I’ve always been a big Disney fan. My family and I had season passes to Disneyland in California for about 8 years before moving to North Carolina. Now I can’t get my Disney fix on as often as I’d like to but still manage to go once a year or so. Being in the automotive industry with my business being focused on three main areas: content writing, social media and conferences, I’m very often dealing with topics revolving around customer loyalty, customer retention and customer experience. I was first introduced (legitimately) to the Disney Institute at a Driving Sales Executive Summit (automotive industry conference) about 4 years ago with Bruce Kimbrell as a keynote speaker. I was aware of the Disney Institute previously but that was my first taste of some actual Disney Institute education. I was hooked. After that conference, I studied up and wanted to continue learning from the Disney Institute. Keep in mind that I’m a “gotta have it all” kind of guy so, of course I wanted to take every Disney Institute course offered. Of course, through my research, I discovered that to do so would cost upwards of $30,000+ just in tuition (not including travel, lodging, etc.). So when I came across the ad for the Disney Institute Customer Experience Summit in my Facebook feed, I was intrigued. I called and promptly grilled a poor guy named Chris at the Disney Institute for about an hour asking countless questions. In typical Disney fashion, he was very patient with me and answered them all. Considering the registration was $4,000 for a 2-1/2 day event, I wanted to know exactly what I would be learning. Satisfied, I registered. Disney graciously opened up the room block to include the 3 days pre and post-conference so my family and I decided to make a little vacation out of it as well… then I waited.
When the time came for us to travel and begin our adventure, we checked in to Disney’s flagship resort, the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. It was an excellent experience considering we really only planned to drop our bags and head to the park seeing as we showed up at 9am and check-in was 3pm but Disney was ready for us and had our room waiting. We then spent the Friday, Saturday and Sunday
melting visiting the parks. We went to Epcot on day 1, Hollywood Studios on Day 2 and then the Magic Kingdom on day 3. It was a great, but very hot, time.
Now that the background story and personal story are out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the review.
Check in began at 3:30pm so I promptly went and did so. After getting a pretty cool computer bag stuffed with goodies including a personalized Disney Institute pen, I was legit.
The curriculum began at 5:30pm with Vice President & General Manager of the Disney Institute, Jeff James, taking the stage to welcome us and introducing Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director as our event MC.
Bruce proceeded to give us an overview of what to expect, some information about the mobile website and our personal agenda (on our smart-computers… cough… phones) as well as some ground rules regarding
evidence social media content… mainly that they encouraged us to utilize social media but that no video or audio recording was allowed and no social media whatsoever while we were in any backstage (non-public) area within the parks. [Side note: For the remainder of the conference, whenever Bruce talked about social media, he always mentioned my name in some way. For attendees: Yes, I was THAT Arnold.]
Bruce then brought onto stage all of the facilitators and staff that would be educating us over the next few days and introduced them to us. Now if you know me at all, I’m a social media monster. Having been involved in over 45 conferences now most of which involved (at a minimum) social media marketing, I was ready. [Note: If you’re really interested in all of the content I tweeted, you can check out my Twitter profile here or you can view everyone’s tweets by searching the conference hashtag #DisneyCXSummit. For the meat of the Summit content, check out tweets between August 23-25, 2016]. I think Bruce summed up the Disney Institute’s goal for Summit attendees when he said:
— Arnold Tijerina (@arnoldtijerina) August 22, 2016
After that, we had our first general session learning an overview of Disney philosophies and a preview of what we’d be learning over the next few days by Kathy Van Tassell (KVT), one of the Disney Institute facilitators. She brought us some great content. I wish I could embed all of my tweets here but that would just be overkill (albeit interesting.) One of my favorite soundbites was this:
“Leadership is when your employees look forward to their drive to work just as much as their drive home from work.”
After the opening general session, we were off to our first networking reception Disney-style led by Mickey and Minnie. The networking reception featured an open bar, TONS of food and character meet-and-greets. Now let me tell you this, I’ve been to a TON of conferences (mainly in the automotive industry) and have worked 45 of them. NEVER have I experienced what I did at this networking reception… it seemed as if you needed Fast Passes for the character meet-and-greet lines while there were absolutely NO lines at the bars! I guess in hindsight that’s not too surprising but still… [and yes, of course I stood in those lines.]
Day 2 of Disney Institute’s Customer Experience Summit
Day 2 of the Summit started with an early breakfast at 7am followed by a keynote speech by Walt Disney World Resort President, George Kalogridis. As he discussed some of the ways in which Disney immerses their guests into the Disney experience, the first thing he did was hand out Magic Disney ears to everyone in the audience so we could experience it. He then played a video which synced up to the RFID chips in the ears and the whole crowd started blinking and changing colors in unison. Remarks I overheard from Disney employees was that this brought tears to their eyes.
