Vacation: Detour (From The Inside)A former Disney employee who is a DQ reader asked me if I had any questions for him, and of course, I did. He sent me some terrific information about what it's like to work for Disney, and it's interesting to read about what Disney is like from the other side of the curtain, so to speak. Let's just call him "Mr. X."
I do know that different “roles” get different training--I had about a week before I started. I was a waiter in the bar at the Fort Wilderness Resort from 1999-2002… if there’s an ass-end of Disney World, it’s there. It’s one of the oldest resorts, essentially it’s a campground/RV park built in ‘72 or ‘73. A lot of the hardcore Disney enthusiasts like it because you can stay on-site for super-cheap compared to the other hotel rooms, but if you really want one they have air-conditioned little cabins that sleep up to 8 (at full hotel prices). At our bar it’s one of the cheapest places you can feed a family of four (about $16 for a large cheese pizza and 4 waters). People can get a season passes and drive up in an RV and stay for months. As well, other people really do stay in a friggin’ tent for their entire stay at WDW.
Anyway, back to the induction procedures. It is drilled into you again and again that if a “guest” complains about you, you can lose your job. I think it’s the best customer service training I’ve ever gotten… they really do come first. You’ve seen the quotes I’ve put above… the big thing about Disney is they’ve cultivated a corporate culture where you’re part of the “show,” no matter who you are. Everything is put in terms of the show: employees are “cast members performing a role,” no one is a customer, they’re always guests (as in, treat them as you would a guest in your own home). Anywhere that guests can see is “on-stage,” anywhere they can’t is “backstage.” Do you want the role with the most guest contact? Be a janitor (they have another name for it but I can’t remember it off the top of my head). Probably the first place the janitors ever got intensive customer service training. And janitors do have a certain amount of cred among other cast members because it's a tough job.
You’re taught to go out of your way to exceed expectations – a phrase that has become commonplace in the business world, but I first heard at WDW. There’s an incentive scheme as well – you can nominate other cast members for providing “magical moments,” where they go over and above to provide a great piece of customer service. Those nominations can factor into bonuses or other rewards. There’s a lot of attention to detail: anything a guest can possibly be exposed to has had some thought put into it.
You can get free admission to any park at any time it’s open – you’re encouraged to ride/experience everything… the better to make recommendations for guests. You also, in lieu of monetary bonuses, get a number of guest passes for family and friends. You actually have to enter the park with them (to prevent a black market – there used to be one, from what I understand).
There are obviously some no-no’s: don’t ever, EVER say or do anything that breaks the illusion, especially while on-stage. The guy who commiserated with you, if a manager might have seen/overheard, might have gotten a reprimand (some managers are Disney nazi’s, others are a bit more human). Mickey Mouse, while obviously the most popular character, has a highly detailed schedule of appearances… he never is on-stage in more than one place at the same time. None of the characters are, actually. Any time a kid does see something, or asks about something, if you can’t explain it away you just say “it’s part of Disney magic.”
You do pretty much have to be a Disney fan to work there. There are several evil things corporate Disney does (or is rumored to), but one of them is that they pay well below the market rate for wages/salaries. Simple supply & demand: they know there are talented people out there who will work for them. I still list it on my CV today – it’s a talking point in an interview and I can provide good customer service examples… even though I work in banking software, about as far from Disney as you can get. I also gamed the system a bit by being a waiter – I was paid by tips the guests left, not so much by Disney itself.
As a side note, both Gloria and I were very impressed by the Disney employees. Yes, some of them did look miserable, but they were unfailingly helpful and courteous.