Organizations are constantly engaging their internal and external customers in a narrative. Regardless of what anyone is selling or providing, a story is conveyed through every single transaction, involving every single sense we possess. This narrative drives everything from customer expectations to employee satisfaction and even your very brand essence. Considering all of your team members are telling a story with every transaction, shouldn’t it be the story you want your organization to convey?
Our Mursion Future of Work Roundtable series recently hosted Louie Gravance, entertainer, original Disney Institute facilitator, and author of “Service Is a Super Power: Lessons Learned in a Magic Kingdom.” Below is an excerpt of Gravance’s entertaining and enlightening presentation entitled “There’s No Business BUT Show Business.” To see the full session, including a demo of Gravance participating in a live Mursion demo, visit our YouTube channel.
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“I am on a mission, and one of the things I like to quickly concentrate with customer service skills is not so much on the end result for the customer, as much as the end result for the person providing that service. We have a lot of metrics about what creating great service will do for our brands, but we don’t talk so much about what it does for the provider.
I grew up in a very small agricultural community. Shortly into my teens, I became a professional actor, a professional teenager. I remained a professional teenager deep into my twenties. I’m only 5’3” and I look young so I played kids for a long time.
When you’re young, you’re a punk, or at least, I was, you’re not really thinking about a plan afterwards. One day I’m doing a Mattel toy commercial, and I’m almost 25. It was with three other guys and it was Mattel’s first mobile computer toy. The director calls me over and he looks worried and he says, ‘We have a problem. I don’t know how to say this, but, see, we have to shave your hands. Because here’s the deal, you look like all the other kids, everything’s just fine. Then we go in for the product shot and it looks like three kids and a hobbit put their hand into the shot, so we’re going to have to shave your hands.’
There was something quite metaphoric about this, because that was the end of my professional teenagedom. Luckily, I had a realization that I was a self-entitled punk who had no plans or skills or idea about what I was going to do and I found myself waiting tables. Now, typically you wait tables, and then you end up on television. My life plan was to do it in reverse. What was great about that is that’s where I learned that service is a superpower.
Service is a superpower.
When everything was taken away and I was overwhelmed by circumstances, I found myself in the now and realized that what was important. Lee Cockerell from Disney used to say, ‘W-I-N: What’s Important Now?’ What was important now is dealing with these customers in front of me. Since I had no waiting skills, I thought I better act like I do. I know I’ll act like I work at Disneyland, I’ll gesture with an open palm, I’ll smile. I will be so gracious that no one will notice that I’m a lousy waiter with no skills, and it worked.
It bought me time and it taught me a lesson. The power of serving others and how it can transcend, not just your work experience, but your life experience, and we know how the mind creates what it expects. After a few years of acting like I worked at Disneyland at a restaurant, I get a call from an old agent saying, ‘This is weird, but do you want to go work at Disneyland? Because they’re looking for somebody to play a little mortician outside of the Haunted Mansion and entertain guests when they’re stuck in the heat in the summer and the queue line’ This was the beginning of my Disney journey.
I was then brought out to Florida to open up the Disney MGM Studios theme park. One thing led to another, I eventually became that first-day bazooka of pixie dust that people meet on that day of traditions, that first Disney training day. Then I began to train the trainers of that program, and one thing led to another, and then I found myself designing programs for other companies. Now, I don’t want to get too HR-y, but there are four principles that I deal with in the circle of creating a service culture. The four words that are very important are story, language, behavior, recognition.
4 Principles of Creating a Service Culture
Any company or great organization, by story, I mean an intention, their narrative. What they’re actually being, what they’re actually doing, what their purpose is. That’s the story. The language becomes the lexicon and then becomes the legend because the language is what makes that intention or story live. The story and the language then will inspire behaviors. What our guests, and audience, and patients see on stage.
Then the recognition comes and this, ladies and gentlemen, is where most organizations I find drop the ball. They’ll be really good at setting your intentions. They’ll be really good at explaining it and talking about it. They will inspire behaviors, but then they will recognize the wrong ones thus breaking the circle.
