Overcoming the Enemy of Your Guest Experience: Lessons from Captain Jack Sparrow

What’s a pirate without an enemy or two? Or in the case of Captain Jack Sparrow, maybe nine or ten!

When a pirate is facing an enemy, it takes everything he’s got – and then some – to come out ahead in the end. Time after time, facing dire consequences, Captain Jack Sparrow manages to thwart his enemy’s evil schemes and once again comes out a winner in the end. He was always driven by something, a goal which allowed him to focus beyond his present circumstances.

So what’s the enemy of your Guest Experience?

In a word, complexity.

Simplify the Complex – Lessons Learned from Disney

Providing the happiest Place on Earth means that cast members must manage a delicate balance of priorities; without clarity, the task becomes overwhelming. As Disneyland exploded onto the scene in 1955, Disney Guest Experience pioneers Van France and Dick Nunis recognized the challenge. In response, they simplified the inherently complex environment of a theme park by providing every cast member with crystal-clear marching orders during his or her Disney University orientation.

Dick Nunis came up with a program which, at the time, was a totally new concept for operations. The four elements of theme park operations were listed in order of their importance.

Van France

Simple service standards can be powerful tools in any organization.

What happens when a child at a Disney Park drops a Mickey ice cream bar?

  • Is it tough luck for the unhappy child?
  • What about the sticky mess on the busy sidewalk?
  • How would you handle a tired, irate parent?
  • What’s the impact on the bottom line?

There’s not an easy answer for the situation above – or for the tens of thousands of other daily occurrences that happen in a Disney theme park. But somehow most front-line Cast Members manage to take care of situations quickly in ways that keep the Guests happy.

GrandBob note: In the image above, my granddaughter is wearing most of the chocolate from two Mickey Bars; having dropped her first one, a nearby Cast Member replaced it before the tears had a chance to start.

How do you train cast members to handle whatever may come up in a normal – or not so normal – day in the park?

The recipe for creating the magical environment at Disneyland involved boiling down park operations into four priorities that represent the values driving every decision made by front-line Cast Members:

  • Safety – The most important priority for Guests and cast members. Cast members must often protect Guests from themselves! Guests distracted by the beautiful architecture may walk into lampposts and walls. Every operations and design decision must first address safety.
  • Courtesy – The second most important priority after safety is courtesy. Cast members know the value of the smiles on their faces and in their voices and the importance of engaging Guests. A lack of cast member courtesy will poison the safest and most interesting environment.
  • Show – Once safety and courtesy are assured, attention turns to show. Well-maintained attractions and facilities populated by well-groomed cast members ensure good show, a condition Walt Disney passionately promoted.
  • Efficiency – This last priority refers to the number of Guests enjoying the attractions, restaurants, and retail shops. This is the “hard numbers” portion of a business. By placing numbers last, the SCSE model makes a clear, somewhat paradoxical statement: accomplishing the first three priorities ensures that this fourth one is sustainable in the form of happy and loyal cast members and Guests.

The image of shrinking the massive and complex operations at Disneyland – a pot of soup – into a smaller, more manageable package – a bouillon cube – via the 4 Keys priority model is powerful.

Disney’s Four Keys serve as a compass for creating happiness and serving others. More than five decades after they were created by Dick Nunis, these Four Keys continue to serve as the foundation for everything Disney does. Any organization would be envious to have several key standards stand that test of time. It is at the heart of what has made Disney the powerful name it is today.

Applying Van France’s Four Circumstances to ChurchWorld Guest Experience Teams

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

> Simplify the Complex

  • How are complex operations and processes communicated in your organization?
  • Are priorities succinct and memorable?
  • How are Van’s Four Circumstances used to convey complex and vital procedures and priorities?

> It’s All about the Basics

  • How do you help team members understand standard operating procedures and priorities?
  • Are team members actively involved as change agents, or do they wait for direction?
  • Are policies followed? If not, why not?

> Great Trainers Transfer Knowledge

  • How does your training staff leverage experience from one area to another?
  • What do you do to encourage interactions with Guests and attendees?

> From Pot of Soup to Bouillon Cube

  • What is your organization’s equivalent of the Four Keys?
  • Can your team member manual be simplified?
  • What are your priorities? Can you summarize your standard operating procedures and priorities, regardless of complexity, with memorable phrases or acronyms?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Disney U

Disney U is one of the most significant resources related to the Disney organization, leadership, team development, and Guest Experiences available. During a recent 10-day trip to Walt Disney World, in numerous conversations with Cast Members, I was reminded once again of the importance of the training principles found in Disney U.


Previous post: The Usefulness of a Pirate’s Weapons and the Secret Weapon of Guest Experiences

This post is the tenth in a series of twelve, making the powerful connection between Guest Experiences and all things Pirates. It may seem a little strange, but I guarantee you won’t see a pirate flag, hear the word “ahoy,” or encounter any like number of references to “pirates” without connecting them to Guest Experiences!

inspired by Walt Disney and his amazing ability to bring a story to life on the screen and in person

brought to life by the Pirate Navigator

Now booking “voyages” to churches like yours! Contact me for more information.

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