Making Your Community The Happiest Place on Earth

A few weeks before my 12th birthday, my Uncle Mark called me.

“If you could go anywhere in the world for your birthday, where would it be?” he asked.

“Hawaii!”

“Uhh…pick another place.”

I thought for a second before the obvious came to mind—Disney World!

“Guess what,” Uncle Mark said, “we’re going.”

I knew he was lying and I told him so, but he insisted the trip was happening. The more convincing he tried to do, the angrier I got.

“Stop lying!” I finally yelled, nearly in tears as I hung up on him. Taunting a young girl about the Happiest Place on Earth was just plain cruel.

But then my Mom told me Uncle Mark was telling the truth—we were driving to Orlando, arriving at Walt Disney World on the morning of my 12th birthday.

When the news finally sunk in, my younger brother, Chris, and I began screaming and jumping up and down like we won the Mega Millions—one of two times in my life I have reacted in such a manner, the second being when Ross and Rachel reunited on the finale of Friends.

Our trip to Disney World did not disappoint. Aside from a particularly harrowing Halloween parade at Universal Studios that had my brother in hysterics and my Mom screaming at a zombie-clad park employee who rattled tin cans in Chris’ ears as he sobbed, we had a blast!

In eight days, we hopped from park to park, spending exorbitant amounts of money on bottled water, spotting giraffes on the Animal Kingdom safari, taking pictures with Pluto—more attractive in person, I should note—and ignoring Chris’ hourly tantrums that there was too much walking involved.

Twelve years later, I still think about that trip. The entire customer experience was incredibly memorable—and not by accident.

At the fifth annual NAA 2012 Student Housing Conference & Exposition at the Wynn Las Vegas in March, Disney Institute Program Facilitator Bruce Kimbrell delivered a keynote address to attendees, providing examples of the ways in which Disney fosters brand loyalty and customer service—lessons that could, and should, be applied to the apartment industry.

Following are highlights:

1. If you have to say “no” to a question, include “yes” as part of your response.

Disney visitors who are too short to ride some of the attractions are given a ticket that says they will be able to come to the front of the line as soon as they are tall enough to ride.

2. The top three reasons people come to Disney are cleanliness, friendliness and a feeling of safety.

3. It’s better to improve 100 percent of operational items 1 percent each rather than improve one operational item 100 percent.

4. If you want someone’s attention, whisper. Attention to detail is important.

5. Know your guests/customers and understand them. If, for example, a family visiting Disney World cannot find their car at the end of the day, that’s not Disney’s fault—but it is their problem.

If, on the other hand, your brother is too lazy to walk around Epcot, that’s neither Disney’s fault, nor their problem.

For additional operational tips, check out Management Insider in the April issue of units, which mailed April 8. The e-version is available here.