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Customer Experience

September 27th, 2009

Where Legendary Customer Service Begins


It may seem amazing that the solution to achieving legendary customer care does not lie in some “slogan driven” training program, but rather in a simple two-step process..

Ask any CEO if he or she is committed to excellent customer service and the answer typically is, “Of course we are!” But ask why their organization’s service isn’t among the ranks of the Walt Disney Company, the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, or any other extraordinary service provider and the excuses are tiresome: “We can’t pay enough,” or “People don’t care,” or “Our turnover is high.”

Now assume for a minute that these excuses are valid (which I am convinced they are not), and ask a leader, “What are you doing to alleviate this problem?” and witness their awkward scramble for an answer. If an organization is truly committed to legendary customer service and their lame excuses were valid, why wouldn’t they be using all available resources to solve these problems?

So what is the secret? It may seem amazing that the solution to achieving legendary customer service does not lie in some “slogan driven” training program, but rather in a simple two-step process: (1) Hire to the culture of the organization; (2) Provide a multi-day orientation program that encourages new hires to embrace a new set of values.

Think about it – Disney, the Four Seasons, Nordstrom, and other celebrated service providers hire from the same employment pool and pay about the same wages. What these companies do better than others is hire and orientate.

Hire to the culture. World-class service providers require multiple interviews with potential employees in addition to the one or two human resource interviews. The purpose of these multiple interviews is to assure that the candidate fits the culture of the organization. At the Four Seasons, in addition to a diverse mix of employees, each hotel or resort manager must also interview all potential hires before an offer is made. Kathleen Taylor, President of the Four Seasons’ worldwide operations explains: “It is not for the GM (General Manager) alone to say, ‘Yes, I like the person’ or ‘No, I don’t.’ It shows the potential dishwasher that his [or her] job is really important. He may go home that night and tell his mother or friends, ‘Wow, I met the GM today,’ and on his first day at work, he knows the GM, and the GM knows him.” Equally important to ensuring that a candidate fits the culture is consistently demonstrating that everyone’s role, no matter where in the hierarchy, is important to creating magical moments of service.

Hiring to the culture of your organization assumes you can define your organization’s dream (or vision), values and behaviors (Codes of Conduct, as defined in our best-selling book, The Disney Way). If your culture needs defining, it would be wise to work on those critical elements before embarking upon the hiring process.

Over the years I have heard many executives argue, “Why be so concerned with hiring the right person? Anyone can learn these entry-level jobs, and if a new hire doesn’t work out, there are three people waiting in line.” The solution to their short-sighted mentality eludes them. They probably would agree that the most valuable asset of any organization is the customer. So wouldn’t they want to trust their most valuable asset to the most competent, capable and skilled person available, not just the “next in line?” It leaves me dumbfounded.

JoAnn Wagner, President and CEO of the SOS Staffing Family of Companies, explains how ‘Hiring for Fit’ is vital to effective customer service and overall success. “Superior customer service begins with uniting the right talent with the right opportunity, which starts long before a candidate’s first day on the job. Interviewing, testing and screening of a candidate’s experience and background compared with a company’s culture are all factors that must be carefully weighed. Once a culture match has been made, a comprehensive orientation program is the final crucial piece.”

So, if caring for your customer is not reason enough for finding the right employee, isn’t increasing your competitive advantage? Both the Hay Group and Workforce Management magazine have calculated the cost of replacing an $8.50/hour employee at $10,000 to $12,000. Disney, the Four Seasons, and fellow world-class service providers experience 3-5 times lower turnover than their competition.

I also hear the argument, “Our HR department is too small or does not have time to find the ‘right’ people.” One solution to this problem is to form a strategic alliance with a staffing services firm. Susan Aherns, Regional Manager for Adams & Associates in Washington explains: “Companies who form a true partnership with a staffing firm will add arrows to their quiver that they would not have otherwise. The right firm can function as an integral part of a company’s HR department, saving it valuable time and money. In the end, businesses often save more by utilizing a staffing firm to find the best candidates.”

The Commonwealth Alliance Program (CAP) reports that businesses now attribute 25% of all revenues to strategic alliances. Karen Lustman, District Manager for Orange County direct hire firm Devon & Devon, elaborates: “Hiring in today’s competitive climate is much more than finding a body. Strong strategic alliances result in win-win solutions. When a hiring firm understands the company’s mission and culture, they send only best-fit candidates.”

