It’s Not About Quality at Disney

March 20, 2013 6 Comments


Blog Editor Allen F. Weitzel worked in the recreation field for 45 seasons, most recently leading the safety and training department at a California amusement park for 25 seasons.

By Allen F. Weitzel

I enjoy web-based industry discussion groups. They often contemplate topics that are near to my heart. A recent post asked if the quality at Disney World was going downhill. Let us take that topic global.

It Is Not About Disney

Instead of questioning the quality at any Disney park, we should address the bigger question of what quality is and who controls it within an entertainment facility. If Disney wants to tag along, that is OK.

What Is Quality?

Dictionaries define quality as a degree of excellence, a distinguishing attribute, or superiority in kind. Pick one. I contend that quality is giving unexpected excellence. My wife and I recently went to dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant. While the food was excellent, a nifty surprise was that my wife was given the choice of selecting a complete entrée to take home, in addition to our meal. Prior to paying the bill, the waitress arrived with a shopping bag containing a ready-to-cook entrée, large enough for two. You would, now, be hard-pressed to convince my wife that Maggiano’s does not offer quality.

Who Defines Quality?

It is my contention that corporate management defines the quality of service that should be conveyed. However, actual quality is presented where the line employee interacts with the guest. Maggiano’s claims that this extra entrée feature was compliments of the chef. We do not know if this is a corporate quality mandate, or if the restaurant chef actually implemented this feature to please the customers. We do know that the kitchen and wait staffs are the ones who deliver this quality touch.

Understanding Quality

Management must constantly remember that the employees are responsible for the point of service quality control. Employees, in an effort to get the job done, establish their own level of quality. If the employee is not pleased with where they work and the boss they work for, they will marginalize or deplete the corporate mandate of quality service. If employees are unhappy, they let quality slide. If employees feel that they do not have the time, resources, or backing from their supervisor to adequately provide the company concept of quality service, then even Walt’s vision of Disney quality cannot be delivered every time. That is basic.

That is why the television show Undercover Boss is popular. Moment to moment, management does not know exactly what elements of their quality mission statement are being delivered at the point of employee/guest contact. Employees want their boss to know what obstacles they face in trying to deliver those lofty goals. Workers also want their boss to fire a customer when a customer does not treat the employee well. It is big staff morale booster when a manager stands up to a customer who is abusing or taking advantage of an employee, not to mention that there are laws requiring companies to provide a safe work environment.

Controlling Quality

No doubt that well-intentioned middle management feel stretched by corporate requirements, and meeting the needs of the workers. In an attempt to please both parties, managers rely on old fact-gathering tricks to determine if the guests are receiving the quality experience that the mission statement requires. Customer surveys are used to gauge if quality levels are met. Suggestion boxes are placed in employee work areas with the belief that if employees need help in delivering quality service, they will voluntarily submit a suggestion. There are hundreds of short cuts that managers use to determine if quality is practiced. Ask yourself how many guest surveys you take the time to complete as a customer. When you get poor service, you most likely do not say anything, you merely never return to that establishment. Does your boss listen to and research the validity of every suggestion you make, if you feel comfortable enough to make them? Do your suggestions get acted upon?

The Resolution

It is simple. Hire employees who enjoy providing quality service. Set your company quality levels where they can be easily achieved. If your quality standards are high, then the effort and resources to deliver those standards must also be elevated. Make sure the guests and employees are properly surveyed and encouraged to comment when quality slips. We seldom see the “undercover” boss talking one-on-one with customers to get their take on the service they received. Managers must monitor quality standards first hand. Corporate must make sure that time and resources are allotted for that function to happen. Tarps placed to contain collapsing concrete at Splash Mountain, and plummeting tree limbs in Disney’s Animal Kingdom will continue as long as managers and employees allow it to happen, and guests willingly accept it.

6 Comments to “It’s Not About Quality at Disney”
  1. Donna Raphael says:

    Good article Allen,
    Makes you wonder if quality control directly correlates with upper management more worried about themselves than guests. My guess is yes.

