My fascination with this goliath company occurred quite unexpectedly on one sweltering July afternoon in the early 90’s at Disney World’s Epcot Center. I was a young, naïve mother, naïve because I didn’t have the good sense to avoid Orlando, Florida in the month of July. After standing in line for what seemed like hours at the ice cream kiosk to score chocolate covered Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, my young daughters and I finally earned our well deserved place at the head of the line and collected our bounty. We paid far more than should have been legal and gradually made our way over to the cap stand of a concrete planter to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labor: we’d earned it!
Everything seemed absolutely right in the world, that is, until my 5-year old, as she was boosting herself up onto the planter, lost her death grip on the gold ba…I mean chocolate Mickey bar and it hit the pavement with a resounding splat! There was no five-second rule here because no sooner did it hit the sizzling ground, vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate melded together into a sticky symphony. For a moment it was like everything around us went eerily quiet as my daughter’s big brown eyes darted to the mess on the ground, to mine, to the mess on the ground, and back to mine. Just as the tears were pooling in her eyes and I was suddenly feeling like everything was absolutely NOT right in the world, a young man dressed in a pressed white shirt and slacks, adorned with a thin black belt and polished black shoes, leaned in, seemingly from out of nowhere, with a broom and trash pan to consume the mess. As he performed this task effortlessly, he smiled and inquired, “Ma’am, may I get you another?” I have to be completely frank, with the sweat dripping off my forehead, my permed hair getting bigger by the minute, and my ice cream beginning to drip down my forearm, my first thought was to scream, “What?! Another at five bucks?!” Uncertain of his intention, I decided a more cautious approach might be prudent. I quietly whispered, in the event he was about to commit a crime, “Can you…do that?” To which he confidently replied, “Ma’am, this is Disney, we can do anything.” And then this wonderful young man, who for some weird reason in my mind’s eye bears a striking resemblance to Bert, Dick Van Dyke’s character from Mary Poppins, in his perfect white shirt and pants, circled behind the counter of the ice cream kiosk, had a brief exchange with the cast member manning it, and returned with a new ice cream bar that he graciously bent down and presented to my daughter.
I knew immediately that something pretty incredible had just happened. And, I have never forgotten this defining moment because this was the instant I fell in love with The Walt Disney Company. Imagine a mammoth organization that empowers its employees, all the way down to the janitors, to ensure the customer experience is nothing short of amazing. It was on this day Disney had me at, “Ma’am, may I get you another?” It was the start of a beautiful love affair that has spanned two decades.
For years this relationship between Disney and I has flourished. Their commitment to the ultimate customer experience has been reaffirmed visit after visit over the years as I’ve interacted with Disney cast members at their parks, or resorts around the world. My kids, now nearly all grown, have inherited my love for the Disney experience and still enjoy going, so I continue to have a legitimate excuse for making the 500 mile pilgrimage from Reno, Nevada to Anaheim, California. But something seems amiss on recent visits. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed a subtle transition in the demeanor among many of the park cast members. Naturally, the thought of this is unsettling because I so covet the relationship I have with this company – I like them. They make me feel valued, and for this reason I don’t mind giving them my money. It’s as though I want to give them piles of, tons of, all of my money. (Continued next page)