If you have hired an individual who has passed the “culture fit” test with flying colors, it’s now your responsibility to immerse him or her into your culture. This must happen before they begin their operational or staff responsibilities.

Orientation. Orientation programs in most organizations would have to increase by a factor of ten to reach the level of pathetic. Most involve new hires in tedious activities ranging from completing forms to reviewing policies. Then, the “welcomed” newcomer gets thrown into the hustle of getting the job done. Even in companies with well-defined cultures, the success rate of these new hires is less than stellar.

If new hires end up being fired or resigning within the first six months on the job, they are almost always branded as failures. I’ll bet you’ve heard the feedback: “he never really bought into our level of service,” or “she never really understood our values.” An all too often believed myth is that values can be explained or even dictated.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One cannot mandate a new set of values to anyone; the only way for values to be effective is for individuals to embrace and internalize the values. Luckily, we can turn to a tremendously successful role model for this lesson in action. . . Isadore Sharp, CEO and founder of Four Seasons. “Issy” told me, “They (values) are only words on paper, the words have significance only if behaved; the behaviors are significant only if believed.” Legendary customer service does not come from a policy manual; it comes from the heart.

So, how do you get new hires to embrace a new set of values? Answer: Build a multi-day orientation process. Anything less than two days is not enough. People need time to understand how the new values contribute to the success of the organization and why their current set of values will not work. For decades I have been involved in leading organizations to structure cultural orientation programs so that individuals and teams can internalize the vision, the values and the culture of an organization.

I challenge you to spend your time establishing the right hiring process and the right orientation process, not in just getting the “right” people.

About the Author

Bill Capodagli

Capodagli Jackson Consulting is an independent company dedicated to the preservation and implementation of Walt Disney's original success principles featured in our best-selling book, The Disney Way. Cited by Fortune magazine as "so useful, you may whistle while you work." and a BEST BUSINESS BOOK; Phone +01 800-238-9958


Imagine a world without Walt Disney.  No Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, or Goofy.  No Disneyland or Walt Disney World.  No Snow White, Cinderella, no animated featured films.  A world with far too little magic, pixie dust and optimism.  But there was a Walt Disney and we are pleased to have one of the foremost experts on Walt’s success formula and co-author of the newly revised and updated edition of The Disney Way: Harnessing the Secrets of Disney in Your Company, Bill Capodagli.  Bill brings to us over thirty years of consulting, research, and teaching experience.  For over twenty years, Bill has benchmarked the Walt Disney Company and assisted scores of organizations revamp their customer service standards, and increase market share and productivity using Walt’s original credo for success.  Fortune magazine touts The Disney Way as “so useful, you may whistle while you work.”  Bill is the most requested keynote speaker on Walt Disney’s original success credo.  

The revised edition of The Disney Way features seven exciting organizations including Griffin Hospital, Men’s Wearhouse, Four Seasons Hotels, and Ernst & Young.  All of these iconic organizations share a distinctive cultural attribute
. . .they all exhibit Walt Disney’s success principles.


Capodaglie Jackson Consulting 2009
[email protected]
Phone +01 800-238-9958



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One Comment

  1. Roger Frosh

    Roger Frosh
    IIn this scenario Perception is Reality…..
    and as is often quoted in the Journal of Business Lgistics as far back as 1995…

    Customer satisfaction is fundamental to business. The degree to which customers are satisfied determines whether customers make additional purchases and recommend the company and its products to others. Improving the quality of logistics service is particularly important because it increases customer satisfaction, which in turn heightens the occurrence of strategic partnering and corporate profitability. Unfortunately, an A.T. Kearney logistics study indicates that only about 10 percent of companies are capable of totally satisfying their customers.(1) The marketing literature has focused on customer satisfaction with regard to products and services.(2) In logistics, researchers have concentrated on the effect of logistics service policy(3) on customer satisfaction. Increasing attention, however, is being paid to the aspects of logistics policy that can increase customer satisfaction
    The degree to which customers are satisfied with a product is determined by the combined impact of its attributes versus its cost. An important determinant of customer satisfaction is how well the product performs. However, in competitive markets, achieving a competitive advantage by providing a product with outstanding performance is difficult. Since the major players are each striving to gain market share, product performance becomes similar.(5) Similarly, price parity can be achieved with amazing speed. Businesses can, however, have a positive impact on customer satisfaction by providing outstanding logistics services. Since high levels of logistics services are not easily copied and are sometimes ignored as a competitive tool, they can be successfully used to develop a sustainable competitive advantage

    Roger Frosh

    Roger Frosh

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