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Six lessons from Disney: Part 3—The final two lessons on how to capture the Disney magic in your dental office.

Sept. 1, 2002
Legend has it that Walt Disney explained his success this way: "I dream. I test my dreams against my beliefs. I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true." The words dream, believe, dare, and do are the four cornerstones of the Walt Disney Company's success to this day.

by Nate Booth, DDS

Click here to enlarge image

Legend has it that Walt Disney explained his success this way: "I dream. I test my dreams against my beliefs. I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true." The words dream, believe, dare, and do are the four cornerstones of the Walt Disney Company's success to this day. They can be the cornerstones for your practice's success, too.

Let's talk a little about daring. Webster defines dare as "to have the courage necessary to take action." From my experience as a practicing dentist and from my conversations with hundreds of dentists as a consultant, I believe that the "dare step" - the courage to take action and do something different - is the one that stops most of us. Dentists may have a dream. They may believe they can achieve it. But they don't have the courage to act. Why is this? I believe it all comes down to one fact: Dentists will do more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure. My mentor and the guy I worked with for 10 years, Tony Robbins, taught me this one. As a dentist, you want the pleasure of creating your dream practice, but you're not willing to go through some perceived pain to achieve it. It's just human nature. It's easier just to keep rolling along the way you are now.

Think about it: Where does this pain originate? It may come from members of your own dental team. They may not want to change. They kind of like the way things are now. And, because it's familiar and comfortable to them, they will resist what you're trying to accomplish. It's hard to blame them. You've trained them to do it! How many times have you come back from a seminar all fired up about implementing a change, but then you didn't follow through and allowed things to fizzle out? After awhile, your team members say to themselves, "Here he goes again! Let's all act like we're interested, not do anything different, and then things will die down (i.e., get back to being comfortable) after awhile."

The second place the pain can come from is your spouse. He/she has rightfully come to expect a certain standard of living. Frequently, the movement toward your dream practice requires an investment of time and money for clinical training, practice consulting, and/or equipment. Where's the extra money going to come from - a reduction in staff salaries, lower rent from your landlord, better prices from your dental supply company? I doubt it! At first, the money is going to come from your net profit, because there's a lag time between the investment and the return. Investment is the key word here. Your investment must create an enhanced return for you - an increase in net. Your investment must enable you to increase your fees and/or do more high-fee procedures. After the lag period, the investment will increase your net income and provide a higher standard of living for your family. You must be effective at explaining this investment/return cycle to your spouse.

The third place the pain will come from is the insurance companies. They don't want you to move toward your dream. They don't want you to be different and better. They want you to be a commodity so they can control the procedures you do and the fees you charge. They want you to be a cog in their wheel of success. The whole subject of independence from insurance deserves an article or two, but for now, take my word for it. You probably need to create an intelligent two-to-three-year plan to become independent from dental-insurance programs to create your dream practice.

The last place the pain may come from is your professional colleagues. They want to keep you as one of the group. It's more comfortable that way! If you change, the bar will be raised in your community. That will force them to think about changing, and they don't want to do that.

Enough of the dare cornerstone. Let's move on to the do cornerstone - the last two lessons you can learn from Walt Disney and his company.

Lesson 5 - Exceed your guests'expectations

Walt Disney knew that guest satisfaction wasn't enough. He wanted to move way beyond satisfaction. He wanted to thrill his guests by exceeding their expectations. The first step for you to do the same thing is to know what your patients want and give it to them! But then, you have to be like Walt and take it a step further. You need to set up systems where your team members consistently do things that lead your patients to think or say, "You didn't have to do that."

Walt wanted to create loyal guests, not just satisfied guests. He knew that loyal guests come back again and again - not because they have to, but because they want to! Walt knew that loyal guests enthusiastically told dozens of their family and friends about their wonderful experiences. He knew that he couldn't buy that kind of advertising!

In planning Disneyland, Walt always put his guests first. When members of his staff urged him to construct an administration building, Walt answered with a resounding, "No, there isn't going to be an administration building. The public isn't coming here to see an administration building. Besides, I don't want you guys sitting behind desks. I want you out in the park, watching what people are doing and finding out how you can make the place more enjoyable for them."

Walt told one of his park planners: "All I want you to think about is this. When people walk through or ride through or have access to anything that you design, I want them, when they leave, to have smiles on their faces." How's that for having a specific goal? When an attraction pleased him, Walt said, "I think they'll go for this," or "They're going to eat this up." His expressions of rejection were: "That's not good enough for them," or "They'll expect something better." Do you see how Walt was always thinking about "them?"

