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“Plusing Up” and the Princess Doll

| July 12, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, “Plusing Up” and the Princess Doll, is an essay by Jerry Wood, Director of Information Technology, for Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Michigan.  The essay first appeared as a program reflection earlier this year.
One of my biggest professional passions is providing great customer service.  I think it’s an art that we IT folk are maybe not necessarily renowned for (“*sigh*, Have you tried turning it off and back on again?  Hmmm?  How many times?”).  Outstanding customer service, though, can lead to more than just happy customers.  It provides credibility for you and your team and ultimately lets the customer trust you with more responsibility and bigger and better opportunities.
In the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to do some training at one of the world’s premier customer service organizations – Disney.  Disney believes that the terrific customer service they strive for not only provides great experiences for their guests, but it also drives deep customer loyalty.  Think about it, as a Disney World customer, you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a few days’ experience while dealing with large crowds, hot, humid weather and long wait times.  Despite all that, people make life-long happy memories and come back year after year (many people bring their families back every year).  So whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Disney is doing something incredibly right to attract and maintain very loyal customers.
So how do they do it?  One big factor is that they embrace the notion of “plusing up,” a term coined by Walt himself that means to make every situation just a little better.  It’s woven into their way of life and enabled by their culture.  From the always clean bathrooms to the smiling faces of the “cast members” to helpful and welcoming attitudes of everyone who is “on stage” in the parks, you can tell when you are there that everyone is on the lookout to “plus up” the situation at Disney.
Of course, it being Disney, they illustrate the idea with a great story – a true story of terrific customer service that illuminates how the “pulsing up” concept flows through their employees’ DNA.  I give you the Princess Dolly story (yeah, yeah, I’m going to share a story about a princess doll … shut up).
One day, a family was walking along through the Magic Kingdom.  The 5-year old girl stops suddenly and says, “Mommy, Princess Dolly is ready to come back now.”
Mom, nonplussed, says, “What’s that, Honey?”
“Princess Dolly would like to come back now.”
“Where is your doll, sweetheart?” 
The girl turns and points toward the tall wooden, very attractively painted (hey, it’s Disney) fence that hides a new attraction under construction.  It turns out that the doll was “curious” and wanted to have a look at what was going on behind the fence.  So as they walked past, the girl just went flip, and over the doll went.  But now Princess Dolly had seen enough and was ready to rejoin the family.
Mom immediately flagged down one of the Disney customer service agents roaming the park, Linda, and told her what had happened.  Unfortunately, as Linda explained, the construction area behind the fence was dangerous and off-limits – even to her.  She would need to get in touch with the construction team and it would take some time to sort all of that out.  So she suggested to the girl, “How about if we go over to the gift shop and you can pick out a brand new princess doll?”
At this point, the little girl began to well up and tears rolled down her cheeks, “But, I want Princess Dolly back!”
Thinking quickly, Linda took down the family’s info and where they were staying in the resort.  She promised she would get back to them as soon as she could find the right people, get into the construction area and look for the doll. 
A couple hours later Linda had the doll in her office – and it was a mess.  It had landed in mud and grease and it looked like it had been run over by a bulldozer.  The dress the doll was wearing was torn and ruined and the doll body was dirty and stained.  But she couldn’t stop seeing the little girl’s face when she heard that Princess Dolly couldn’t come back right away.  She knew the Disney spirit and people would want to help “plus up” this situation.  She went to work.
The first stop she made was to the laundry department.  She explained the situation to the team there and they were happy to take a shot at removing the grime and stains from the doll’s body.  She left the doll there and took the ruined dress.
The next stop she made was at the costume shop where she told one of the seamstresses the girl’s story.  She was happy to take the old dress and, over her break period, create a replacement that was even fancier than the original.
Once Linda got the clean doll back from Laundry and the nice new dress from the seamstress, she made a quick stop at the hair stylist shop, where there were more people happy to help “plus up” by fixing Princess Dolly’s coiffure.
Now, since all of this was taking several hours, Linda started to worry about what the little girl would be thinking and how she would be so upset about what was happening with Princess Dolly.  So she took the doll over to the green room where the “real” princesses are in costume waiting to go “on stage” in the park.  She gathered several of them together and took photos of them with Princess Dolly having a tea party.  Princess Dolly wasn’t really hurt or lost all day, she was just hanging out with all of the other princesses having a good time. 
For the final “plus up” touch, Linda put all of the tea party photos into a nice album and asked Cinderella to hand deliver the doll to the family’s room at their resort.  The “real” princess explained to the little girl that Princess Dolly had had a bit of a rough start to her day, but she made her way back, got cleaned up and, as she could see in the photo album, had a great afternoon with all of her princess friends. 
Of course, it was a complete “wow” experience for the girl and her family. 
My belief, as I said at the outset, is that outstanding customer service builds loyalty and trust.  Disney believes that this type of customer service not only cultivates loyalty – lifelong loyalty – to the direct recipients of it (imagine how much this little girl will relish bringing her own children back to Disney World one day), but the stories and word of mouth generated by great experiences like this create customers in their own right.
So don’t forget to think about great customer service – and plus it up!
As you go through the coming weeks, do take the time to observe how you are serving your customers;  are you “plusing up”?  And, what are the implications it has for you?.  What could, should you be doing differently?  And, here, I’m thinking of customers/clients as essentially anyone that you serve.
Make it a productive week.  .  .    jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.