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The Magic of the Magic Kingdom: Business Lessons from Disney

Published on Mar 28, 2023
Amanda Hankins
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Last year, I decided to put my extensive travel knowledge (ah, the life of an operations consultant) to some good use and planned a getaway for myself. As a working mom of five young adults, “me time” is hard to come by. I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and planned a solo trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL!  To me, it seemed like the most magical idea ever. The thought of being on my own timeline and having the freedom to rise and rest when I chose simply made me giggle with delight.

Not long before my departure date, there was talk of storms brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Little did I know I would experience my first (and hopefully last) hurricane. During my first day at Walt Disney World, rumors started floating around the park of a potential closure in preparation for Hurricane Ian. After a quick Google search, I learned that since opening in 1971, Walt Disney World of Florida had only closed for weather-related issues a handful of times (seven to be exact.) The likelihood of this happening (in my mind) was slim to none. Well, I was wrong. The announcement of the decision to close all parks (and some resorts) trickled into social media. With an average of 160,000 visitors to the parks plus an additional 77,000 cast members, I expected utter chaos. I hate to admit this, but I was wrong again.

Disney’s Keys to Success

The two days the parks were closed, and throughout the rest of my vacation, I witnessed the best customer service and genuine love Disney has for their guests. This should not have been a surprise to me since, in 2021, I completed an online training certification regarding Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence through the Disney Institute. During my training, I learned about the four keys Disney has used for the last six decades to train their team members. These keys, in order of importance, are:

  • Safety
  • Courtesy
  • Show
  • Efficiency

These four keys have been the engine that drives the world-class service for which Disney has become synonymous. Recently, Disney added to this list, making it five keys. The new addition is inclusion, which they added with the aim of implementing “meaningful cultural change.” This organizational evolution is a great example of a business that wants to stay relevant and impactful and is willing to revisit and revise longstanding, tried, and true traditions.

Disney is true to its values and vision, and they know who they are, what they stand for, and why they are headed in a specific direction. If Disney had decided to stay open during Covid-19 or during any other natural disaster, it would not be true to its code, putting safety above all things, including profit. It’s reported that WDW lost over 65 million dollars during the two-day closure due to Hurricane Ian. However, during the crisis, they stayed true to their values. Disney cast members are empowered and given permission to make all guests as happy as possible. During my two shelter-in-place days at a Disney property, cast members delivered flashlights to each guestroom, boxed meal kits were prepped and available, characters visited the hotel for lobby dance parties to help keep kids entertained, and the crew was readily available at all hours to reassure and comfort guests.

Finding the magic recipe for your firm

Businesses like Disney, those companies known for going over and beyond expectations for guests and team members, are the organizations I try to gather knowledge from to assist in consulting with my plaintiff law firm clients and their team members. By incorporating some of Disney’s stellar practices and anchoring forces, you could see huge shifts in your company culture and improvements to your bottom line. Here are some tips you can rip off and duplicate from Disney:

Stand firmer to your beliefs, principles, vision, and mission. Creating a mission and vision statement is a great exercise, but the real power comes with living out that mission and vision every day and encouraging your team members to do the same. Look for ways you can reinforce your commitment to the firm’s tenets as often and impactfully as possible. From fun swag to prominent office signage, make sure your core beliefs are always top of mind for your team and clients.

Create more imaginative training. Developing your team is not a one and done event. Something mentioned during orientation doesn’t magically become something every team member “should know.” Think about your training and development programs. Are they taking into account different kinds of learners? Are they memorable enough to make the training stick? If you want real transfer of training into job skills, you need to be creative in your training programs and plan them out. Sitting one team member next to another does not make a solid training program. Take time in making sure your training program reflects the strategic direction of your firm, is measurable, and creates the desired behavior.

Empower your team members to think like an owner. At Vista, we have seen really powerful programs where paralegals and case managers are given a discretionary budget to use on clients. When they hear about a baby being born, a wedding, a special occasion, or even a client having a particularly bad day, they are empowered to order flowers, send a gift, or mail a personalized card. Those small gestures give your team the autonomy to care for clients in the way they see fit. This autonomy can help to create a culture of positivity and enthusiasm.

Treat customers like guests. You may have heard this expressed as “creating memorable moments.” You have a real opportunity to wow your clients with their journey through your firm. Are you taking advantage of chances to exceed expectations? I experienced my own Disney magic while attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party the first day the parks reopened. While casually joking with a cast member about the incredibly long wait time to meet Jack and Sally and deciding I would try again during some other visit, that cast member shared a magic ticket, allowing me to access a separate line! Within 20 minutes, my small wish was granted by meeting those special characters. It worked, Disney! You made that bond even stronger. It also helped in making me a continued customer. What moments can you cultivate that create raving fans and loyal clients of your firm?

Really listen to feedback. Disney is known for making money from positive brand experiences. Disney asks guests for feedback and continues to search for innovative ways to make all experiences as magical as possible. Vista encourages our law firm clients to survey their clients during and after the resolution of their cases for the same reasons as Disney. If a client has had a great experience, we want to ensure this is standard practice for the firm. The same goes for a negative experience…what can we do to alleviate the issue and learn from the feedback? This feedback doesn’t stop with your clients. What about your team? Are you giving them an opportunity to voice concerns and communicate ideas, all without repercussion?

Be more innovative and forward-thinking. Disney continues to be innovative in their approach to keeping the customer happy. From virtual queues for rides, tracking technology for character meet and greets, and introducing new characters like Moana and Coco, Disney seeks ways to keep their guests engaged with a mix of old favorites and fresh experiences. Similarly, law firms must find ways to evolve from the traditional methods of running a firm to new practices that will benefit their clients, retain existing clientele, and solicit referrals from past clients.

Reward your team and make work fun. Disney understands that a company is only as good as its team. The organization provides competitive pay, raises and promotions based on performance, and invests in their team’s creative ideas. They also recognize and reward individual achievements. Disney demonstrates the power of creating an environment where everyone feels they are working towards a common goal while still having fun along the way. By investing in your team, you’ll gain the trust and loyalty of your employees and ultimately show results in both customer satisfaction and business growth. Making the workplace a place your team wants to be is truly magical for all involved.

Looking for the lessons

Ultimately, the business lessons Disney can teach are plentiful. From creating an unforgettable customer experience and setting high standards to listening to feedback and being innovative, businesses today can learn a great deal from this legendary brand by implementing many of its strategies. By applying Disney principles in the workplace, your law firm can benefit from increased client satisfaction, employee loyalty, higher profit, and growth. With its magical touch on hospitality and service standards worldwide, it is no wonder why Disney remains an inspiration for many businesses today. From making work fun to creating unforgettable experiences – there’s something we can all learn from the Magic Kingdom!

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