In addition, Walt didn't want the limited thinking of others to get in the way of exceeding his guests' expectations. To an engineer who pointed out the impossibility of one of his proposals, Walt replied: "You know better than to kill an idea without giving it a chance to live! We set our sights high. That's why we accomplish so many things. Now, go back and try again." Those who worked closely with Walt learned never to say, "This can't be done." The correct response was, "Well, Walt, this might be difficult because . . ."

During his visits to Disneyland, Walt was always "plusing" - looking for ways to improve the appearance of Disneyland and to provide more ways to exceed the guests' expectations. He would study an area and tell his staff, "Let's get a better show for the customers; what can we do to give this place interest?" When a staff member questioned Walt's idea to spend $350,000 on an elaborate Christmas parade, Walt replied, "We can't be satisfied even though we'll get the crowds at Christmas time. We've got to give 'em a little more. It'll be worth the investment. If they stop coming, it'll cost 10 times that much to get 'em back."

In their wonderful book, The Disney Way, Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson describe the process the Walt Disney Company uses today to exceed guests' expectations. The first thing they do is create a service theme. A service theme is a simple statement that becomes the driving force of service. At Disney parks today, this theme is an extension of Walt's original dream. Their service theme is, "We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for all people of all ages, everywhere." Notice that the service theme declares a dream (to create happiness), how the dream is accomplished (by providing the finest in entertainment), and for whom (people of all ages, everywhere). A service theme does three very important things:

  1. It emotionally communicates the purpose of the organization to everyone in the organization. In their book, Built to Last, Collins and Porras say that a company's core purpose, unlike strategies and goals, should be enduring. "Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose.

    It's like a guiding star on the horizon - forever pursued, but never reached. Although the purpose itself does not change, it does inspire change. The very fact that purpose can never be fully realized means that an organization can never stop stimulating change and progress."

    1. It's the benchmark for making all guest service and basic management decisions within the company. If an idea supports the service theme it's usually adopted. If it doesn't support the theme, it's dropped.

      1. It creates the foundation for the public image of the company. All marketing, advertising, and public relations must reinforce the service theme.

      Next, service standards are created. Service standards set the criteria for actions that are necessary to accomplish the service theme. Service standards are the measures of quality service. Disney theme parks have four service standards. In order of importance, they are:

      1. Safety
      2. Courtesy
      3. Show
      4. Efficiency

      Then, delivery systems are created. Delivery systems deliver the service standards. All businesses have three delivery systems: -

      1. their people,
      2. their setting, and
      3. their processes.

      The people

      Disney hires people with good attitudes and then trains them to develop their skills. Employees, called cast members, learn a location-specific performance culture. A performance culture is a set of behaviors, mannerisms, terms, and values. Disney says, "We don't put people in Disney. We put Disney in people."

      At Disney University, all cast members go through a Disney Traditions training program, where they learn about the history of the company and their part in carrying on the tradition. They also learn to use very specific language. Below is a list of words they are not to use … and the words they are to use instead.

      Like The Walt Disney Company, the words you teach your team to use have important consequences. The words - and the meanings they attach to them - change the way they look at their roles in the office. As an example, would you and your team treat a guest differently than you would a patient? I'm not saying that you need to use all of Disney's words in your dental practice. I am saying you need to take a close look at the key words you've been using and, perhaps, select some new ones that match your new service philosophy. I wrote an article on the power of words in the February 2001 issue of Dental Economics. Go to the DE Web site to read it.

      The setting

      In Disney terms, your setting is wherever your customers meet you. In a dental practice, this would be your office. The setting also refers to all contacts your patients and future patients have with any member of your team in a community setting, all telephone conversations, and your Web site. The importance of managing the effect that your setting has on the guest experience can be summed up in two words: Everything speaks. Walt Disney placed so much emphasis on setting that he would change the texture of the pavement at the threshold of each new "land" in Disneyland, because "You can get information about a changing environment through the soles of your feet." How's that for paying attention to the details of your setting?!

      Here are the components of the setting at Disney:

      • Architectural design
      • Landscaping
      • Lighting
      • Color
      • Signage
      • Texture of floor surface
      • Focal points
      • Internal/external detail
      • Music/ambient noise
      • Smell
      • Touch/taste experiences
      • Taste

      Here's how Disney imagineer, John Hench, describes the necessary attention to detail:

      "Interestingly enough, for all its success, the Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction, one out-of-place stimulus, to negate a particular moment's experience … take a host's costume away and put him in blue jeans and a tank top …. replace that Gay Nineties theme with rock numbers … place a touch of artificial turf here … and a surly employee there … it really doesn't take much to upset it all.

      "What's our success formula? It's attention to infinite detail, the little things, the little, minor, picky points that others don't want to take the time, money, or effort to do. As far as our Disney organization is concerned, it's the only way we've ever done it … it's our success formula."

