Enhancing Customer Service the Disney Way: The Psychology of Intention

June 21, 2017 | Featured Articles

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We can all agree that when it comes to customer service, Disney has mastered the art of delivery.  It has a diverse staff that is very well trained to ensure that every interaction you have is nothing short of “magical”!  They accomplish this through an intentional commitment to ‘employee engagement’, that is, the extent to which employees commit to the values and vision of its company. Whether or not you are Disney, when employees commit it creates a company ‘culture’. And company culture is a value that isn’t limited to Disney.

How Does Disney Do It?

This past month I went to Disney school to see what I could learn that would be relevant to medical practices. So many of our clients in the medical professions struggle to deliver on good (let alone excellent) customer service in their practices. And while the Customer Service course looked fascinating, it was clear to me that unless a practice can develop a strong mission and engage employees around it, there is only so far good customer skills can carry you. 

Therefore, I trained on Employee Engagement for five (very fun) days at the Disney Institute, and was impressed by the attention to detail that occurs in every aspect of their process. Starting with how Disney selects its staff to the quality of its extensive (and intensive) training programs, down through its communication with employees and the public, the best word to describe how Disney engages its resources is this: intentionally.

Disney’s ‘intentionality’ is based on each individual’s ability to direct things rather than letting things direct you. You can probably think of a number of different areas within your practice that tend to direct the staff into typical behavior, rather than anyone choosing intentionally to indulge in that behavior. For example, your medical receptionists may be conditioned to react to an aggressive patient, instead of actively directing the conversation to a happier resolution. Or your partners may be resistant to change, despite patient satisfaction surveys that indicate a change may be needed in the ways your practice communicates to patients. Intentionality incorporates a) having a purpose and sharing it across stakeholders (patients and staff) and b) paying extraordinary attention to detail. And in this way, it creates a two-fold win for delivering excellent customer service.

Let’s learn from Disney

There are 5 main areas in which Disney is intentional with their business and that can be translated into your medical practice:

  1. Be Intentional with Your Practice’s Culture

Disney’s way:

Disney focuses on specific areas across the continuum of service in order to sustain / improve its business results. It calls this approach the Chain of Excellence. The chain starts with a focus on the customer and on the staff, led by excellent leaders that understand the focus on customer service.  These leaders align the entire organization around a set of values and vision, making sure the entire company understands two core concepts: “who we are” and “where we are going”. These leaders are tasked with overseeing and sustaining the company’s culture and vision, its employee training programs, and on-going engagement of their staff. And together, that leadership and the employees create a working environment that allows for high quality service and customer satisfaction. 

Does that mean that without a strong office manager or administrator, these principles are out of reach? Not at all! You can be the leader . . .

Here’s how Disney instills those values. Whether you are the owner or the manager, the front desk receptionist or the back-office biller, we can all relate to heritage and traditions, shared values, language and symbols, and traits and behaviors. Any company that evolves from a tradition can tell the story that engages others to connect with it.

  • Discussion of heritage and tradition helps build pride in employees that choose to work with an organization that has a story that resonates with their own, and sharing the history of the practice’s founding and early days helps to remind employees of what the company represents.
  • Shared values lets every employee know what the practice represents, what it does not embody, and sets the tone for how employees are expected to represent those values. Using consistent, defined language and symbols that are representative of the practice’s values reminds employees (as well as signals to patients) the values and culture they are expected to communicate in every aspect of their working hours. 
  • Defining the behaviors that exemplify the traits that the practice wishes their employees to have allows for the development of a set of uniform standards; and these can be called upon when hiring and training employees as well as by employees who can fall back on those expectations in the carrying out of their own responsibilities.

How to Incorporate These Principles Into Your Practice:

To bring intentionality into your practice, you first need to be clear about your own practice’s culture. Spend the time to determine what your practice’s mission is really about and you will be able to clearly communicate to employees and your patients what qualities, behaviors, and ideas your vision of patient care is embodying. (If you need some help in working through that process, go here: http://www.pediatricinc.com/2013/08/01/15-what-is-a-practice-charter-and-why-should-i-have-one-pediatric-practice-management-awesomecast/)

Your practice culture is not just a motto, a mission statement, or a set of job descriptions. Your practice’s culture is a set of behaviors and ideas that will be used to direct decisions made by all members of the practice. Rather than being a pleasant statement that is crafted once and then filed away, your mission and your culture is developed on a day to day basis through the actions of all staff members, and can easily be altered unintentionally if careful attention is not paid to staying the course. 

A sensibly designed, intentional culture creates an environment in which every employee has the ability to be fully engaged in the business, empowered to act upon circumstance to show off that culture, and therefore best represent you and your practice while feeling fulfilled in the delivery of their tasks every day.  Make your culture the foundation for every employee to reflect in every aspect of your practice, and it will become easier and easier for them to base their actions to reflect this vision.

