What’s in a Name?
How Large Parks Put the Spotlight on the Staff

By Chad Emerson

“What’s in a Name?”
When it comes to customer service, there are many books and resources focusing on the “guest” side of the customer interaction. That’s only half of the equation though. Indeed, the other half is just as, if not more, critical because an engaged employee who feels respected and part of the overall company goals is often a more productive employee. In this issue, The Large Park Report explored how two leading large parks and resorts are using a simple strategy to yield great results when interacting with their employees.

A photo from the Disney Villains After Hours show at Magic Kingdom Park. This specially ticketed event features entertainment from some of Disney’s most famous villains. When staff members are working in a public part of the park, they are said to be “on stage.” Photo by Matt Stroshane

Hiring “Cast Members”
With over 100,000 employees, the Disney theme park enterprise is the epitome of a “large park.” With that many employees, Disney has a wide variety of benefits to keep everyone engaged. However, it’s one of the least expensive benefits that creates a common bond among Disney employees.
Disney has largely replaced the title of “employee” with the title of “Cast Member.” According to Lee Cockerell, a former Disney executive and author of “Creating Magic…Ten Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney,” the unique title underlies an important strategic goal.
“At Disney World, we seek to put on a hit show day in a day out. We are all Cast Members in the show, whether we are backstage or onstage,” explained Cockerell. “We all know the importance of preforming our individual roles, so every guest has a magical experience”
Disney even extends this naming convention beyond what they call their employees. For instance, customers are called “guests” and, when a Cast Member is working in a public part of the resort, they are said to be “on stage” (while the non-public areas are referred to as “backstage.”)
Another tool that Disney uses to build a shared experience among their Cast Members are the famous Disney name tags. Cast members at all levels, including senior resort executives, wear name tags that typically include their first name and oftentimes where they are from. This introduces a level of personal connection between not only the Cast Members and guests but also among the many thousands of Cast Members themselves.
Best of all, the entire Cast Members/Guest/On Stage strategy is relatively simple and inexpensive when you consider the only major hard cost are the actual Cast Member nametags.

Cast members for the Disney Villains After Hours show at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resorts, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Disney has over 100,000 employees. Photo by Matt Stroshane

Team Members at Universal Orlando
Disney is not the only large park to replace the term “employee” with a more collaborative title. Universal Orlando sets a high bar for its employees. According to the Universal:
Whether you are checking lap bars for safety in Attractions, stocking shelves with new products in Merchandise or filling drink orders in Food and Beverage, there is a common goal and expectation: to provide an unforgettable experience for each and every guest!
To help accomplish this, the Central Florida resort eschews the employee moniker and replaces it with “Team Members.” Universal Orlando places such an important emphasis on the Team Member concept that it actually serves as a major piece of its Mission Statement:
We are committed to providing an inclusive environment where our Team Members are proud to work, delivering extraordinary guest experiences, and as a result generating a fair and responsible profit.
It’s quite significant to see Universal focus first on the employee side of the experience in its Mission Statement. Clearly, it realizes that the “team” concept builds morale which, in turn, serves as a key ingredient in providing excellent customer service.

The Disney Villains After Hours show is running through July 10, 2020, on select nights. Disney World strives to put on a hit show with its cast members day in and day out. Photo by David Roark

The New Naming Process
The use of alternatives to “employee” is not unique to theme parks though. For instance, Marriott uses the term “Associates” for its employees while Google often calls them “Googlers” (or even “Nooglers” for new employees.)
The use of alternative titles can sometimes get too clever or cute (examples might include these real-world titles currently being used: Chief Rockstar, Legal Ninja or Innovation Alchemist). Still though, there can be great value in naming alternatives if you keep three simple ideas in mind:

  1. Make the alternative title sound inclusive and collaborative (Most people enjoy being part of a team);
  2. Make the alternative title have a rational basis in the corporate culture (Cast Member makes sense in an entertainment company);
  3. Use the alternative title consistently throughout your facility and workplace so it appears to be meaningful rather than just a cursory strategy.

Replacing the title “employee” with a more inclusive and collaborative title can be a cost-effective and simple strategy to build a common bond among the individuals you rely on to provide a great guest experience at your amusement facility.

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