What Would Disney Do?

March 3, 2015 —

When it comes to customer service, are you practicing on the sales floor what you preach in the employee lounge? Lee Cockerell, the former executive vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World® Resort, says the knee-jerk reply of many business leaders is “Absolutely!”

Yet Cockerell knows better.

“If you follow the leader around for a day in their office or furniture store you find that what they say and what they do are sometimes two very different things,” says Cockerell. “They might tell their employees that it is absolutely forbidden to send or receive texts while out on the sales floor. That’s a good policy to have because you want your staff’s attention focused on the customer. But I can’t tell you how many times those same leaders pull out their phones on the floor and start texting. Oh, sure, they’ll tell you it’s different for them because they’re big, important people, but what kind of message do you think they are sending their employees?”

Cockerell knows a few things about the messages we send—or don’t send—to customers, having spent the past 40-plus years working with Marriott hotels and, most recently, Disney’s resorts. More often than not, an employee learns customer service skills not from a book, but from their leader or supervisor who models how service should be carried out. Cockerell will share his insights on blending leadership and customer service at NAHFA’s Home Furnishings Networking Conference (HFNC) in Orlando on May 19.

Lee CockerellFormer Disney executive Lee Cockerell is one of many business and industry experts sharing their thoughts and talents at NAHFA’s Home Furnishings Networking Conference, May 17-19 at Walt Disney World’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida.

Conference attendees will enjoy exclusive access to Disney Institute Main Stage sessions, behind-the-scenes tours and park tickets (for attendees staying at the Coronado.) For more information and registration visit thehfnc.com or call 800-422-3778.

“Is the customer always right?” Cockerell asks. “Of course the answer is no. But does that customer have a credit card? The answer is yes, and if you want to keep that customer and their credit card coming back to your store you need to find alternatives to making them happy—even if it’s going to take the next three weeks.”

Cockerell says 70 to 75 percent of Disney’s customers are repeat customers. “That might be unthinkable right now in your furniture store, but it’s not impossible,” Cockerell says. Hiring the right employees is important, but so is having the right managers to lead them, he says.

“Think of you and the leaders in your business as parents,” says Cockerell. “Some parents want to be their children’s best friend, but it can’t always be that way. Your company’s leaders need to show the rest of your employees what’s right and wrong through their own actions.”

At the HFNC, Cockerell will spend an evening talking about what good customer service looks and feels like. He’ll also talk about the importance of training your employees how to achieve that level of service on a daily basis. “It’s not enough to hire nice people anymore,” he says. “Nice people who aren’t trained are a disaster waiting to happen because niceness only goes so far.”

Good customer service is as much an investment as lighting, technology and advertising. And like those elements of your business, Cockerell says you need to educate up front. “You can’t perform your customer-service training on your customers,” says Cockerell. “Would you want a surgeon training for a procedure on you?”

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