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A Tribute

This blog post will start out in an unusual way – a description of a funeral. It may seem at first to be a departure from my focus on customer service, but please stay with me; there’s a point to what I’m writing about.

Last weekend I attended the funeral of a former Disney colleague, John “Scooter” Huller. He lived a very full 84 years and, based on the stories shared during the funeral, was a well-loved human being.

I met Scooter in the mid 1980s when I was a supervisor in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Scooter was the manager of Special Events, responsible for providing support for all of the logistics required by any event that occurred anywhere on the property. As supervisor of Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, one of my responsibilities was to coordinate the activities related to special parties, television broadcasts, holiday parades, etc. Scooter and his team provided everything, and I mean everything, needed to support these events. It could be anything from having a stage built, arranging for decorations, arranging for technical support, to being on hand during the event in order to handle last-minute needs. Scooter’s job was vital to the success of every special event that took place at Disney World. And no one was better at providing support than Scooter Huller.

When I heard he had passed away, even though I hadn’t seen him in more than 20 years, there was no way I was going to miss his funeral. The funeral was well attended by friends and family, but also by many, many Disney cast members (current and former) who had the pleasure to work with Scooter. The fact that he retired 10 years ago didn’t diminish the connection his colleagues felt to him. The stories people shared brought back a flood of happy memories of working with this special man.

Beyond recognizing what a special person he was, the reason I wanted to share this story of Scooter in my blog is that he was a wonderful model for what it takes to deliver stellar internal customer service. While Scooter delighted in interacting with guests, his main role was to support the operating areas in creating a seamless special event. He was the perfect person for the job.

I’ve spent some time thinking about my many interactions with Scooter during the time I worked with him and what he did that made him such a valuable colleague who was loved by everyone he came in contact with. I believe that each of the points I share here can apply to anyone as they support others in any organization. Remember, great external customer service is usually the result of great internal customer service.

Here are some of Scooter Huller’s qualities we should all aspire to:

 1. A can-do attitude – No matter the request, no matter how outrageous it might be, Scooter focused immediately on how to get the work done. Whereas others might quickly respond with why the request is impossible, Scooter went into can-do mode.

 2. Clear communication – While Scooter displayed a can-do attitude, it would be a mistake to think people could just roll over him with their requests. He was very clear about what it would take to fulfill the request: how much it would cost, how long it would take, and what he needed from the requester in order to be successful. There were no surprises – you knew exactly what Scooter needed from you to make things happen. But once he had your agreement, things started moving quickly; sometimes it appeared to be magic.

 3. A focus on quality – I never saw Scooter deliver anything less than outstanding quality. In fact, he refused to do so. He had such respect for the Disney brand that a request to cut corners would be responded to with a polite “no way” if the guest experience would be diminished. He would insist that you and he work out a way that the job could be done in a way that said “Disney.”

4. Follow-through – It’s one thing to have a can-do attitude, it’s another to actually get things done. Once Scooter committed to a task, it was a done deal. You never had to follow up or remind him, the work just got done. Period.

5. A positive personality – You felt good being around Scooter. While he wasn’t a person to stand around in idle chat, he had a way of making you feel good. He was nice. He attracted respect and he gave respect. The only time I ever saw him even mildly irritated was when a colleague was disrespectful to another colleague. And I never once heard Scooter blame another person or another department for anything.

6.  He loved Disney – From his words and deeds it was clear that Scooter loved Disney with every fiber of his being. No one had more fun on the job than Scooter Huller. His love for Disney showed through in the quality of his work, his energy, and the sparkle in his eyes as he observed the guests. Everything he did was focused on creating wonderful experiences for Disney guests.

While a funeral is certainly sad in many ways, Scooter’s funeral was also a celebration of a special man. It gave us the opportunity to hear from his family about how his life and values impacted them, and gave his family a chance to hear about how his life and values impacted others. While there were plenty of tears, there were just as many smiles.

When my time comes, I hope my send-off is like that of Scooter Huller.

Preparing for the Economic Turnaround

During a recent radio interview, the show host asked me to comment on a pleasant subject – the economic recovery. With all of the recent doom and gloom, there are signs that things are beginning to turn around. Who knows how long the recovery will take, but the economy will most certainly recover.

During the discussion the host asked me, “What is your main suggestion for organizations in preparation for the economic recovery?” Without hesitation, I said that if organizations focus on one thing in preparation for the recovery, it should be this:

“Begin planning your economic recovery hiring strategy.”

Some might laugh at this suggestion, thinking, “Hiring? We’re letting people go left and right, and cutting everyone else’s hours!” And that may be true. But if you wait for everything to turn around (which it will), you’ll be playing catch up in what will be one of the most favorable hiring markets in history. Organizations that are prepared will have their pick of the best-of-the-best applicants who have either been downsized or have simply held off on a desired job change due to the economy.

Hiring the right people is the number one strategy for creating a service culture, and this strategy is poised to yield unprecedented results during the turnaround.

But, assuming your organization isn’t in aggressive hiring mode right now, what can you do to prepare? Here are five suggestions:

1. Determine which areas of the organization will need to hire first – It might be the sales staff, the reservations center, loan officers, etc. When business picks up it would be tragic to be understaffed in those areas that have the greatest impact on the customer experience. Customers always know when we’re unprepared to handle the volume of business we’re getting.

2. Determine what qualities you will be looking for in applicants – Who are your strongest performers now? What are the qualities that make them strong? Design a behavioral interviewing process (with outside help if needed) that will help your organization identify those applicants who will shine in those star qualities you’ve identified, versus those who might not be wired to thrive in your culture. Commit to not hiring “warm bodies!”

3. Review and revise job descriptions and other interview materials – Most job descriptions I review are either way too general or grossly out of date regarding actual job expectations. Now is the time to review job descriptions and make sure they truly reflect what you will expect of those joining your organization. Make sure your service standardized are clearly spelled out!

4. Map the interview process – While there will be lots of job seekers during the turnaround, there will also be lots of companies looking for strong employees. Don’t think that applicants won’t have choices; they will. So, it’s important to model your organization’s values throughout the hiring process.

From the beginning of the interview process to the end, you want applicants to feel your organization’s culture, not just hear about it. Most job interview processes are poorly designed (or not designed at all). You can differentiate your organization from all most others simply by having a carefully crafted interview process that creates a positive experience for applicants.

5.  Train leaders to be effective interviewers – This doesn’t mean that you must immediately send all of your leaders to a three-day seminar on interviewing skills, although you could. But at least begin talking about interviewing skills, recommend books, circulate articles, etc. And, when it looks like you’ll be ramping up your hiring then yes, provide training classes on interviewing skills.

It will be easy to blow off these suggestions because you’re so busy dealing with today’s economy and today’s issues. But keep in mind that if you don’t plan now, you might miss one of the greatest opportunities to craft your organization’s culture in the way you’ve always wanted to craft it. If you have your hiring plan ready, you’ll be ready to go into implementation mode when the time is right – and that’s a great feeling to have.