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Learn Customer Service Lessons From Disney

The Doctor's Office, May 29, 2008

Have you ever considered modeling your patient satisfaction goals after some of the best customer service providers in the country, such as the Walt Disney Company? In reviewing literature such as The Disney Way, written by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson (1999, McGraw-Hill), it is apparent that practices can learn from the service excellence concepts practiced by the company and its Disney Institute, which offers seminars about Disney's brand of business management.

As explained by Capodagli and Jackson, many of Disney's techniques for boosting customer satisfaction can be applied to healthcare organizations. Founder Walt Disney believed that every employee is the company and that every customer is a "guest." In this way, Disney's pleasant environment permeates throughout the entire organization, regardless of an employee's title or duties.

Evidence of Disney's commitment to nurturing a cooperative corporate culture is reflected in its language. Employees don't have jobs; they play "roles" in a show. These theatrical references reflect Disney's culture and help new "cast members" understand and appreciate its culture. For example, although not everyone may know how to treat a customer, most people know how to treat a guest.

Disney's culture is grounded on three important concepts: its heritage, an understanding of its day-to-day operations, and its vision. Daily operation is the key to continuous improvement.

There is a perception that an employer has to pay higher salaries and have better benefits than competitors to obtain a high level of service. But these are not the only factors that motivate employees, as Disney has found. Nonmonetary benefits, such as employee outings, can also enhance the "cast" experience and make employees feel valued. Disney teaches its cast members to balance "quality cast experience, quality guest experience," and quality business practices, according to Capodagli and Jackson.

You might be thinking, "We are not a resort or a vacation spot." But that misses the point. The concept of treating the patient as a guest by trying to enhance his or her experience is critical to your success. Your efforts do not have to be fancy, fun, or exciting. But they should focus on identifying, meeting, and exceeding your patients' expectations. In healthcare, there can be movement toward a five-star service culture. It starts with acceptance by the leaders or personally by a healthcare professional.

It is not an easy process to either start or keep going, but it is an important one.


This story was adapted from one that first appeared in the March edition of The Doctor's Office, a publication by HealthLeaders Media.