Creating Special Moments

Creating Special Moments

Editor’s Note: Western Illinois University Department of Communication Instructor David Zanolla is on sabbatical to broaden his understanding of organizational communication. Zanolla teaches Communication 379, “Disney and Universal Communication Culture,” a course that begins with eight weeks of classroom study about the organizational and communication culture of the Disney parks and culminates in a trip to Walt Disney World so students can observe the Disney communication culture in action.


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Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island

Hong Kong Disneyland was definitely the smallest of the theme parks I visited while in Asia, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t provide a wealth of material to help me better understand the organizational culture of the Disney Parks.

One tenet of the Disney Parks’ culture is the importance of creating special moments for guests. Specifically, they refer to these opportunities as “Magical Moments.” It doesn’t matter how many times I visit a Disney Park, these moments where special attention is paid to me as a guest are always noteworthy.

At this particular park, I was looking forward to visiting Mystic Manor, an attraction that’s at the top of many Disney fans’ bucket lists.  The attraction is very similar to the Haunted Mansion rides in the American parks, but is done using state of the art special effects, including having ride vehicles running without being secured to a track.  Both the outside and inside of this attraction are gorgeous.

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The exterior of Mystic Manor.

While waiting in line to board the ride, a cast member asked my travel partner, Doug, why I was taking so many pictures. He explained the reason for my travels and my anticipation for getting to experience this attraction. She asked our names and then put us into a ride vehicle.

To make a long story short, the ride did not disappoint. The story, music (by film composer Danny Elfman) and ride effects all worked together perfectly.  As we were exiting our ride vehicle, the cast member approached us and handed us a certificate to commemorate our visit and first ride on Mystic Manor. In addition, she asked if we wanted to immediately ride again. We accepted without hesitation and were placed back in a vehicle without having to leave the building and come back through the main entrance.

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This free certificate is now in my office..

However, our positive experience with Mystic Point (the land where the ride was located) didn’t end there.  Doug and I decided to grab lunch at the fast food neighboring restaurant called “The Explorer’s Club.”

 

We had a fabulous lunch and, once again, I took a large amount of pictures of the interior of the restaurant. An assistant manager img_9539by the name of Simon came over and asked why I was taking so many photos (by now I should have just handed them a card).

After he talked with us about our travels for a few minutes, he asked if we’d be in the park the next day. When we told him that yes, we would be back, he asked if we wanted to come back for lunch. Having loved our meal, we immediately said that we’d love to come back.

Simon then said, “It’s going to be very busy tomorrow, so come back at 12:30, and I’ll have a table reserved for you.”  img_9492

Again, I must stress that I realize this gesture was nothing fancy, but being foreigners studying the culture of the international Disney parks, it was a perfect offer.

The next day, we returned to the restaurant at 12:30 and Simon was waiting for us. He brought us to the front to order and then to our table. He chatted with us again for a few moments and thanked us numerous times for coming back to the restaurant. As we were getting up to leave after finishing our meals, he asked if we would wait a minute before leaving.  Soon after, he came out with another manager and presented us with a complimentary dessert.

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We then asked if we could take a picture with him and the cast member that decorated our plate, and they were happy to oblige.

Why do I tell this story? Nothing overly grand took place. The dessert was simple and the gesture was even more so.

That said, it made us feel comfortable and special in a park in a country that was obviously not home.

img_9382Are there any opportunities for your organization to enact the principle of creating special moments for your employees or customers?

Obviously, providing free dessert may not always be fitting in your organization, but how can it be done where you work?

It didn’t take Simon and his crew very much time or money to make us feel special, but the fact that I’m writing about it once I returned home means it had the desired impact.


My Disney & Universal Communication Culture course (COMM 379) will be offered during the Spring 2017 semester.  For more information, visit the course webpage.

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Who are your organization’s MVPs?

Who are your organization’s MVPs?

Editor’s Note: Western Illinois University Department of Communication Instructor David Zanolla is on sabbatical to broaden his understanding of organizational communication. Zanolla teaches Communication 379, “Disney and Universal Communication Culture,” a course that begins with eight weeks of classroom study about the organizational and communication culture of the Disney parks and culminates in a trip to Walt Disney World so students can observe the Disney communication culture in action.


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The Partners Statue and Cinderella Castle in Tokyo Disneyland

Upon returning to Illinois after visiting the Disney Parks in China, Hong Kong and Japan, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “So, what did you learn?”

To be honest, this is a question that turns out to be difficult to answer because I experienced so much. I walked 168 miles while touring the four Asian Disney parks.  I communicated with people who had never been to the United States and only spoke simple English phrases.

