A brief moment of corporate sanity on copyright?

Walt Disney Animation StudiosContent producers can be notorious for using aggressive methods to protect their copyrights and trademarks. Recently, though, one major content producer, Disney, has backed off. With Frozen being a smash success, Disney has not gone after fans making their own cover versions of hit songs or even parodies.

Why the change?

It’s anyone’s guess, but I suspect it has to do with someone at Disney understanding that nothing is gained by making your fans angry. The RIAA’s strategy of suing customers didn’t earn it any friends (or collectible judgments, either).

For now at least, Disney seems to understand that by letting people make their own recordings of “Let It Go,” letting them create Frozen-inspired artwork, and (most of all) letting them express their love for Things Disney, the company will not lose money. If anything, Disney stands to make more money by letting the fans do their thing. After all, Disney has had many hit films, but I cannot think of a single one that resulted in kids and parents standing in line for hours to meet the stars of the film. The synergy created by the fans is as good as gold.

Let’s hope Disney’s lesson spreads to other content providers, and that the corporate sanity stays around for a while.

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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.

“Scotty, I need more power!”

Everyone who’s visited a Disney resort has either seen or heard of something like this. A child drops her box of popcorn all over the ground, and is obviously unhappy. A Cast Member sees this happen, goes over to the nearest popcorn cart, and returns to the unhappy child with a brand new popcorn box—all at no charge to the guest.

What can lawyers learn from this? Quite a few things.

First, Disney has trained all of its Cast Members to do what they can to make sure that no guest has a bad experience—even when it comes to something as small as a spilled popcorn box. For the guest on the receiving end, it feels like the Cast Member has gone above and beyond the call of duty, even though the Cast Member knows it’s not a difficult fix.

Second, Disney has trained its Cast Members that they have the authority to “spend Disney’s money” in order to make sure guests have a positive experience. A child whose snow globe might break could find a Cast Member giving her a new one (again, at no charge to the guest). Believe it or not, some guests at Disneyland spend all of their cash and realize that they don’t have money to pay for the cab fare home. The Disneyland guest relations staff is trained that they have the authority to provide cash to guests who are in dire straits. Disney obviously doesn’t advertise this fact, but they do it so that the guest has a positive experience.

Similarly, Disney doesn’t tell people that there are “rain checks” for when the weather is lousy, but if a guest asks about a refund because it started pouring, the Cast Member is authorized to give the guest a complimentary ticket.

In our law offices, support staff should be trained that they have the authority to do certain things for clients. Clients get frustrated when they call to ask for what seems like a simple request (like a copy of a letter that you sent out on their behalf last week) and hear from the staff that they’ll have to check with the attorney first. If this is happening in your office, you should make sure your staff knows what client requests really need to be run past you first and what requests can be fulfilled immediately.

How many cleaners work in your law office?

A number of years ago I read a book (the title and author escape me) where a guy was visiting Disney World and noticed a fellow pick up a piece of litter that someone had dropped. The fellow was wearing a suit, and the guy was puzzled. He spotted a Cast Member and asked “how many people are on the cleaning staff here?”

The Cast Member replied, “Sixty-five thousand.” The guy was floored. What he didn’t immediately understand was that in Disney’s view, every Cast Member and employee is on the cleaning crew. If they see a piece of trash on the ground, they pick it up.

Walt Disney got the idea for his amusement park, in part, by wishing there was a place where he and his daughters could go and they could all enjoy the rides. He also decided that his amusement park would be sparkling clean—unlike so many of the seedy, dingy amusement parks he’d seen. This vision of a clean place is carried through to today. And it makes perfect sense. None of us would like to visit a place that is messy, dirty, or even just untidy. We form impressions of places (and their owners!) by what we see. A business where things are neat and professional in appearance gives us confidence. A business where the customer waiting area looks like a dump makes us think the owner doesn’t care.

Every person in the firm, from the senior partner on down to the runner, should be trained to clean up anything out of order in a place that can be seen by clients. If you see those infernal blow-in subscription cards on the table in your waiting room, grab them and throw them out before a client sees them. (If you spot them when coming to greet your client, grab them and remark how you’re glad you got the chance to clean it up immediately—think about the impression that will make on your visitor!) If you see some small paper in a hallway, pick it up and toss it out.  If you see someone has left coffee cups in a conference room after a meeting, clear them out even if it’s someone else’s job.

For those who think that doing this kind of task is “beneath” you, consider this. By being willing to do these little things yourself, you set a great example for everyone else in the firm. You show that you care about how clients experience the office, and that keeping it clean is a priority. What right-minded employee will choose not to do something that The Boss is willing to do?

How Disney’s mindset lays the foundation for great service

Think for a moment about the last time you went into a big box store like Best Buy. If you need help with something you bought, where do you go? To the counter labeled “customer service.”

If you’ve visited a Disney resort, try to think where the customer service desk is located. If you’re there now while you’re reading this, ask one of the Cast Members where the customer service desk is.

There isn’t one.

If you ask a Cast Member to point you to “customer service,” you’re going to be directed to the Guest Relations office or desk. Disney does not ever use the term “customer,” and it eschews the idea of “customer service.”

Instead, Disney’s philosophy is that every visitor is not a customer. Instead, every visitor is a guest. Is there a difference? Think about it. What do you want as a customer? A product in exchange for your money. It’s a business transaction, nothing more. Does Disney simply want to take the money from its customers? While Disney is happy to take your money, Disney wants more than that. Disney wants to build a long-term relationship with you. Part of the way they do that is by treating you as a guest in their resort—just as you would treat a guest in your home. This idea goes back to Walt Disney himself.

How does this idea apply to the law practice? You probably already know the answer: We lawyers will benefit most by building a long-term relationship with our clients. When they come to see us, we should treat them as guests: with top-notch manners, a warm smile, a cup of coffee.

Just as Disney thinks of its customers as guests, we need to think of our clients as something more than that. A client is someone we do work for in exchange for money. I haven’t found the right word to replace “client” yet, but I’m open to suggestions.