Niles: Why Disneyland needs more Josh D’Amaros

The biggest mistake that any corporate leader can make is to believe that customer service is someone else’s job.

The bigger the organization and the higher up you go, the more customers a manager must accommodate. That’s why large organizations such as Disney rely on an enormous amount of collected data to analyze their customers’ wants, needs and frustrations.

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The trouble with any data-driven approach is that your data is only as good as the assumptions you made when collecting it — and the assumptions you make when analyzing it. It’s far too easy to collect data that reinforces your assumptions, as opposed to telling you what you actually need to know — especially in the fast-moving, people-driven service industry.

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Science shows us accurate and reliable ways for collecting and analyzing data, but few people in business, particularly the service business, have the time, the money, or the inclination to set up the controls and the trials that science demands. Instead, decision-makers typically just look at what they can see and go with a “gut decision,” driven by their experience and assumptions.

Here’s the trick, though. The best managers understand that listening and acting are two different things. Sometimes, doing the first is even more imperative than the second. The most important act of customer service — and employee management, for that matter — is to ensure that a person feels seen and heard.

Over time, if customers or employees feel like you’re never doing anything in response to what they say, they will stop giving you credit for listening. But at the moment that people have a problem, they do not want to put their faith in some data-driven algorithm to find and help them. They want to believe that there is a person, somewhere in the organization, to which they can turn for help.

That’s the challenge facing Josh D’Amaro and his team at the Disney theme parks, experiences and products division, of which he is the chairman. Disney employs thousands of people to crunch the numbers that its millions of Disneyland and Walt Disney World visitors generate each year. The company has developed sophisticated automated tools, including its much-promoted Disney Genie, to help manage guests’ needs inside the parks.

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But with all the changes that the company has made since its parks reopened following the pandemic lockdowns — including their new reservation requirements — a lot of Disney fans have expressed frustration that no one is listening to their concerns.

I have seen D’Amaro in the parks talking with guests and cast members on countless occasions, and not just for press events. But a premium-priced resort destination should not have to rely on its chairman to provide one-on-one customer service.

Yes, Disney needs to hit the margins that Wall Street demands while staffing thousands of operations, entertainment, food service, merchandise and custodial positions in its parks. But an investment in a lot more “Deputy D’Amaros,” working hundreds more greeter and audience control positions throughout the parks, might just pay off in happier fans at what is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth.


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