Consistency, Selfie Sticks and Giant Anthropomorphic Mice

Once upon a time, in an age when taking ‘selfies’ was not common practice, Disney hit upon an idea. Back in this forgotten era, a friend of mine returned from Orlando and remarked that his family holiday photos from Disneyworld were different to the rest – all of his family were in them. Normally someone was out of shot because they were the one actually taking the photo. I checked my own photos from a similar holiday and the same phenomenon had occurred.

Like or loathe the American customer service model, I’ve always found Disney’s approach to be a great example of consistency and attention to detail. Investigating the photo quirk I discovered that all park staff, regardless of their primary role, are given the same training with regards to photos – instructed that, should they see a family taking a group shot, they are to offer their services as photographer to ensure no-one is left out of the picture.

If only the world had cottoned on, we might have been spared the invention of the ‘selfie-stick’. However, it’s not the idea that stays in my memory so much as the application. Many businesses worry about the consistency of their service. Will customer number 100 receive the same treatment as customer 1? If this hasn’t occurred to you then perhaps you should give it some thought.

Human nature tempts us to be inconsistent – the prospect of working with a big name client may (should?) excite you. You might pull out all the stops and go the extra mile for this particular customer. Great for them, but what about your reputation overall? What happens when the next customer only gets the ‘standard’ service (however high that standard may be)? Reputations are precious and hard won and you don’t want to dent yours with evidence of inconsistency.

A technically effective, but ultimately self-defeating approach is to ensure you work to the lowest common denominator. If everyone only gets the one-star treatment, everyone is equal and everyone is happy, right? No, the real challenge we all face is to ensure consistently high standards. The key to this lies in systems, processes and, if yours is a growing business with staff other than yourself, in training.

‘Systems’ does bring to mind the US customer service model, which is not necessarily a good thing to all people. However, our aversions tend to be cultural. A stranger telling us to ‘have a nice day’ may grate on this side of the pond, but knowing that you will be offered iced water at your table or a refill of your coffee at breakfast is often welcome. That system is in place for all customers, not a select few, and our expectations are managed. Look past the cultural differences and you can see the advantages.

Disney’s photo system is a broad approach. Every ‘cast member’ from street sweeper to shop assistant to giant mouse impersonator (assuming their gloved hands can work a camera) is trained to perform an additional role so that, wherever the need arises, someone is on hand to help. No customer loses out because the ‘right’ member of staff wasn’t present at the right moment. The specifics of this system may not be relevant to you, but the concept might resonate.

Introducing systems and processes does not automatically mean acting like a robot, treating clients like numbers or turning your bespoke service into a production line. A tailor will still have a system for measuring each customer, even though each finished suit is unique. Systems are in place to ensure the same level of service is given to every client, not the same service. You want a second, different suit so you return to the same tailor. Systems build trust and secure loyalty.

Every client journey will be unique. Not everyone will accept the free refill of coffee (there’s only so much coffee one can or should have in the morning) but the offer is there. Without the process and staff training, customers could be sat at their table looking enviously across the room at others. Why do the other customers get their coffee refilled, they may wonder? Are they friends of the owner, regular customers – am I not deemed important enough to warrant that attention? Systems provide everyone with the same opportunity and the same high standard of service. Everyone can be in the photo if they want to be, without the need for a selfie stick.

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