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What Time is the Three O’clock Parade? Is Not a Stupid Question

This is the second in a series of ten blog posts that provide a brief synopsis of the chapters in my upcoming book, Lessons From the Mouse – A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life. You can view previous posts from the book by clicking on the Lessons From the Mouse category on the left column of this page.

Lesson #2: What Time is the Three O’clock Parade?
Is Not a Stupid Question

Every Disney cast member can tell you about funny questions Disney guests ask. How about “What time is the three o’clock parade?” or “Can we see where Walt Disney is frozen in the castle?” or “When will you be turning off the rain?”

In the face of such seemingly silly questions, the inviolable Disney rule is never to make a guest feel stupid. Guests are out of their comfort zones, the place can be overwhelming, and it’s the cast member’s job to understand and address the question behind the question. For example, when a guest asks, “What time is the three o’clock parade?” cast members know the guest really wants to know, “What time does the three o’clock parade get here?

And those circumstances when a guest is completely in the wrong, the Disney philosophy is; “The guest may not always be right, but they will always be our guest.” Stated another way, “The guest may not always be right, but let’s allow them to be wrong with dignity.”

Customers are not stupid – it’s just that they may not know what we know. True; they didn’t read the sign, buy the right part, call the right phone number, or give the right specifications. But they’re not stupid. They’re out of their comfort zone – and each of us has made the same mistakes when we’re in an unfamiliar or confusing situation.

If we’re going create or sustain customer loyalty, we have to look at every situation through the eyes of the customer. When we view situations from the customer’s perspective, then and only then can we understand the question behind the question or the issue behind the issue. Then, and only then can preserve the customer’s dignity as well as their loyalty.

Questions to consider about Lesson #2:

  1. What are some of the common yet bizarre customer questions or behaviors that sometimes occur in your business?
  2. In the circumstances listed in question 1, what is the question behind the question, or the issue behind the issue?
  3. How can you be sure that your customers who make a mistake are “wrong with dignity?”

Lessons From the Mouse

To be released this summer!

Lessons From the Mouse

Lessons From the Mouse


Some of you are aware that I’ve been working on a new book, Lessons From the Mouse, based on my 20-years working at Walt Disney World. The book is due to be published this summer and I’m truly excited about it. It covers the ten key lessons I learned as a Disney cast member and helps readers apply those lessons to their own organizations, careers, and lives.


With my next ten blog posts, I’d like to share a synopsis of each lesson that Lessons From the Mouse covers. My hope is that you’ll find these brief descriptions to be beneficial – and I also hope these descriptions whet your appetite so that you’ll buy the book when it comes out!


Lesson #1: Never Let Backstage Come Onstage 

The concepts of “onstage” and “backstage” are critical to preserving the Disney magic. Imagine a child actually seeing Cinderella smoking a cigarette. Years of therapy might be called for. Or imagine seeing a maintenance truck near the Frontierland train station – it doesn’t really fit the frontier theme, does it? Such disconnects would destroy the illusion that Disney has spent billions to create. As cast members, protecting the magic is a key part of the job.


No matter the organization, there is a brand image you want customers to have in mind. And that brand image can quickly be compromised by violating Lesson #1. Clearly distinguishing “onstage” from “backstage,” and keeping the two completely separate, helps to preserve the integrity of your brand. Even a seemingly harmless action like leaving a stockroom door open can create a “visual intrusion” when customers can clearly see all of the stockroom clutter. Or notes and memos about employee policies taped up on the wall in full view of customers. Do customers really need to know that returning late from a break may result in disciplinary action? 

And backstage isn’t just a physical place; it’s also an attitude. We’ve all overheard employees discussing things that have no business being discussed onstage. Customers don’t want to hear employees discussing last night’s keg party or hear employees complaining to each other about their supervisor. Most customers are annoyed when they have to get the attention of an employee whose head is buried in a magazine. Each of these perfectly natural employee behaviors belongs backstage where they don’t interfere with the customer experience.


Here are three questions for you to think about as you consider Lesson #1: 

·       What makes up the physical backstage of your organization?

·       What makes up the “attitudinal” backstage of your organization?

·       What magic or illusion should not be compromised at any time during a customer’s experience with your organization?

What Do Customers Think About Your Company’s Service?

For many organizations, the greatest untapped resource for customer feedback is their call center. The call center handles just about every issue customers experience with your product or service. They handle questions, compliments, complaints, errors, requests, purchases, returns – you get the idea.

While there are some companies that truly do mine their call centers for information about customer opinions, most simply track statistics about call volume, length of calls, and issue codes. While these statistics are valuable, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. The real value comes from actually listening to the dynamics that occur as one customer talks with one representative of your company.