      Do you pay as much attention to setting as Disney does? I hope so! It's just as important to your business. A good way to analyze your setting is to walk around the exterior and interior of your office as a new patient. Look, listen, smell, and touch your setting as a new patient would. Have your team and your spouse do the same. Does everything in the setting support the image you want to project? If not, change it!

      The process

      Processes are a series of policies, tasks, and procedures that are strung together to produce a result. These processes combine human (cast) and physical (setting) resources in various combinations to produce different outcomes. All organizations can be thought of as a collection of processes. In the dental office, you have a process for answering the phone. You have a new-atient process. You have a process for doing a porcelain crown. Each one involves different human and physical resources and produces a specific result.

      It's vital that you identify the exact result you want. Then, you construct the process to achieve it. If you just leave it to chance, the chances are very poor that the desired result will occur.

      Let's use the first phone call to the office as an example. If the result you want is that the person calling will schedule an exam appointment, you need to create a process to achieve that result. If the result you want is the person to schedule an exam and come away from that conversation feeling that your office is different and that you really care about people and are a "cut above," then you must create an expanded telephone process that achieves that result.

      Integration happens when the cast, the setting, and the processes are merged in pursuit of the service theme and standards. The result is an exceptionally high quality guest experience.

      Lesson 6 - Give your guests memorable experiences

      Walt used to take his two daughters to amusement parks when they were young. In those days, amusement parks were slightly disreputable, dirty, and run by people who didn't seem to care. Walt asked himself, "How can this experience be improved?" His early answers were the beginning of the creation of Disneyland.

      Sometimes creating a memorable experience requires a change in perspective. Disney imagineers have been known to put on knee pads and crawl around the parks to experience them from a child's perspective. The next time you're at Disneyland or Disney World, notice the windows in the shops. They extend much lower than most store windows. This allows children to see the merchandise displays as easily as adults. And guess what that leads to?

      The guest experience needs to be guided. It is for the tens of thousands of people who flock to Disneyland and Disney World every day. After you pass the ticket booths, you enter an area that is like the lobby of a movie theater. This area prepares you for the experience that is about to unfold. Then, as you walk down Main Street, the excitement builds. You see Cinderella's Castle off in the distance. It acts as a magnet to draw you up Main Street and into the heart of the parks.

      The heart is the central hub. Branching off from the hub are the four realms or parts of the park. Just remember where Cinderella's Castle is when you enter any realm and you can use it as a beacon to find your way back to the hub. You are even guided in your choice of food. Ice cream wagons are often blue, signaling cool refreshments. Popcorn wagons are red, signaling warm treats.

      More and more, people are attracted to and spending their money on experiences.

      The adventure vacation business is booming! Las Vegas is the fastest growing large city in the nation, because it attracts people from around the world who want experiences. Every hotel in Vegas offers a unique experience.

      The average Starbucks customer visits their stores four times a week to spend $2.50 for coffee. These coffee-drinking customers could get about the same thing at Denny's for a buck, but they wouldn't get the Starbucks experience. You need to create a guest experience just as carefully as Disney, Las Vegas, and Starbucks have.

      Team meeting

      Set aside an hour or two to brainstorm about how you can exceed your patients' expectations to create loyal customers who will only come to you, who will accept your treatment recommendations, and who will enthusiastically refer family and friends. Remember to focus on loyalty, not satisfaction. There is a huge difference!

      Go to my Web site at www.nate to download a leader's guide and participant handouts for the team meeting. Be like the Walt Disney Company. Put together the people, the setting, and process-service standards that will help you create and achieve an outstanding guest experience.

      Disneyland, opened on a hot July day in 1955. It was a huge success! Within seven weeks, one million visitors poured into the park. Attendance exceeded expectations by 50 percent, and spending per person was 30 percent more than projected. Walt never seemed to tire of walking through Disneyland and watching his guests. "Look at them! Did you ever see so many happy people?"

      One day at twilight, just before closing, a Disneyland employee was strolling through the park and saw a lone figure sitting on a bench. It was Walt Disney, savoring the sight of the paddleboat, Mark Twain, pulling around a bend in the river. His dream had come true. He used imagination to bring happiness to millions. And, in your own way, in your own community, you can do the same.

      Editor's note: Want to learn more about Walt Disney and The Disney Company? Read Disney: An American Original, by Bob Thomas, Hyperion, 1976 and 1994, and The Disney Way, by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Johnson. The Disney Way contains great material for team meetings!

      Disney cast members' do's and don'ts

      Don't say

      • employees
      • front-line employee
      • customers
      • job interview
      • guest areas
      • behind the scenes
      • uniform
      • job
      • work
      • rides or shows

      Do say

      • cast members
      • host
      • guests
      • audition
      • on stage
      • off stage
      • costume
      • role
      • perform
      • attractions

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