When I visit the American Disney parks, I am the “local,” but this time, I was on their turf and I was the outsider. In spite of all that, I enjoyed myself immensely and gained valuable insight into how a tried-and-tested organizational model was implemented outside of the U.S.

The final parks I visited were in Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea). As a fan of Disney parks, it did not take long for me to rank these destinations at the top of my list. While the rides were spectacular and the entertainment was top-of-the-line, the thing that impressed me most was a group of employees who most would tend to overlook.

Who were they?  The custodial staff.

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Mount Prometheus: The park icon of Tokyo DisneySea

These parks were immaculately clean.

A friend I spoke with shortly after returning echoed this sentiment.

“I seriously would not have been afraid to eat off the ground,” he told me.

While that statement may have been a bit tongue in cheek, I agreed with his thinking. However, the ability to keep the parks physically clean was not the only reason the custodial staff is worth noting. Cleaning is, of course, part of all their jobs, but it’s what they did to go above and beyond their job expectations that made them the MVPs of these two parks.

It seemed as if you couldn’t walk more than 50 feet in these parks without seeing a custodial cast member. Their presence was noticeable in every area of the park, as were their interactions with guests.

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Look closely… Can you find three custodial cast members (in white) in this one picture?

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I saw custodial staff constantly stopping to take photos for guests. At one point, a custodial cast member had formed a line of people for whom he was taking photos. He didn’t seem to be frustrated that he got stuck taking photos; he seemed to enjoy the ability to interact with guests. In fact, I marveled at his ability to have fun with one couple while taking their photo.

In this instance, he set them up to snap their picture, and I watched him fiddling with one of their phones. As a spectator, I assumed he was having trouble finding the shutter button. Instead, I learned he had taken a picture of the guests first and then flipped the camera around to “selfie” mode.

Imagine the hilarity that ensued when he showed these guests the photo he had taken for them, only for it to be of his face instead. The look of shock on their faces was quickly followed by him showing them the “real” photo of them he captured.
img_1446I spent nearly 15 minutes watching this custodial worker make these guests smile through the simple task of taking a photo. I then got in line and, when it was my turn, I didn’t ask for a photo of me alone… I asked him to pose in a photo with me. He seemed surprised and honored.

More evidence to showcase the contribution of the custodial staff is found in the broom art created by this group of employees. In the pictures below, not only can you see the custodians creating these drawings using their brooms, but you can see the group of visitors putting rides on hold while they watched this art come to life.

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To me, the custodial staff members were the unsung heroes of the Tokyo parks. You don’t think about them being important, but them fulfilling their roles in the organization is crucial toward their culture being a success.

This is true in all organizations.

Who are the MVPs of your organization? Who is often overlooked but without whom your culture would not be maintained effectively?


My Disney & Universal Communication Culture course (COMM 379) will be offered during the Spring 2017 semester. For more information, visit www.wiu.edu/comm/disney.

Learning from the Past

imageAs I enter this, my 12th year as a faculty member in the Western Illinois University Department of Communication, I am taking a sabbatical (technically called administrative leave) to broaden my understanding of organizational communication.  In addition to teaching a course in Organizational Communication, I also teach a special topics class about the communication culture of the Walt Disney theme parks.  This class, Communication 379, was born here at Western.  The class is only offered at this institution and offers students the opportunity to not only learn about the organizational communication of the Disney parks, but also allows them to immerse themselves in the world of those parks through a week-long visit at the end of the course.

My three-week journey to six Disney theme parks in four countries (the United States, China, Hong Kong and Japan), begins at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Disneyland opened over 60 years ago in July of 1955 and was Walt Disney’s first theme park. As a result, the park is nearing the end of its ‘diamond’ celebration event. There are images of diamonds everywhere and homages to the history of this ground-breaking park at every turn. Even after 60+ years, this park and its employees (Disney calls them cast members) don’t want you to forget where it all started.

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I think that’s an important lesson for us to remember whether we work in academia or elsewhere. The history of your organization is important, not only to see the successes, but also to learn from the mistakes. Since none of us have a DeLorean that can travel back in time (as far as I know), our way to learn from those that came before us is by learning the history of our organizations. It may not involve a massive year-long celebration complete with nightly fireworks like Disneyland, but the past is important, nonetheless. I believe each organization has its own unique way of life (often referred to as its culture) and, like a family, there are stories to be told about that life and its growth. As I learn about the culture of the Disney Parks, I hope you’ll find some time to learn about the history of your organization as well.

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