    • Donna, Thanks for checking in. Assuming that management were or are basically good people, I often find that such managers forget their roots along the way; where they came from, how they got started. I always hated working the Ferris Wheel, so I have a great deal of appreciation for those who work the FW on my behalf. There are also some leaders who do not know what it is like to be a customer, so they cannot grasp what level of quality should be offered to guests. Let us not forget those in leadership who never consider their competition, so they eventually lose their grip on their market share. Face it, we all get a little bit lazy, in time. It takes real inner strength to keep one’s values up and walk the talk. I hope my response is of some value. Best regards, -Allen

  2. Paul Warren says:

    Dear Mr. Allen:
    What would you tell an employee who wants to deliver quality
    service to the customer/guest, but the company or boss
    really isn’t interested in making that a priority?

    Your blog has some sage wisdom. Quite well done.
    Thank you.

    Paul Warren

    • Dear Paul, I think every employee, at one time or another, has to match up their values and ethics with those of the company for which they work. When the employee feels that the gap between company ethics and their own are too wide, and they cannot influence change in the company, then they probably need to move on. However, often times employees can make positive changes at their work level, within the boundary of their authority, that do not challenge the company doctrine. Often, those little changes can help the company overall and provide enough satisfaction so the employee feels positive about their work. My grandfather used to say, “When sanding a table, take care of the edges and the center will take care of itself.” Continue to strive. Do a good job until your heart tells you that your efforts are not appreciated. Thanks for the comments. -Allen

  3. Herwig Delvaux says:

    Hello Allen.
    In line with the suspect Donna has put forward, guest experience Quality (non)-delivery, really can be a outcome from top management decision making, even without intervention of the staff attitudes. In other words: the staff often cannot make any big difference.
    (By the way, I must aggree with your humanitarian insight remark : “Face it, we all get a little bit lazy, in time.” 😉 )

    But, there is no need to remind that controlling quality, is just the second step after conciously setting or… actually dismantling the quality standards, at management level.

    One example type of general park quality delivery failures, is the recent (well, over 2 decades, I see this problem spreading like a plague, it’s not that recent) attidude of selling a disturbing building site as ‘full ticket priced park’.

    There has been a time that building activity in a park was considered BY management, being a serious displeasure & annoyance to the patrons and thus a customer repelling situation, a producer of negative word of mouth.
    Remember the : “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re working at a brighter future.” 😉
    The times when building activity in a park open to the visitors was so carefully planned, as to not bringing down the customer experience dramatically, seems to be over.
    Blunt rudely smashed in building sites, pop up in just any park. Disney even seems to be prominent in having large sections of parks lined off full season with the least romantic kinds of fencing, cranes and scaffording appearing almost unavoidably in every photo snapshot, and the noise level being the same as the average downtown building site.
    It is clear that, when one is building or rebuilding a section of a park, some visitor disturbance will be unavoidable. But why so blunt? Why so absolutely planned patrons un-friendly, almost a ‘spitting on the customers heads’ attitude?

    Once upon a time, building site fencing was a ‘themed experience art’ with f.i. Disney. The fences were either lovely, or completely disguised. Now they are prominent ugly and disturbing the whole area.
    Once upon a time, the (noise making) building activity was directed to the after closing times. Now they compete with the “leisure” (?) time of the customers.
    etc etc.
    Also, once upon a time, parks offered “sorry-rebates” on ticket prices, when the customer experience was down. Now, customers pay full price with no excuse, for a tour of the building site…

    And even more ashtonishing : how comes that nowadays customers seem to allow such behaviour on them, by still visiting the park? Look up the comments on travel forum sites, and one can read the negative word of mouth.

    Food for thought !

    • Dear Herwig, Thanks for checking in on our management blog. I am sure that there are other industry professionals that share your concern. Let us hope that the management teams from various venues read your contribution, evaluate their construction and repair procedures, and consider the pros and cons of their ‘fix-it’ timing. I hope all is going well for you. Best regards, -Allen


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