I came across Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service (2011) by the Disney Institute with Theodore Kinni when my colleague, Pamela Lyons, the new Superintendent of Schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco mentioned this book as part of a book study with her principals. She mentioned the book alongside her call to make the Eucharist the center of their Catholic schools. One year after conservative outcries against the live version of “Beauty and the Beast”—due to a perceived openly gay character—the irony was not lost on me. “What can Disney teach our Catholic schools?” I wondered.
Disney’s attention to creating and telling great stories is the foundation. What are the stories we tell about our schools? Myths are widely-held stories meant to teach the mores and common beliefs of a culture. No one does that better than Disney. I have to look no farther than my own house. When I asked my soon-to-be-ten year-old where he’d like to go in a “Turning 10” trip, he quickly answered, “Disney World.”
The book outlines Disney’s concept of the “Experience Economy” where customers are searching for memorable experiences. “Companies must become stagers of experiences” (11). This is perhaps why sports are so popular. They are rituals, they are events, they are scripted, they are experiences. Ditto for concerts, movies, and Disney. How much attention do we place on experiences for our customers? Perhaps this can best be found in ritualistic moments such as Open Houses, first days of schools, retreats, and graduation.
But Disney’s attention to quality service can also be found in the details forming every stage of quality service. “Quality service means exceeding your guests’ expectations by paying attention to every detail of the delivery of your products and services” (13). How many schools ignore the look of the entryway and front office? Or the courtesy of the front office staff? Or even the politeness of the teachers? We say we’re all about the students—but sometimes that can mean ignoring our parent customers.
Another area where I found tremendous value is the focus on cast members. Engendering a sense of community and common values is a focus that our schools should also embrace. Read the book! It will give you great practical ideas to implement in your school.