I believe every company leader should be required to spend a half-day per quarter in their company’s call center listening in on calls. It quickly becomes apparent that no longer is customer feedback about issue codes or call volume. It’s about real people, with real emotions, and real opinions about how your company is doing. A leader will get more information from that half-day than from all of the reports and PowerPoint presentations you can generate in a year. Even if your call center is outsourced or located in another country, you can still arrange to listen in on customer calls.

Planning to have a strategic planning session about your products and services? Be sure to include some agents from your call center. The looks on their faces as strategy is discussed will tell you how the strategy will translate to the real world better than any focus group or customer survey that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Just a simple question to your call center agents, “How can we make this work?” will help the organization develop a strategy that has a chance of real success.

When was the last time you visited your company’s call center to spend time listening to calls? If it has been more than 3-months, your information is out of date. Use this fabulous resource to find out what your customers really think about your company’s service!

Coaching For Service Excellence

In my  previous blog post, Why Service Initiatives Often Fail, I emphasized the importance of never tolerating intolerable service in your organization. I also promised to share a 5-step coaching process to help plan and deliver coaching to any employee who is not living up to your organization’s service expectations. I want to emphasize the word plan because it is vital to plan each of the steps in advance of the coaching meeting.

This post is longer than usual; but I believe the subject is critical for service success and I also know that the 5-Step Coaching Process works.


1.      Position the discussion – This step lets the employee know why the coaching is occurring. Too often leaders will begin discussing the performance situation (Step 2) without providing context. The best way to position the discussion is to refer to the organization’s objectives, values, or standards that connect to the performance issue you are addressing.


2.      Discuss the performance situation – Based on the perspective of Step 1, what is the current performance? What is happening (or not happening) that is causing a problem? It’s important at this step to discuss observable performance and not pass subjective judgments such as, “You have a poor attitude.” The best approach is to discuss outcomes that have been agreed upon, but not satisfactorily accomplished or an organizational performance standard that has not been met.


3.      Set a plan of action – At this step, the employee and the coach agree on what behavior(s) must change. A rule of thumb is that the employee should do the majority of the talking, with the manager guiding the discussion. The employee must own the solution. Keep in mind that the employee will not always agree that his/her performance is a problem. While it is most helpful that they do agree there is a problem, it is more important that they understand you expect a change in performance and that they are clear on what that change is.


4.      Communicate the consequences of non-performance – This step is often left out because discussing consequences can be uncomfortable for the employee and the manager. Without consequences, however, there is little incentive for the employee to change his/her behavior. The consequences aren’t always extreme, like termination of employment – not every situation is that bad. But consequences must be discussed. The consequence may be to the organization or to the customer experience, but there is always a consequence. The employee should clearly understand the consequences of their actions.


5.      Set a follow-up plan – I always recommend scheduling a follow-up meeting to discuss progress made. This step communicates to the employee that the coaching was not just a chat – changes are expected and he/she will be held accountable for those changes. Pull out the calendar and schedule a follow-up discussion.



Again, I want to stress the importance of planning each step in advance of the coaching session. Don’t leave it to chance – if the discussion gets heated it’s easy to get off track. Have a plan. 


Finally, never, ever let a coaching moment go. A coaching moment is one of the most powerful training opportunities an employee can experience. It’s real time training because it focuses on a specific and immediate issue.


I would love to read any comments and suggestions you might have regarding your own service coaching experiences.

Why Customer Service Improvement Initiatives Often Fail

One of the (if not the) top reasons that I see many customer service initiatives fail to reach their full potential is due to a lack of accountability. Too often managers ignore substandard service performance from an employee (or employees) because the manager is either uncomfortable with confrontation, worried the employee might quit, or they believe they’ll handle the problem at performance appraisal time – which is absolutely the worst time to surprise an employee with any performance issue.

Another reason I see managers avoid confronting substandard service issues is that they feel the whole customer service subject is too subjective and it’s hard to “prove” that an employee’s service performance is unacceptable. They ask, “how can I measure something as subjective as an employee’s service performance?” I always respond by asking, “Can you tell me who your service superstars are? Can you tell me who your service problem employees are?” The answer is always yes – they know exactly who is strong and who is weak when it comes to customer service.

So while judging the quality of an employee’s service performance may be somewhat subjective; we need to get over it and get on with addressing the problem. Don’t look for some excuse for not confronting the issue. The longer you avoid confronting the offending employee, the more that employee alienates your customers and compromises the credibility of your service initiative.

My all-time favorite leadership quote is this:

“Intolerable service exists
when intolerable service is tolerated.”

You’re not doing anyone any favors by delaying taking action.

Be honest with yourself – Are there any situations in which you are tolerating intolerable service in your organization?

In my next post I will provide you with a 5-step coaching process that can help you plan and deliver coaching to any employee who is not living up to your organization’s service expectations.