Don't Be a Customer Service Robot

This is the fifth in a series of ten blog posts that provide a brief synopsis of the chapters in my upcoming book, Lessons From the Mouse - A Guide for Applying Disney World's Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life. You can view previous posts from the book by clicking on the Lessons From the Mouse category on the left column of this page.

 Lesson #5: Don't Be a Customer Service Robot

 Most of the jobs at Disney World have certain repetitive tasks, such as telling guests to "watch your head and step" as they board an attraction; emptying endless trashcans throughout the day; or reciting the same spiel (such as on the Jungle Cruise attraction) twenty-times a day, five-days a week. It would be easy for those jobs to eventually become so routine that they become robotic. And worse, for them to appear robotic to guests.

The Disney rule is to treat each guest as a VIP - a Very Individual Person. And you certainly can't do that if your actions have become robotic. Disney cast members are expected to be animated, not automated. They are expected to make a real connection with each guest, even if it's only for a few seconds. Sometimes it just takes a sincere smile, or secretly observing a child's name stitched on his Mickey Mouse ears and welcoming him or her by name. The result is that guests feel Disney cast members care about them as individuals.

Robotic behavior doesn't usually occur on purpose; it's just that some tasks become so routine we do them without thinking. The bank loan officer who instructs her customer to sign here, here, and here, without acknowledging that the customer is using the money to send her only child to college - has fallen into the trap of automated behavior. Or the hospital receptionist who, without looking up, hands a patient a clipboard full of forms to fill out - has forgotten how nervous the patient may be. In both of these scenarios it is likely that the employee has performed these tasks so many times they can do them without thinking.

The problem is that when customers experience robotic behavior from employees they feel processed rather than valued. And it's hard to generate loyalty when customers feel processed. The secret is to identify those routine tasks that involve customer interaction and commit to staying mentally present and to be fully conscious of how you come across while performing these tasks. It's about maintaining an experience mentality versus a task mentality.

 Questions for Applying Lesson #5:

  1. In your organization, what routine tasks could potentially appear robotic to customers - with the result that they feel they've been processed?
  2. What can be done to personalize the tasks listed in question #1?
  3. How can you make what is automated in your organization (such as voicemail, phone trees, or Website) more "animated?"