Perfecting the Customer Experience is a unique, three day benchmarking program held twice a year in Anaheim California. The workshop provides open enrollment participants serious business lessons in a fun, immersive environment.

Your facilitators, Jeff Kober and Ted Topping are your hosts in this intense, small group program that allows participants to see the business behind the wonder of Disney.

Participants walk away with new ideas for taking their organization, whether in the public, private, or non-profit sector, to new heights.

Jeff Kober views business from a Disney background. Ted Topping views Disney from a business background. Together they will help you experience both from the crucial perspective of your customer.

Formerly a leader with the Disney Institute, Jeff Kober, president of Performance Journeys, has authored several books and apps on building strong brands and developing high performing cultures.

Ted Topping is president of Creative Insights, a service-design consulting firm in Vancouver. Known globally for his work in retail, he is author of the best-selling book Start and Run a Retail Business and numerous magazine articles.

As authors, speakers, and consultants, both Jeff and Ted work with organizations to create sustained results in a consumer-facing business.

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FROM: Perfecting the Customer Experience A Disney Dispatch Feature

Crossing Paths with the Legends

Several years ago, Ted Topping attended the 40th anniversary celebration at Disneyland for Pirates of the Caribbean. As a Disney fan, Ted met some Disney Legends; as a business writer, Ted learned some Disney lessons, which he shares with us here.

In March 2007, my partner and I were in Disneyland for the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) attraction.

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The Disney Legends arrived in Town Square with an appropriate fanfare, a PA announcement, and seven enthusiastic dancers.


While some Guests did not recognize the names of the people in the car, Ted Topping and his partner certainly did.


The Legends party walking towards Main Street Station on the 40th anniversary of the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean.


X Atencio continued to wave until Ted Topping got the shot, a reminder that the Legends help express Disney's standards.


Mickey and Minnie, and five Disney Legends waved to each other as the finale float of the Parade of Dreams rounded the corner.

Guests visiting Pirates of the Caribbean that day received a souvenir sticker. For Ted Topping, it's a reminder of crossing paths with the legends.

As often happens in the Land of Lands, the events of that day provided some great insights into Disney's ways of Perfecting the Customer Experience. And although I am a business writer and consultant most of the time, on this day I was 'just' a customer.

As soon as the park opened at 8:00 AM, Guests started lining up to view special POTC commemorative art in the Disney Gallery (then located above the attraction in what was originally planned as a personal apartment for Walt Disney) and to have their purchases signed by the artists.

For me, the bigger attraction in the Gallery that day was the opportunity to cross paths with five of the Disney Legends I had heard so much about.

The Disney Legends program was established in 1987 to acknowledge the individuals whose imaginations, talents and dreams have made a significant impact on the Disney legacy. It has now honored almost 250 animators, Imagineers, songwriters, actors, and business leaders.

From the business perspective, I understood that the role of the Disney Legends is also to tell the company's story both to internal customers (Cast Members) and external customers (Guests).

Telling the Story to Internal Customers

Especially in recent years, when employment can be transitory, employees in many companies have little more than their own personal experience on which to base their behavior. This robs them of an opportunity to see the bigger picture.

And that is where the Disney Legends (and their equivalents in other organizations) come in.

Each of the Legends made a specific individual contribution to the company. When viewed as a whole, however, they tell a bigger story. They help to establish the level of quality to which current employees can aspire, and explain why things are done a certain way. This helps to make today's Cast Members part of something more than a stressful daily grind.

To say it a different way, the Legends help express Disney's values, which provide a framework for behavior in the workplace and help Cast Members understand Disney service culture.

Every business, large or small, needs someone to play this role. It could be the founder or someone from the executive suite, but a current or former employee who has traveled the same road as the current employees is often more effective.

Time for the Parade

We wanted to secure a good viewing spot for Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams at 3:30 PM, so we arrived early in Town Square. For parade lovers, viewing spots don't get much better than on the curb just in front of the railway station. We soaked up the music and the 1910 atmosphere as we waited for things to begin.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of POTC, the five Disney Legends who had earlier been present in the Disney Gallery were now chauffeured down Main Street, U.S.A. as prelude to the coming parade. They arrived in Town Square with appropriate musical fanfare, a PA system announcement, and seven enthusiastic dancers carrying a 40th anniversary banner.

Although some of the Guests around us did not recognize the names of the people in the car, we certainly did (left to right in the photo):

  • Blaine Gibson, honored in 1993 for Animation and Imagineering, created the sculptures from which the landmark Audio-Animatronics figures for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair were produced. He also contributed to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • X Atencio, honored in 1996 for Animation and Imagineering, assisted in the creation of the Primeval World diorama at Disneyland and helped develop dialogue and music for Pirates of the Caribbean (lyrics for "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me") and the Haunted Mansion (lyrics for "Grim Grinning Ghosts").
  • Harriet Burns, honored in 2000 for Imagineering, was the first woman hired by Walt Disney Imagineering in a creative rather than an office role. She helped to create Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Haunted Mansion, and New Orleans Square, which includes Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Bob Gurr, honored in 2004 for Imagineering, designed and developed vehicles and ride conveyances for Disney (more than 100, in fact) for attractions as diverse as Autopia, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Monorails.
  • Alice Davis, honored in 2004 for Imagineering, was married to Disney Legend Marc Davis, but we knew her best for her role designing and dressing the animated figures for attractions such as It's a Small World - just imagine dressing all those dolls - and Pirates of the Caribbean.

One additional thing that especially impressed us: these people all knew and worked personally with Walt Disney.

The car stopped just beyond where we were sitting and the Legends climbed the steps to the Main Street Station, their vantage point for the coming parade.

Telling the Story to External Customers

A memory that has stayed fresh in my mind since that day in Disneyland was my interaction with X Atencio. He saw me attempting to find a spot from which I could photograph the Legends group, and started waving to me.

Unfortunately, in my rush to get the picture and not inconvenience X, I flubbed the first attempt. "Didn't work," I signalled him.

"Let's try again."

And this long-time employee of Disney, who retired in 1984 after 47 years and owed neither me nor the company anything, continued to wave until I got the shot. I thought that it was a classy thing to do.

It was also a reminder that the Legends help express Disney's standards. Like the values mentioned earlier, these provide a framework for behavior in the workplace. In this case, they help Guests understand the Disney service culture.

Every business, large or small, should have someone who plays this role as well. Demonstrating through action that customers matter goes a long way to perfecting the customer experience.

The finale float of Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams featured Mickey and Minnie standing on a castle balcony. As the float rounded the corner in front of the Main Street Station, this put the two of them on the same level as the five Disney Legends - and they waved to each other as important members of the team.

For more information about Perfecting the Customer Experience, please contact Jeff Kober or Ted Topping. The next public programs are September 27 to 29, 2011 and February 21 to 23, 2012. Companies may prefer a private, tailored experience. Neither the program nor its facilitators are associated in any way with The Walt Disney Company.

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