  1. Be Intentional During the Selection Process

Disney’s way:

Disney focuses on hiring for attitude and training for aptitude. Its managers recognize and fully understand that they need to find a balance in behaviors and skills when hiring, but do not worry about skills until they are sure that the behaviors of the potential employee or ‘cast member’ align with the culture and vision of the company.  Disney understands that employees that are the right fit for the company culture are those who become engaged employees.

Of course Disney has a strong mission and value statement, making it easy to spot those candidates that are not the right fit and would quickly become disengaged and not add value (in fact, they are likely to tarnish the image that Disney is in the business to portray).  The same can be said for specific positions: you can hire the right person but if you put them in the wrong role, they are not likely to shine. During Disney’s selection process, recruiters ask intentional, specific questions that make it apparent to both themselves and to the potential cast members whether they should continue with the process or be passed over during the selection process. Disney’s success lies in recognizing that improper hires can damage their culture and brand.

How to Incorporate These Principles Into Your Practice:

Be intentional when looking for new hires! Once you’ve taken the steps necessary to communicate and maintain your practice’s culture, values, and vision, it is vital to make sure that you are selecting the right people for every position, whether this means selecting from within to promote or hiring externally to fill gaps in the team, that can effectively reflect that culture.

When evaluating a potential new hire, remember that you can teach skills, but you can’t train a person in values or change their personality. There are some positions within the practice (e.g. RN, CMA) that require certain skills sets. But you already know that just because someone is trained as a nurse, it does not mean that they are the right fit as a nurse within your practice and your culture. Be clear with those that you interview that your practice is about its culture and that everyone’s expectation is to deliver on that culture (it doesn’t matter if that is true today or not, if you don’t start hiring for that today then you can’t end up there tomorrow). 

Use specific questions and wording throughout the interview that portrays your practice’s culture – it will help both you and the interviewee decide if you are a proper fit together.  It is better for a potential employee to “self-select out” during the interview process rather than go through the entire interview and hiring process only to realize that they are not a good fit for the company two weeks into the job.  Employees that do not embody your practice’s culture can weaken that culture, alter the engagement of other employees, and provide poor service to your patients; all of which do not align with your goals and values, as well as create an  inevitable lost investment in that hire.

  1. Be Intentional in Training

Disney’s way:

At Disney, a new cast member’s first stop is to a class called Traditions.  This class – taught by highly respected and carefully selected trainers – begins with discussions about new cast members’ experiences with Disney and what makes the Disney brand so magical for them.  This discussion instills a sense of pride in the new cast member and reminds them that their job is to now bring that magic to life for Disney guests. This respect for “the magic” and emotional connection with the brand is the basis for the continued engagement of their cast members. 

The Traditions class is taken by all cast members together and allows for new hires to connect with cast members from other lines of business.  The training is then broken off into more specialized training sessions and then to on-the-job training side by side with carefully selected cast members who embody the company’s culture and do their jobs in an outstanding way.  Disney cast members recognize that becoming a trainer is a position of great merit and pride, and therefore apply and interview for the coveted position.  Disney makes sure to rotate its training staff so that everyone has the opportunity to be recognized and to eliminate trainer burn out. Training materialis carefully vetted to ensure that proper information is being presented to new cast members.  There is nothing worse than a game of telephone – where the end process resulted in inaccurate and improper information being shared with your newest staff! 

On the other hand, inadequate training will frustrate cast members and create space for improvisation, which can create considerable risk, such as communicating inaccurate information to customers, decreasing customer satisfaction, and creating inconsistencies in the brand.

In your practice:

The training process speaks volumes to new employees about practice values. Imagine being a new employee and showing up for your first day of training. A typical scenario goes something like this: you are introduced to your manager and quickly handed off to a co-worker, who is just now finding out that they will be training you today. The co-worker shoves all the papers on his already cluttered desk to the side and asks you to wait a minute while they answer the phone because they are short staffed that day. What message was sent in the first five minutes about the practice and what they value? Do they value organization? Preparation?  Are you and your future with the company valued? If the practice is not prepared to give you a foundation for your current position, how are you expected to grow within the company? 

So, take a step back and evaluate your training processes. Develop a program that starts all employees off with a well-organized training program, led by a specified trainer who has been carefully selected based on their embodiment of the culture and required skills. If this is your office manager, make sure that you convey that you understand that other areas of the practice will not be attended to while training is occurring (a person can only do so many things at once and not freeing them up to focus on training invokes the scenario mentioned above).

