The Disney Way

Frank Nigriello’s loyalty and long service towards his employer, Unipart, is possibly matched only by his undoubted admiration and genuine fascination for all things Disney. So when Stephen Spencer made a passing reference to Disney as possibly his optimum case study when it comes to his area of expertise, customer experience, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that these two could be TV gold….and so it proved.
There is simply nowhere else like Disney World

In this entertaining edition of The Business Brunch, Frank and Stephen unpick what makes Disney the outright pioneer, leader, pace-setter and blueprint for best practice in the world of customer experience. Some might even say The Business Brunch was, for a fleeting thirty minutes, ‘the most magical place on earth’. B4’s Richard Rosser recaps on half an hour with two very appreciative mouseketeers. 

In 2019, Walt Disney Attractions welcomed 155.99 million guests worldwide generating billions of dollars for The Walt Disney Company, which had a collosal worth of over 200 billion dollars in 2019. So what’s the secret? Frank Nigriello is clear in his welcome to guest Stephen Spencer of the impact Disney had on him. 

Stephen Spencer at Disney Institute
Stephen Spencer at Disney Institute

“I’ve been to Disney well over twenty times in my life,” he said, “and every time I go It’s like an MBA in customer experience. But you’re actually a graduate of the Disney Institute, Stephen. What was that like?”

“I’ve been to Disney well over twenty times in my life,” he said, “and every time I go It’s like an MBA in customer experience.”

Frank Nigriello

“It was amazing Frank,” replied Stephen with enthusiasm and excitement. “It was even more amazing because I worked my way back from already being invested in Disney principles and practices to then having the opportunity to study them at the Disney Institute in Florida.”

Stephen had his first Disney experience in 1992 when he was fortunate enough to be invited to the pre-opening of Euro Disney in Paris (prior to being renamed Disneyland Paris) as it was then called. He recalls. “I was just blown away by this complete environment of fantasy and fun, incredible service and spontaneous magical moments that left you wondering how they had been orchestrated. 

“I was just blown away by this complete environment of fantasy and fun, incredible service and spontaneous magical moments.”

Stephen Spencer
Disney is an immersive experience
Disney is an immersive experience

“A few years later, I was working at the National Trust for Scotland and I heard from the visitor services director from MoMA in New York how they had implemented Disney service practices to improve the visitor experience at MoMA. I always remember the director saying, ‘we scoured the world to find a programme that wasn’t Disney because we just didn’t think it was appropriate for an art museum, but in the end we went to Disney because they’re the best.”

The Nigriello family love the Disney experience
The Nigriello family love the Disney experience

“When I finally got to go to the Disney Institute, it was an incredible week-long, totally immersive experience of learning in the situation. We would learn some key principles and then go and actually see how they applied this in the park, but not just in the park, behind the scenes as well. We went to the laundry, the biggest laundry in the world, and found out how the employees in the laundry were just as engaged in creating wonderful experiences and magical memories for their guests as anyone on the ‘frontline’. It was a brilliant experience and I’ve been a fan ever since.”

“A lot of my thinking in the programmes and changes that we’ve introduced at Unipart has been shaped by what I’ve seen at Disney.”

Frank Nigriello
Disney Hollywood Studios
Disney Hollywood Studios

Frank adds how he has applied some of the key learnings he has taken from Disney as a guest (the same principles learned by Stephen at the Disney Institute) into Unipart. “A lot of my thinking in the programmes and changes that we’ve introduced at Unipart has been shaped by what I’ve seen at Disney. It’s had an impact on a lot of the things we do, from the way we communicate to the way we set up our company restaurant, The Art Room.”

Disney Vacation Club
Disney Vacation Club

So Just HOW do Disney deliver such an incredible customer experience?

Disney employed 70,000 people pre-pandemic, and to deliver such an unbelievable customer experience on that scale is amazing. Some organisations struggle to get half a dozen people on the same page and delivering the same  vision. Stephen explains the secret.

“How they do it is through a very very simple model. It starts with the service theme, then they established what they wanted to deliver with standards to support that vision. Then there’s obviously a big focus on the team, or the ‘cast’ as Disney call it.”

Stephen Spencer

“How they do it is through a very very simple model. It starts with the service theme, then they established what they wanted to deliver with standards to support that vision. Then there’s obviously a big focus on the team, or the ‘cast’ as Disney call it, the people who will actually deliver the experience. The setting or the environment is also key, ensuring that everything smells right, looks right and, in the case of the restaurants, tastes right. They then had to ensure that all of these things were maintained and developed, day in and day out. 

Disney Rides are out of this world
Disney Rides are out of this world

“But at the heart of it was one of the key takeaways for me from the Institute, what they call ‘guestology*’, or really understanding what the guest wants or needs, what their emotional state is, how Disney actually gets them into the place that they want to be in and what they’ve come for. 

“There were two fundamental points about this. Firstly we were told that the average guest will save for two and a half years to go to Walt Disney World. We were asked to think about that, think about how important it is that Disney got it right, for them. Secondly, we did an exercise on customer lifetime value, working out how much a happy customer might spend if you attract and retain them and make them a loyal customer over a number of years, but also how many other people they would attract to Disney if they’ve had a great experience.

The Disney cast bringing the magic

“This is such a fundamental business principle…your interaction isn’t a one off with a customer, you’re hopefully building a lifetime of engagement and it’s about how you maximise that for both parties.”

Frank Nigriello

*‘Guestology’, if you’re interested, was a term originated by Bruce Laval of Disney which means that employees must treat customers like guests and manage the organisation from the guest’s point of view or “GPOV”.

To watch or listen to the full interview, click the video or podcast links below.

See more from Frank Nigriello on “Six Customer Service Tips from Disneyworld”

Read Stephen Spencer’s ‘Trusting the Model’

Other formats

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