On a recent visit I struck up a conversation with a couple of cast members at the park. One of them, we’ll call him Samuel from San Dimas, California, was a friendly, young, energetic fellow and our dialogue was fun and natural. I teased him about his name plate and said something along the lines of, “So Samuel, if that’s actually your name? I’ve always wonder if you guys forget your name plate, do you have a box of random name plates in the back that you grab from for the day?” Laughing, Samuel shared with me that he actually did, on one occasion, forget his name plate and commandeered the name plate of another. He explained how awkward it is when your name plate reads Ernest, from Grinnell, Iowa and you run into a guest who happens to hail from Grinnell, who wants to know what street you lived on. It was an easy-going conversation so I pressed on, “Do you always work the same area or ride in the park?” It turns out each department is run like a business and you float within the business unit where you’re needed. After some more fun banter, I said to Samuel, “It must be really great to work here!” He leaned over to the cast member next to him, laughed and said to her, “I don’t know…is it?” We’ll call her Beth, from Temecula, California, a pleasant fifty-something year old woman. She wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic as my friend Samuel from San Dimas, as she mumbled some inside joke to him that I couldn’t quite make out.
As our conversation wound down, I asked Beth how long she’d worked there. She replied that she’d originally worked for Disney in 2001 and left the company for an office job. Then the economy failed, and layoffs followed claiming her as a casualty. So she returned to Disney in 2009. She was incredibly nice, but I was struck by how beat she looked. I didn’t need to ask more questions to reach the conclusion that Disney was like any other company struggling in the 21st Century melt down. Its people had to do more with less. They were expected to pick up the slack, and do it with the same level of energy and enthusiasm. This explained why the parks weren’t as spotless as they once were, why ride lines were longer because access points were limited to one, or why in general the cast members you encountered seemed to be dialed down a notch or two. It’s a business strategy that doesn’t net good results for any company, its people, or the customer. Still, this company was built on The Customer Experience – they personified it. They seemed to have it down to a science, yet I had just witnessed a little crack in the glass ceiling. I have faith in Disney. The accomplishments of this company are remarkable. I’m betting that they’re going to be okay. I suspect they’ll get some glass sealant and stop the crack from radiating in different directions and getting completely out of control. It’s been my observation that this is an organization with executives who are innately tuned into the importance of the customer experience and defending it. (Continued next page)