After sitting through a 2-hour Service Excellence workshop to turn South Africans into service ambassadors for South Africa during the World Cup, run by Be and Jeff from the Disney Institute of Orlando at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) in Cape Town on Friday, I could not help but be disappointed relative to the high expectations the invitation to attend the workshop had created.

First, an invitation to attend a Disney-run service excellence workshop is not to be sneezed at, especially if attendance is free, and there was no restriction on attendance numbers from a particular company.  The target audience was frontline staff of the South African Police, Department of Transport, Department of Home Affairs, Tourism Business Council, South African Revenue Services, the Retail Association of South Africa, the Banking Association of South Africa, airlines, hotels (we are sure that they meant guest houses and other forms of accommodation too!), and restaurants.

The Auditorium of the CTICC holds an audience of 1000 – no more than 100 front-line staff attended the Friday afternoon session – the morning session had been attended by about 700 persons, the organisers estimated.   The previous day the sessions had been held at a church in Goodwood- this was the sum total of the workshops for Cape Town’s hospitality, tourism and general service front-line staff.   A Friday afternoon, and a rainy one at that, probably is a bad day for attendance in Cape Town, and parking anywhere near the CTICC was impossible to find, given the Good Food & Wine Show, which had dominated the CTICC, especially given its star attraction Gordon Ramsay. 

Having obtained parking, we sat in the massive auditorium, and the two Disney staffers tried a number of participative techniques to get some life and energy into our audience, including blowing a vuvuzela.   I have been to Orlando, and attended a Relationship Marketing Conference at Walt Disney World a good 15 years ago – I loved every minute of the Disney Magic, and I know that the Disney Institute is regarded as the ‘University of Service Excellence’.

All the more the disappointment of the lightweight presentation by our two Disney “cast members” – all staffers are on show, and therefore they have this designation.   Leaving the presentation, I could not help but think that this was the cleverest way in which Disney could have marketed its Walt Disney World (and related parks in California, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and soon to open Shanghai), and be paid for the pleasure of it!   A gi-normous Disneyworld park (biggest employer in USA with 60 000 employees in Orlando alone), could in no way compare to our little tourism and hospitality businesses in South Africa, excitedly facing the event of a lifetime, the World Cup.

We were shown videos and photographs of Walt Disney World, and interviews with South Africans working at the park, all eschewing the Disney mantra of smile, smile and smile!   The presentation was mainly focused on Disneyworld, and once in a while the presenters seemed to remember that they were in South Africa, and that they had to adapt their material to our big event.

The presentation in essence covered the following:

1.  Setting a vision – we know what it is for Disney (to be universally recognised as the most admired company in the world).  For World Cup South Africa it was defined as follows: “Deliver a pleasant and unforgettable service experience for the world visitors during the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa and beyond”.

2.   Defining a “common purpose” – at Disney this is for all ‘cast members’ to pick up the garbage and to give directions to their guests (not “customers”) with two fingers (not just one) or the whole hand.  For World Cup South Africa this was defined as follows: “Just now to WOW all customers“.  This mantra was repeated over and over again.  The “just now” introduction was a “South Africanisation” of the Common Purpose, supposedly reflecting how we speak (I’ll do it ‘just now’), badly reflecting service excellence, in that one would do something for the customer “immediately”, and not “just now”!

3.  “Guestology”, a Disney term for getting to know one’s customers in terms of where they come from, who they are, how large their party is, the length of their stay, and what their needs, wants and expectations are.   The presenters presented the audience with the profile of the typical World Cup soccer fan : travelling in groups of eight persons, predominantly males, 25 – 45 years old, wanting to experience things in-between the matches.

Key service excellence tips presented throughout the presentation were the following:

1.   Company leaders must share the company vision with their staff – this rarely happens

2.   The bottom-line will reflect good service excellence, but should never be the end-goal

3.   Everyone in the company is responsible for excellent customer service

4.   Customer service is not a department, it is an attitude

5.   Customer service is not only provided to customers, but should also be provided to colleagues

6.   The staff’s interaction with customers creates “magical moments” but can also cause “tragical moments”.

7.   “Treat every customer as if they sign your paycheck… because they do”

8.   Service must evoke emotion and drive repeat business

9.   Put a smile in one’s voice.

10.   Surprise and delight one’s guests

11.  Sometimes the guests are wrong, or cannot be served in the way they desire – say “NO”, but offer them an attractive alternative

12.   “I may not have the answer, but I’ll find it.  I may not have the time, but I’ll make it.”

13.   Make eye-contact and smile, smile smile…

14.  It all starts with respect

The bottomline: a most disappointing presentation, given the calibre of the Disney Institute.  It lacked the WOW it was meant to instill in us as front-line staff meeting soccer fans in 25 days from now.   It did not teach us anything new in how we deal with our guests.  It was a monumental fail, given that the Department of Tourism is said to have spent R 9,5 million on putting an estimated 250 000 (the number is questioned, given the poor response in Cape Town, perhaps only 10 % of this number) attendees through 75 two-hour workshops in all the Host Cities and related areas.    The Department of Tourism’s 3-page evaluation questionnaire we received on arrival was poorly typed, in that the rating scale from 1 – 5 was not aligned to match the written descriptions of the scale in numerous places.  It asked us to rate a “facilitator”, but we had two, and they had very different personalities, meaning that they could have been rated very differently.  The structured questions were not all suited to the answer options provided.   Certain questions were in grey panels, making them unreadable, an irony as the service excellence Disney had been preaching to us for two hours was not reflected in this poorly drafted questionnaire, which was meant to evaluate the Disney performance!  A pleasant surprise was that we did not have to pay for the very expensive CTICC parking!

We all left with a “Certificate of Successful Completion (of) the The Disney Approach to Service Excellence, World Cup and Beyond”.    We also received a business card with 3 “Service Guidelines & Behaviours”, to carry with us at all times:

 “.  I present a positive attitude at all times

  .  I am considerate and respectful to ALL customers

  .  I go over and above in my position”      

To see the objectives of and motivation for the Department of Tourism’s Tourism Service Excellence Initiative (the poor Disney presenters just could not get their tongues around the name of the Initiative) Service Excellence workshops, read here.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com