Walk a mile in their shoes

Lee Cockerell worked for Disney for many years as the executive vice president for operations at Walt Disney World. During his tenure, he helped develop a program for Disney managers designed to help them improve their work (and earn promotions). It was called “Performance Excellence” (not a very catchy title for a creative organization), and I had the opportunity to listen to some of Lee’s presentations given as part of that program.

One of the stories Lee told was about when he worked for Marriott and observed a bed sheet with a big iron burn mark on it that was about to go into a guest room. He stopped the housekeeper and told her to get rid of the sheet. He then took the opportunity to coach her and suggested she think about what the family staying in that room would think when they saw the burn mark on the sheet. Lee pointed out that the family would be disappointed when instead the housekeeper should want the family to be pleased with the work she did.

Lee told another story about an experience in a program at Disney that they call “Cross U.” In that program, managers and high level executives work a full shift on the front lines. They flip burgers, help people in and out of ride vehicles, and do all the other work. One year, Lee was assigned to make French fries. Lee acknowledged that this was not one of the more glamorous jobs at Disney World, but he thought about how he’d want the people who got his fries to react when they saw them. They could either think “wow, those fries look great” or they could think “those fries look pretty crummy.” Lee then made it a point to pay close attention to the cooking time so that every batch of fries was cooked perfectly.

In both of these stories, Lee asked the housekeeper and himself to stand in the shoes of the guest. The guest’s experience should always be top-notch, but managers won’t know if it is if they don’t walk in the guest’s shoes. Lee always encouraged managers to walk through the park like a guest—not coming in the back entrance, but getting in line in the main turnstiles or standing in line for an attraction.

When’s the last time you sat for a little while in your waiting room to see how your client sees it? Are the magazines current, or do you have year-old news magazines that look like they’ve seen better days? Have you called your main switchboard (perhaps using an unfamiliar phone number so no one knows it’s you) to find out what clients hear when they call? (Consider doing this when your primary person is on break and another staff member is filling in. Clients should have a consistent experience.)

Taking some time to view things from the client’s perspective is a wise move that is easy to do. Sadly, it’s often overlooked.

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