Service Lessons Learned from An Enlightening Disneyland Jaunt

As I write this article, I’m sitting in a hotel in California.  My family and I are on vacation and, considering the fact that we have two young boys, we have plunged into the complete Disneyland experience. 

I’ll bet some people have stopped reading this article because I mentioned Disney.  They jumped to the conclusion that I’m one of the mindless people who thinks everything Disney does is perfect and that it represents the service standard that every business and casino should aspire to emulate.  For those of you who didn’t move on, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I like Disney, but I’m not in love with it.  The Disney organization does many things very well, but even it has room to improve.

Nevertheless, our Disneyland vacation offers many lessons for casinos that aspire to give their guests a great experience.

For example, like most Americans, I have used my credit card more than a few times while at Disneyland over the last few days and, without exception, each person has handed it back to me and used my first name.  Think about this for a moment.  I’ve been to hundreds of casinos and used player club cards as well as credit cards and my name has been mentioned less than 2 percent of the time.

So does Disneyland have a customer service standard that requires all employees to use a guest’s name whenever possible?  I’m a huge fan of standards.  They make it crystal clear what is expected of each casino employee during every guest interaction.  Casino employees have free will and that means you need to explain, measure and monitor the specific service standards that your property expects staff members to follow.  Disney employees are so consistent in using customers’ names, I suspect they are indeed implementing a rule.

Now let’s consider the hotel where we are staying.  It’s less than a mile from the entrance to Disneyland and it’s an older property that doesn’t have a big brand name on the front of it.  As soon as we drove up, we knew that the hotel had been there awhile.  But when we walked in, we saw that it had been renovated.  It has the look and feel of a fun, modern California hotel.  It’s fun because one quickly forgets that it’s an older facility.  The first people we interacted with were at the front desk and they were GREAT.  They made us happy that we chose to stay at this property.

When we entered our room, we saw more evidence of renovation.  The old bones still looked like those of many dated rooms, but the modern colors, large flat-screen television and great bedding yelled out that this is a new hotel.  But it’s not!

The best part of the hotel is its people.  As we come and go, the staff takes every opportunity to be warm and welcoming.  They say hello and ask how our day is going.  If we are heading out for the Disneyland park, they share little-known ideas and suggestions.  When we return tired and spent, they smile and ask if we had fun.  I think the service they provide was best exemplified on our first afternoon there.  I called down and asked if I could get a shuttle pass to the park.  This very nice woman said sure and that I should come and ask for her by name.  It took me a minute to get ready to go.  But before I could make it to our room’s door, we heard a knock and when I opened it, there was the lady I had talked to.  She explained that she was going on break and wanted to make sure I got my pass.  Now that’s service!

Give our hotel experience some thought.  This is not a new, sparkling Disney hotel, but an older property that has been updated physically to look more current.  The decor is great, but the service is even better.  The people truly make the difference.

I’m sharing these thoughts because they mirror the opportunities that many casinos have.

First come standards.  If you want to achieve long-term success, you must decide what you expect of your employees and put it in writing.  Assuming everyone knows what is expected will not lead to greatness.

Next, use the standards to create a memorable experience for your guests.  Casino management and employees often think they are too busy to provide a great service experience.  I know your casino is busy.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you have people standing three deep just to get on a machine.  That is great!  But at Disneyland, people wait in line for 30 minutes just to order barbecue ribs that are over priced and not particularly good.  To me, that is busy.  But when I order, the Disney employee still interacts with me and thanks me – by name – for visiting.

Finally, it comes down to people.  The hotel we are staying at is fine, but the people are special.  My guess is that many of them have worked at Disneyland because the service they provide is exceptional.  Understanding the importance of the people factor is critical for all casinos.  It is especially so for many rural casinos because they don’t have the newest property or all the amenities that some others may offer.  But they can more than make up for that with their people.  They can hire and train the best of the best.

Well, it’s time for me to head back to Disneyland where I will stand in long lines and pay crazy prices for bottled water and ice cream.  And love every minute of it!

This article originally appeared in Native American Casino.

To read other articles by Martin Baird, go to

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.

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