Let’s talk about how this works in a practical manner. I’m using Walt Disney as an example. There are a lot of legends about Walt, and it’s interesting the way we tell the story because when I give seminars and talks I’ll say, ‘What’s the first word that comes to your mind if I say Walt Disney?’ Usually some go, ‘Mickey Mouse.’ Somebody else will say, ‘Genius or happiness,’ or they’ll name one of the characters, ‘Entertainer. Magician.’ Nobody ever raises their hand and goes, ‘Walt Disney, chain smoker three packs a day.’ Even though that is a fact, it’s not the narrative that grounds the intention. Nobody raises their hand and goes, ‘Nervous breakdown twice,’ and that’s a fact. Nobody raises their hand and goes, ‘Bankrupt twice,’ that’s a fact.
It’s not the narrative that they use to ground the intention. I will use this practical example. People always talk about Walt Disney and Epcot. That Walt Disney’s dream was to build some sort of Floridian utopia. I want to be perfectly frank with you on the study of Walt Disney’s life. Walt Disney was doing whatever Walt Disney was doing and by that he was full on. For example, what was he doing when he was buying 45 square miles of the State of Florida.
He was recreating the way that world’s fairs were being done. He was learning that companies, corporate entities, will pay huge sums of money for you to build rides and attractions that then you could keep afterwards. Walt Disney wanted to build Epcot because he wanted to do for world fairs what Disneyland had done for the amusement park. That was his state of mind as he’s buying 45 square miles of Florida. All the family didn’t quite get this. Walt Disney is in it and then he finds out that he has a tumor in one of his lungs. He removed that lung and Walt Disney finds himself in the hospital that happens to be across the street from his studio in Burbank.
He’s lying in the hospital and they’ve removed a lung and he’s lying in the bed they say, and he’s looking up at the ceiling. There are the ceiling tiles that are a series of squares with little holes. Walt Disney’s brother, Roy, comes to see him this evening. He looks uneasy, not sure what he’s going to find. Walt’s lying there and motions Roy to come over. ‘You have to listen to me. Look up here,’ he starts pointing at the ceiling tiles. ‘Look, we have to do this differently than we’ve done in California. I want to put a lake in front of the kingdom that will act as an opening curtain so that everybody will get the same opening shot, and we have to move.’
He’s showing Roy that he’s mapped out all 45 square miles in the ceiling tiles. Roy Disney leaves, calls Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian, and says, ‘You now what, this old buzzard ain’t going to die. If for meanness alone, I think he’s going to drag us to that God forsaken swamp in Florida to build this thing he wants to call Epcot.’ That night Walt Disney passes away. Shortly thereafter obviously the family meets, ‘What do we do with 45 square miles of Florida?’ The brother goes, ‘Oh, we’re going in.
I don’t think anybody’s going to get it because I’m not sure I do, and we’re not going to call it Disney World. We’re going to call it Walt Disney World for two reasons. Reason one, no one should ever forget that it was my brother who drag us all kicking and screaming into the amusement park business. Reason two, so that we never become a Ford. Where everybody can tell you what a Ford is, where you can get one, how long it might last, but nobody can tell you anything about Henry Ford. What he dreamed, what he believed, what he said, who and how he inspired, never. We will never become that. We will always be known as Walt Disney World.’
To this day you will not find a piece of official media that says Disney World on it. It’s still says Walt Disney World, which identifies my first two principles. The story, the intention of what it is we’re going to be and the language and that we’re going to call it Walt Disney World as an example of how we ground a narrative into the way we talk. From that then, of course, things were inspired.
You Are Your Customers’ Co-Stars
As trainers and leaders there has been a huge shift in the way that we have think about leading and training. When we think about inspiring behaviors. In the old days we would deal with employees the same way that proper entity would deal with customers. The idea was, come along with us customers and be a part of who we are. Come, be a part of the Pepsi generation. Come join us at Walt Disney World and be a part of our great show.
Now, our guests and our customers don’t want to be co-stars in our show. They want us to be the co-stars and the proscenium of their show. As leaders and trainers and even people who are facilitating conflict resolution. When we think of the end goal we now have to think of that person who we’re training, leading, or coaching, offering examples of how they can’t just necessarily be a star in our show, but how bringing excellence can help them be a star in their show and look at things one moment at a time.