Then, continually update your training program to ensure the accuracy of the information being presented and that it has not deviated from the practice culture or mission statement. Consider starting your new hire training process with a lesson on the history and heritage of the company.  This will allow your new employee to see that they are a part of something bigger and gain a sense of pride in your practice.  Don’t be afraid to ask a new employee to come in before or after the practice opens or closes to do that initial introduction – it may provide the best opportunity to introduce them effectively when there are no distractions from patients and other staff. Helping an employee to see where they fit into the success of the practice is a major step in the right direction when it comes to engaging your employees, and taking the time to do it right helps to retain employees for the long term.

  1. Be Intentional with Your Communication

Disney’s way:

Disney has realized that high-quality communication can actively reinforce culture, while low-quality communication undermines it. They are just as intentional about communicating with their cast members as they are with customer communications, realizing that keeping their cast members knowledgeable about the company and company ‘happenings’ fosters engagement. Disney utilizes many forms of communication with their cast members such as web-based platforms for up-to-date news and information about the parks and resorts, as well as postings for continuing education opportunities for staff. A quarterly magazine keeps employees informed on the more fun or casual aspects of the company and the achievements of their co-workers. These added forms of communication keep the cast members engaged with the company, certainly, but also with their co-workers, reinforcing their company culture continuously.

In your practice:

During employee selection and training, your practice’s culture is continually reinforced. Now that they are hired, you must provide continued, on-going communication to ensure willing adherence to company goals, especially in customer service. Communication with your employees, patients and the community reinforces your values in a positive way.

Be careful to select communication methods that reinforce your message. For example, if your practice cultivates a family oriented or team atmosphere, pushing hastily drafted memos to communicate important information time and again does little to reinforce teamwork.  A more engaging form of communication would be a daily huddle or frequent in-person team meetings to discuss changes within the company, allowing time for questions and feedback. Being intentional in your wording, in your method of communication, and even in the venue of meetings, can have very important impacts on your employees’ engagement.

  1. Be Intentional When Showing Care

Disney’s way:

Disney believes that the extent to which it genuinely cares for its cast members is the same extent to which its cast members show care for their customers. It uses care to strengthen the emotional connection between their cast members and their company, which in turn strengthens engagement.  Every aspect of the business revolves around the culture of care it has created. 

Without Disney’s cast members, its business and vision of creating the most wonderful place on earth cannot be a reality.  Because it realizes the importance of its employees, it make special efforts to appreciate its employees any way they can, and as often as they can.  It promotes from within whenever possible, making sure to further its cast members’ education when there is interest, and make it a point to say “thank you” and acknowledge proper behaviors. Disney also empowers its leadership with the ability to appreciate cast members in ways that fit the specific cast member’s personality type, rather than having a uniform method for appreciation across the board.

In your practice:

Care is the aspect of employee engagement that has less to do with your practice and more to do with your employees themselves.  As Maslow points out in his Hierarchy of Needs theory, helping humans to meet their full potential involves meeting specific needs, and meeting these needs in the workplace can only benefit your practice in the long-term. Physiological needs and safety needs are met in almost all employment environments, but the next two levels in the hierarchy, belongingness/love needs and esteem needs (such as feelings of accomplishment), are the two that can be positively addressed when being intentional in showing your staff that you care.  Helping to fulfill these needs leads to more engaged employees, which leads to their ownership of excellent customer service. In your practice, showing care can be accomplished in many ways such as: showing genuine interest in your employees’ personal lives, interests, and their goals for the future (while facilitating advancement when possible), which in turn develops a culture of care that is shared between leadership and co-workers. This is the most underutilized factor of employee engagement in today’s workforce. And with the growing focus on behavioral health in healthcare, it only makes sense to show the value of behavioral health to your employees by establishing a culture of care within your practice. . .

Closing Thoughts: It was all started with a mouse

While this may seem like a monumental undertaking at your practice, remember, Disney was not created in a day . . . so pull on your mouse ears and tackle this one step at a time:

  1. Defining the current culture for your practice is a great first step, and something that you can begin immediately. Ask yourself and your staff what the practice stands for and what behaviors are valued there. This conversation will enlighten you on whether the culture you envision for your practice is in fact present in your practice. 
  2. From there, you can begin to evaluate your selection process, training programs, and communications in relation to that culture, making sure that the culture you have intentionally created is being communicated through all aspects of business.
  3. Last, but certainly not least, be intentional in showing care for your employees – this may bring the most immediate improvement in employee engagement.
  4. Acknowledge great service when it is seen, and show a genuine interest in your employees and their goals.

You may not always have “magical” experiences or interactions in your practice, but a few small changes can get your practice moving in the right direction for meeting your employee engagement and customer service goals.