Disney remains one of the most successful brands and companies anywhere on earth. Known for unforgettable characters, movies, and experiences, they also own the theme-park space through Disneyworld and Disneyland.
Their guest experience protocol sets the bar for other customer-facing organizations; so much so, they even have their own consulting group (The Disney Institute) whose primary goal is to train other service organizations on how best to motivate employees to provide great customer service.

While I have had the chance to meet representatives from The Disney Institute and learn about their practices, any person with a trained eye regarding customer service can go through Disneyworld and figure out the key to it all: empower employees to take advantage of every opportunity to create a memory for a customer.

It’s simple. So simple, that it baffles me as to why so many other companies have so much trouble figuring it out.

Allow me to provide a real life example of one such outfit that missed this memo. While on vacation at the end of July I took my family to Cedar Point, a well-known, successful amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio and part of the Cedar Fair organization. The bulk of Cedar Point is made for older kids and adults; for families like mine with younger kids, they have integrated Snoopy-themed areas of the park (Snoopy Land and Camp Snoopy).

For whatever reason, my 6-year old son decided he wanted marshmallow on a stick shaped like Snoopy. I don’t know if he saw one, or just guessed it would exist, but that is the special treat he wanted. So we went into a candy store in the “Frontier” section of the park. The associate said she didn’t have a Snoopy-shaped marshmallow on a stick and that we should check the Snoopy Boutique.

When we got to the aforementioned Snoopy Boutique, we asked the young woman at the register if they carried a Snoopy-shaped marshmallow on a stick. It was obvious that she had no idea. That’s understandable; probably not fair to think she has the entire inventory memorized. If this associate had been trained by Disney, my guess is that she would have done the following:

i. Said something like “I’m not sure, let’s go look.”
ii. Led customers (kids) to the candy area.
iii. Told kids “Let’s see if we can find one.”
iv. Assuming not found, say “Wow, we don’t have it. I can’t believe we don’t have one. It’s such a good idea too. I’m going to tell my boss immediately that we need to have Snoopy-shaped marshmallow on a stick. And I’m going to tell him it was your idea!”
v. Then said “Is there another item that looks good to you?” (Knowing parent would be trapped into buying said item.)

Well, here is how the associate actually handled the situation.

“I don’t know. If we do, they will be over there.” (Woman points to candy section. Returns back to her other work, turns attention away from customer.)

How and why this type of missed opportunity happens, I am still trying to understand. For one, Cedar Point does not operate year round; they are open May through November. Park employees are seasonal; many of the staff is from Europe, likely in the country on work visas. Because there will not be a long-term relationship between Cedar Point and these workers, I wonder if training is less intense than somewhere like Disney, where the park needs its staff every day of the year. Regardless, no one can convince me that there isn’t room in a training platform on how to revamp this type of interaction.

More importantly, Cedar Point needs to believe in empowering its staff to do what it can to blow customers away. It’s possible that cashier isn’t allowed to leave her register; in that case, it’s the park’s fault, not a problem of her creation.

It’s not like Cedar Point fails as an amusement park. They have been around since 1870 – they are doing many things correctly. I just believe that like many other customer facing businesses, they could take some lessons from Disney on how to take the experience from “good” and “fun” to “memorable” and “can’t wait to go there again”.