.
Media & Marketing
Who would want to be one of Mark Zuckerberg's PR handlers? Remember when he said "a squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa"? Remember when he said the idea that Russia could influence the election was "crazy"? Remember when he said Holocaust denial wouldn't be censored on Facebook because it might be unintentional?
Media & Marketing
Sarah normally wakes up at 7am most mornings. As she prepares for the long day that lies ahead, she grabs a quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast, runs the iron over her jeans and, if she has the time, she might flick on The Strawberry Alarm Clock on FM104 or 98FM's The Big Breakfast.