• What if hospitals were more like Disney World?

    When Austin first sent me this link, I was skeptical:

    Maryland teachers were instructed to engage children by crouching and speaking to them at eye level. Chevrolet dealers were taught to think in theatre metaphors: onstage, where smiles greet potential buyers, and offstage, where sales representatives can take out-of-sight cigarette breaks.

    A Florida children’s hospital was advised to welcome patients in an entertaining way, prompting it to employ a ukulele-playing greeter dressed in safari gear.

    These personal service tips came from the Disney Institute, the low-profile consulting division of the Walt Disney Co. Desperate for new ways to connect with consumers, an increasing array of industries and organisations are paying Disney to teach them how to become, well, more like Disney.

    At first blush, it’s easy to make fun of this. But having spent Spring Break in Disney World this year, I sort of see the allure for companies. I grant that it’s not hard to find evidence that some of Disney’s HR policies are somewhat archaic. Evidently, they only recently allowed men to have facial hair and women to go without pantyhose. But when it comes to customer service, it’s hard to do better than Disney. For companies trying to find ways to make their clients happier or more at home, is there anyone better to learn from?

    And while I think that hard outcomes are preferable to smiles and gimmicks, I can’t find too much fault with a children’s hospital that is trying to make its patients, and parents, a little more comfortable. I know I should be more cynical about this. But… Disney… happiness… I swear, that place gets under your skin.

    P.S. Austin and I have been discussing whether we should blog about our recent Disney trips. I’m on the fence. But if I hear from you that you’d like that, I’d likely oblige. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to maximize my family’s time in the parks.


    • I mean, does it work? Do children in Disney-themed hospitals have better outcomes?

    • My wife and took the kids to Disneyland a couple of years ago while visiting LA. A few hours in my wife started to get a headache. I went into one of the gift shops to look for a pain reliever to buy. The clerk said that we would have to visit the park infirmary for anything of that nature. When we arrived at the infirmary we were happily greeted by two nurses. Amazingly there was no one else waiting. They offered my wife whatever she wanted; aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, etc. I took out my wallet to pay for the medication and the nurse said we didn’t need to pay. It was on the house.

      Leaving the infirmary my 10 y.o. daughter commented on how nice it was to give mom the medicine for free. I told her she could look at it that way…. or…. the one thing we didn’t have to pay for the entire day was something that would keep us in the park longer. If we leave due to a headache, we aren’t spending money!

    • I don’t think even the Disney Institute makes a claim about better outcomes, if by that you mean improvements in health. Instead, what I’ve seen emphasized in books and articles and discussions is the improvement Disney offers in aspects of the patient experience–admission and discharge, meals, room comfort–as well as in incorporating some of Disney’s approaches into HR–emphasizing attitude as part of hiring decisions, strong employee support programs, etc.

      While there may be a connection between these and what people commonly mean by outcomes (better room experience giving better rest leading to better outcome), the real focus is on the patient experience elements of the HCAHPS scorecard, which will impact payment. And, while not all lessons are transferable, I do think there are plenty of lessons hospitals can learn from Disney and the hospitality industry (and banking and manufacturing). People in health care focus way too much on how “it’s different” rather than working hard to understand how to learn from others and improve. I’d make the same criticism of universities, where I work.

    • I can’t speak to how this translates to other customer service areas, but I was really struck by the difference between Disney and the other Orlando parks. I lived in Florida for many years and worked in the theatre, and Disney is a major employer of singers, dancers, and performers of all kinds. We generally rolled our eyes at Disney’s strict rules in a “scr*w the Establishment” sort of way. But having been there this Christmas, followed by Universal and Legoland, I was amazed at the difference in experience. Everything we scoffed at really did create an amazing– and completely invisible– guest experience. It was only when we got to the other parks that we realized what Disney had done for us. So if I had the need for my business, I would definitely consult them.

    • As the father of a 6 year-old and a 3 year-old, who will probably go for the first time next year, please do send your reports. Both policy-relevant observations and basic tips on how to enjoy the park will be appreciated.