We were then split into groups – some groups would learn the customer experience curriculum for the day while the other groups would learn about employee engagement. Needless to say there was way too much content to publish everything here (and I don’t know that I would want to potentially spoil things for others) but the day was filled with a ton of great education, insight and immersive experiences. The one thing I do want to share was the simplicity of Disney’s common purpose which, may I add, they have thus far achieved with resounding success.
And, I would be remiss in my reporting if I didn’t include the answer to the question of what the most asked question in Disney parks is. (Image on right) Why? Guess you’ll have to take a Disney Institute class to find out why and what it really means.
Then we got to go on our first field experience. There were four to choose from which we pre-selected prior to the Summit. The one I chose saw us visiting the Magic Kingdom. We were grouped and had an activity to perform which we were to identify examples of the Four Keys (I’ll get to that later) and we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the “Be Our Guest” restaurant which, apparently is sold out 190 days in advance. If you’re planning a trip to Disney World in the next 6 months, you’re out of luck. Plan early if you want to eat at this uber-cool restaurant.
Then it was back to the Grand Floridian’s conference center for the rest of our day and the closing general session with Karl Holz, President of New Vacation Operations and the Disney Cruise Line. His keynote was focused primarily on employee engagement and the importance of your “cast” in creating an excellent customer experience. It was fantastic. He also stressed the importance of, and Disney’s view, of employee empowerment.
This was one of my favorite soundbites from his session:
Disney employee empowerment rule: When you see a need, address the need. #DisneyCXSummit
— Arnold Tijerina (@arnoldtijerina) August 23, 2016
Oh, but was the day over? Far from it. Bruce Jones closed out the evening with a question for the audience that really got me thinking and was really pretty profound:
“What matters most? The little “wows” or the big “wows”?
We got serenaded by two cast members with music from the new Disney Cruise Line show “Tangled” where we not only saw the light but heard it, then we were whisked off to Hollywood Studios for a first class dinner at Club Villain featuring the Divas of Evil (and Dr. Facilier). [Note: the character meet-and-greet line… yeah, they actually had TIMES set for you (a’la Fast Passes… perhaps someone was listening to our tweets from the night before) while, again, the bar line was completely empty.]
Was the “Disney Magic” over? Heck no! After the dinner, we were escorted to a reserved viewing area to watch the new “Star Wars: A Galactic Fireworks Spectacular” show. Here’s a teaser (Hey, it was a public place):
— Arnold Tijerina (@arnoldtijerina) August 24, 2016
Day 3 of the Disney Institute Customer Experience Summit
Day 3 began with a keynote by Paul Richardson, Senior Vice President Human Resources for ESPN and the Chief Diversity Officer for the Walt Disney Companies. He gave us information about the quantity of programming that ESPN produces (amazing!) and brought along a surprise guest speaker, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current broadcaster, Jon Gruden!
Coach Gruden spoke about winning and teamwork while Paul Richardson spoke about the importance of taking risks. A key illustration from him was of ESPN’s “Body” issue which has artistic nude images of athletes. As a “lawyer in recovery” and Human Resources VP, you could see where there was concern but this issue has become their most popular ESPN magazine issue every year!
Of course, the exclamation point to his speech was this:
— Arnold Tijerina (@arnoldtijerina) August 24, 2016
I then began my second day of classes and was extremely thrilled to be reunited with the former DrivingSales Executive Summit keynote speaker as a facilitator for the day, Bruce Kimbrell! (Take that, DSES peeps. You got him for 50 minutes. I got him the. whole. day. BOOM!)
Day 2 for me and my group was all focused on employee engagement and how that affects both retention and customer experience. Again, there was so much content that this blog article/review would be super long if I tried to repeat it all so I’m gonna stick with a couple of my favorite highlights. Oh, but first, I failed to mention that the Disney Institute has swag for those who participate in the classes! If you ever attend a class, PARTICIPATE!
We learned the “Four Keys” philosophy in more depth and how employees, management and leadership use that to guide their decisions. (Patience… I’ll get to the Four Keys.) Loved the following soundbites:
“People don’t generally leave companies. They leave leaders.”
“You can never take your company culture for granted. You can lose a good one a lot faster than you can create one.”
“When you give your employee less reason to leave you, you give your customers less reason to leave as well.”
but this was my favorite (by Bruce Kimbrell)
“There is not one bit of magic in anything Disney. Everything is method. There is nothing done unintentionally. Everything is by design.”