Our guests and customers want us to be the co-stars and the proscenium of their show.
I travel around the world and talk to all kinds of businesses. What’s interesting to me is that I find that you can speak to any frontline cast member, team member, employee. They will be able to identify to you what a perfect service moment would look like in their world to the customer. What they cannot articulate is what that culture might be like in order to provide that, nor can they articulate what’s in it for me. If I provide excellent service and if I create a magical memory does anything come back to me? Is service a super power? Is everything so transactional that can I not have any perspective about this? Usually what I find is it’s task. It’s task and regulation that will knock people off their game. People who are wired for service and wired for creating these moments.
What we do is, we train people to aim for the head instead of a heart and realize these things happen one moment at a time. These moments don’t just identify and define the company you work for, they define ourselves each and every moment at a time. Like one drawing in an animated film, you can look at it, and dozens of people worked at it, and it looks beautiful, and it’s great, but it doesn’t tell a story. You have to see 24 of those photos past your eyes a second to see movement and narrative. Our service lives are exactly the same.
We’re on the task. It takes the perspective back to see actually what we’ve been. This is one of the things that we have to train and counsel about. Is being in the now in these moments, is not just because it’s great for our customers, but it because what it does and how it defines our lives. Story, language, the behavior. I can’t think of a greater moment of how these things work together.
Sticking to the Narrative
Because of my experience writing programs for banks, I’ll get invited to speak at a bank end of the year banquet where they give awards. I see this all the time, the president of the bank will get up and go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, what is most important for us as a business is that we are great neighbors of the community. Now, we’re going to give our annual award for who sold the most product,’ and switch. Because what happens is, the companies end up recognizing the behaviors they want more than they might recognize the behaviors that the customer or the employee may want and/or need.
Therefore you’ve broken the chain of story, language, behavior recognition, you’ve recognized the wrong thing and the circle is broken. Another reason for recognizing moments of contemporary excellence is because as you train, you want to tell the story, invite people into the narrative. Therefore it’s great to have classic examples of excellence in the narrative of that company. That’s a great way to recognize contemporary behavior to make the legacy last longer.
I want to share one thing that’s a challenge for us as service performers and providers and coaches. It’s taken me years, but I’ve learned the secret to performance and the difference between a good performance and a great performance.
The difference between a good singer and a legendary singer. A good storyteller, a legendary storyteller. A good service provider, a legendary service provider. It’s the ability to create the illusion of spontaneity. What Disney is doing at its properties is not anything that’s not being done in any other store or hotel. The difference is, there is an illusion that something special and unique is happening for you.
It’s the ability to create the illusion of spontaneity.
I’ve worked with magnificent improvisationalists in my lifetime. I can tell you that great improvisationalists on stage, 80 percent of what’s coming out of their mouth has come out of their mouth before. What makes them great is the ability to create the illusion of spontaneity to pull something out of the bank. What then is happening is 20 percent of what’s coming out of their mouth is coming out of their mouth for the first time. They’re cataloging and collecting and adding it to the bag of tricks that they can then use to help create the illusion of spontaneity later. Isn’t that what we’re all doing?
Great Service Serves the Server First
In my book The 10 Skills of the Service Superhero, one of those 10 skills is serving to the art of listening. The way I try to point out is think of listening as a martial art. You know how in martial arts some of the most damage you can do is to offer no resistance and how to use the force of the other person to cause the damage. I think sometimes in service moments, the most powerful thing you can do is allow the customer to hear the sound of their own voice articulating the problem.
One of the best things you can do after somebody has told you something horrible that’s happened is to say, ‘Is there anything else? Did anything else happen that I need to know?’ Basically say, ‘Is there anything else left to purge?’
Everyone needs to have this re-connection memory that reminds you of what you are doing, and being, looks like to somebody else.
That’s what I try to inspire everybody as a trainer to inspire in others. What is that re-connection memory that will put you in the eyes of the customer as if it’s a camera filming a scene?
Most important sentence: ‘Great Service Serves the Server First.’ That’s the credo. We’re all storytellers and service providers.
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