Customer Experience, Work

Keynote Learnings from ICMI Expo 2018: Ernesto Salas, Disney Institute

Trade shows are a fantastic place to get up to date on all of the latest technology, best practices and ideas in your industry. The ICMI Contact Center Expo which took place at the end of May was no different – with a strong keynote lineup and insightful sessions to attend, it was a fantastic event for anyone looking to top up their knowledge on everything CX.

But one of the challenges of so many opportunities to learn is figuring out how to package up those insights and apply them within your contact center. Hearing the philosophies that power world-class companies to deliver exceptional customer experiences is incredibly inspiring, and can drive you to adjust the same philosophies that affect your processes. But working out how processes need to change to fall in line with those same philosophies can be tougher.

In this blog post series, we’ll be picking apart some of the keynote speeches shared at the ICMI Expo, and throwing some light on what those insights could mean for your contact center.

We’re starting off with the opening keynote of Tuesday, May 22nd – “Inspiring Customer Service Excellence” from Ernesto Salas, Business Programs Senior Facilitator at the Disney Institute.

Common Purpose & Brand Promise

Ernesto shared a lot of ideas around the factors which caused Disney to become the hugely successful company it is today. At Disney, one of the most important parts of having a strong customer focus is having a common purpose and a clear brand promise.

Disney’s common purpose is “We create happiness by providing the finest entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” This common purpose applies to everyone within Disney – every cast member has a role to play in creating happiness, no matter whether they’re greeting parkgoers or sweeping the streets.

The type of language used within this common purpose is important. Disney’s common purpose isn’t to ensure that it delivers value to stakeholders, or ensures profitable growth. Common purposes like this are both accessible and inspirational for employees of all levels, helping to get them excited about the opportunity to make a difference.

Ernesto also spoke of Disney’s brand promise: “We deliver entertainment with heart.” Statements like this unite internal and external customers in their expectations of the service that will be delivered – helping to ensure consistency across the brand. Customers hate inconsistency, and it’s by tightening up on this that exceptional experiences can begin to be created.

What can we learn from this? I think there’s a few things here that can be applied in any contact center. Firstly, if you haven’t got a mission and vision which unite employees and make it clear what you’re all working towards, it’s good to think about developing one.

If you already have a mission and vision, ensure that employees aren’t so tied up in meeting KPIs that they’re blind to long term goals. A strong vision of service which appeals to emotion helps employees to feel they are part of something worthy and important. It’s that feeling which drives engagement, and is one of the reasons why uniting employees under a common mission and vision is so vital.

Lastly, consider what your brand promises, from your own perspective as well as that of your customers and your employees. If there are mismatches, it’s likely your customers will feel them acutely. Getting to the bottom of what causes those mismatches is a great step in creating consistent, excellent experiences.

Intentional Experiences

Disney magic doesn’t happen by accident. Ernesto spoke to the areas where Disney concentrates on to create positive experiences, noting that Disney’s consistent business results are driven by strategically focusing on certain business areas and opportunities, where other businesses may not see value or potential.

And that’s important, as that’s where differentiation occurs. Paying attention to those areas that fall by the wayside for other businesses is a key to Disney’s success. Or, in Ernesto’s words, “We have learnt to be intentional where others may not be intentional”.

Another interesting idea that Ernesto covered is in relation to stereotypes. He explained that significant service differentiation can occur when widely-held industry stereotypes are ruptured. This is so relevant for contact centers, which still suffer from the high-volume, low-quality stereotypes associated with call centers in the 80s and 90s. There’s a lot of potential for you to rupture that stereotype! Think how you can subvert your customer’s expectations to deliver service that’s not only exceptional for your business, but extraordinary in your field.

Ernesto, Sergio and Aliases in the Contact Center

Ernesto explained that in his previous role in Disney reservations, he used to take on the role of Sergio – a made-up persona who inspired him to deliver better service. In the role of Sergio, interactions were always bright, attentive and helpful. Ernesto was left at the doorway of his home, together with any grumpiness or hang-ups that could affect interactions with customers.

As a former call center worker and manager myself, I’m always a little cautious of management philosophies which advise that your ‘real life’ personality should be left at the door, replaced with a mask of cheery helpfulness. For one, the perspective that personal problems don’t belong at work means that those problems become taboo – with the implication that we shouldn’t acknowledge difficult emotions and that they should be ignored, even if they’re affecting our work. While I’m not suggesting that we all become armchair psychiatrists, I do believe that all of us should be able to bring our whole selves to work, and be able to acknowledge when our ‘real’ personas aren’t doing so great – as it’s that acknowledgement which allows change to occur.

Of course, modern work requires us all to act differently than we would in our everyday lives. That’s certainly true for contact center agents, who are expected to regulate their emotions when talking to customers. So in one sense, maybe adopting an entirely different persona is just part of the job description.

On the other hand, researchers have identified that workers adjust to workplace personas in two different ways. The first is known as ‘deep acting’, or the process of trying to align your internal thoughts and feelings with organizational expectations. It’s a genuine and thoughtful process of self-development, and that process seemed to be what just Ernesto described.

The second way is known as ‘surface acting’. This means workers fake a persona, while leaving their internal thoughts and feelings intact. The problem with surface acting is that it has been shown to lead to higher levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization – two of the three key elements of burnout.

So, following Ernesto/Sergio’s example, should you ask your employees to adopt an alias, in an effort to improve customer service?

In short – aliases can be fantastic to inspire engaged employees to achieve better. But be cautious of mandating their use, as encouraging disengaged employees to fake a persona can be damaging.

Culture & Training

Culture is all-important at Disney, since it’s cast members who are responsible for delivering extraordinary experiences. It’s only through paying attention to employee engagement that those cast members can be empowered to.

Ernesto spoke to the importance of ensuring employees are engaged, as it’s only those employees who will deliver the best service. Hiring for culture fit is all-important at Disney, and once Disney had developed a strong culture it became easy to see who would be a right fit for it.

He also spoke to the importance of training employees, again for engagement and also to ensure that they are appropriately skilled for their role. Ernesto spoke of times where Disney had been challenged on this by other firms, who ask why Disney spent so much on training when employees can leave at any time. Disney’s response to this – “What if they stay?”

It’s always fantastic to hear about organizations putting training and development at the heart of their operations, as many organizations are still only just beginning to understand the importance of the employee experience in delivering great customer experiences.

Tips to take away from this are to consider whether your hiring practices include an assessment of culture fit, and taking a fresh look at your training programs to see if they’re truly engaging your employees and giving them the development they’re looking for. Rolling out an internal survey to assess this is a great place to start.


Ernesto’s description of how exceptional service is delivered at Disney was wide-ranging and detailed, which makes sense, given that Disney are such advocates of paying attention to even the smallest things that others might miss.

Originally published here.

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