One of my FAVORITE parts of day two was the Disney Institutes’s “Wonderland” activity. First, let me tell you that while it was MY favorite part, there were other people ready to cut [as in with a knife] someone. It was a very educational and illustrative immersive type activity. If I told you more. I’d be spoiling it for you should you ever encounter it, so I won’t. Just know that it seemed as if attendees really enjoyed it or really hated it. In the end, however, they all understood and learned from it. It was only during the moment that emotions ran high. I must admit that I got WAY into my role as a negative dispenser though. (You have to do the activity to understand.)
Another very cool educational method was through the use of illustrative immersive live-action examples. Video? Forget that. They brought in actors to illustrate points. Just let me say that the “Ice cream shop” story/illustration left me teary eyed (in a good way).
Then we were off to our second field experience! This time, I got to visit the Magic Kingdom again. I thought we were going to experience ride operations backstage but what did we do? We got to ride! Yeee haw! [Note: If you ever sign up for an in-park experience for the Disney Institute and they ask whether you prefer
kiddie classic rides or thrill rides, understand that you are choosing which types of rides you want to go on.] I met up with a fellow attendee at the end of day 1 who was kicking himself for not picking thrill rides. You’ve been warned. We had a VIP Tour Guide who walked us onto the rides (which was way cool and available to the public at a reasonable rate of $400 per hour with a 7 hour minimum). When we got to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, there was a 130 minute stand-by line wait. That was partially because they were filming an episode of the ABC show “Blackish.” Their train actually stopped… right… in.. front.. of me… but, sadly, I wasn’t fast enough with my phone to snap a picture of the actors. Then we rode the Haunted Mansion [I totally brought back the hitchhiking ghosts], Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear.
We then returned and, following a little more education, we were off to our final closing session which was a very cool experience with a Disney Imagineer, Emily O’Brien and Food & Beverage Experience & Pairing Integration VP, Beth Scott. They shared the story of the creation and teamwork involved in creating the new restaurant and bar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Tiffin’s Restaurant and Nomad’s Lounge. One of the really cool things that happened was that they introduced us to the Flavor Lab where a Disney bartender(?) mixed a new drink live on video then.. ouila’… Disney cast members came out and delivered samples to everyone! Then a chef came on live video and showed us how they made a rib and black-eyed pea fritter which was then also brought out for everyone to sample!
At the close of the closing general session… well, I have to tell you the story. Apparently, people REALLY love Dole Whip. There was this whole group obsessed with Dole Whip. Chances are that Disney could have just served Dole Whip the whole conference and people would have been happy. Don’t know for sure but they not only had a dedicated hashtag but a freaking mascot idol thingy. Bruce Jones came on stage and told us, after the closing keynote, that our badges would get us a free Dole Whip at the Polynesian Resort (just a short monorail ride away) but, in addition, the Disney magic makers had created a special Dole Whip inspired drink for us – and only for us – that would be given to us as we left. [And, skipping ahead just a tad, the funny side of me couldn’t help but ask this group whether… now that they had “whipped” if they were going to “nae nae”… well, guess what… I talked them into it.]
— Arnold Tijerina (@arnoldtijerina) August 25, 2016
And by left, I mean they said “Get out!” Why? Because they had something special waiting for us and, while they pretended they were giving us some extra time to change and relax, they really needed time to prepare. You see, they had TAUGHT us about Disney magic for 3 days, now they wanted us to EXPERIENCE it. So we left.
When we returned, we were the Disney Institute’s guest. Dinner was all “Beauty and the Beast” themed and first class. When I say first-class, I’m talking caviar, etc. We had visits by Lumiere, Cogsworth, Beauty and the Beast along with a beautiful centerpiece (in the middle of the dance floor) of a rose in glass. All of the tables and napkins were stuffed with fresh red roses as well. We were serenaded, fed and entertained. When we left, we left to another gift of the book “Be Our Guest” by the Disney Institute. [Note: If you like great books and Disney education, pick up a copy of “Disney U” by Doug Lipp.]
And, that’s the end of my story… or is it?
I forgot a couple of things… first, the Four Keys. The Four Keys are the foundation of Disney’s philosophy. They represent, in this order, Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. In simple terms, think of it this way. Safety is the highest priority and it moves down the chain from there. Courtesy is… well… courtesy. Show? This represents the fact that Disney is putting on a show. That’s why employees are “cast members”, visitors are “guests”, public areas are “on stage” for employees and private areas are “back stage.” It’s way more involved than that, however, and I recommend either attending a Disney Institute course, the next Customer Experience Summit or reading Doug Lipp’s book to learn more but let me leave you with this…
Not only did I LOVE the event, experience, education, activities, and experiences and felt like the event was worth every penny, but when I got home, I made sure that I would never forget the experience nor the philosophies that I learned. Ciao for now and shout out to my tweeting friends Luigi Casanova from Peru, Rich Vallaster and the Disney Institute’s social media person, Amie Gorell as well as all of the facilitators (especially the two Bruces – Kimbrell and Jones).