The Pixie Dust That Makes Up Disney’s Iconic Service

I’m often asked how Disney rises above their competition in the customer service arena. Today I’m here to give away the secret. Ready? Here it comes….


THERE IS NO SECRET.  None, Zilch, Nada.



Now I hate to disappoint you, but there is nothing secret about how the Walt Disney Company provides consistent, high quality, service to their guests. Books have been written about it, graduate students have studied it, and TV shows have been based on it.


Yet somehow organizations still seek the magic pixie dust that will transform their service into Disney style guest service.  The good news is that you can indeed emulate the iconic brand and make magic in your organization, but it’s not pixie dust that makes it work. It’s work that makes the pixie dust.

So if you’re committed to continual and focused work on your organization, I have a foundational and timeless principle that Mr. Disney developed 75 years ago. As Peter Pan says, “Here we gooooo!”

Mickey Power

Walt Disney was a master storyteller, and he used that talent to connect his audience to his films emotionally.  Walt knew that he had to make his audience care about the characters in his films.


Flashback to the movie “Bambi”.  Can you remember the scene where Bambi is crying out for his mother with no reply? That scene, along with many others in Bambi, has a strong emotional component. Who among us didn’t have a lump in his or her throat watching young Bambi search for his mom? Yes, the power of story comes from connecting emotionally, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s with movie audiences watching Disney classics or with employees gaining a deeper understanding of your organization.


I recently had lunch with a senior leader in the health care industry. As we discussed their organization, I inquired about how the company got started. I asked about the heritage and tradition that made them who they were.  There was a long thoughtful pause, and then an admission that this senior leader did not know how the company got started, or even how long they had been in business.


I was stunned, and then empathetic. In this new age of billion dollar acquisitions, buy outs, and take overs many organizations simply loose track who they are. Because you have to know where you came from to know who you are.  As in the Lion King; Mufasa reminds a young Simba about the great kings that came before him, and to “remember who you are”, so he can take his rightful place in the future- among the Circle of Life.   So, one more time: you have to know where you came from (your unique heritage and tradition) to know who you are, and ultimately where you’re going.


Let’s shift the context to your organization.   Can you tell me the story about your organization? How it all got started, what happened? Why did it happen?  Tell me how adversity was overcome and good triumphed? How will your organization “live happily ever after?” Connect me emotionally to you! Because if you make me care, then I’ll commit to making the organization be everything it can be.  And if you don’t, I’ll comply with your direction, but only until I can find an organization that can earn my commitment.


Effective use of storytelling can not be a one and done tactic. To be effective, story needs to be weaved into the fabric of everything your leadership does.  Because just like Disney, your organization is full of stories. Stories about customer service, individual contributors, and entire departments; stories about the past, the present, and the future. Even your financials tell a story.  Yes, your CFO can, and should become a compelling storyteller as they discuss earnings. Why? Because even jaded Wall Street analysts will connect with your story if it’s compelling.


Once you bake storytelling into your organizational DNA you’ll begin to notice more committed and engaged employees that will deliver block buster hits for your customers- just like cast members do for Walt and the Walt Disney Company- fifty years after his passing.

Mike Donnelly is a Contract Facilitator for the Disney Institute, and the CEO of Donnelly Effect. With over 20 years of leadership experience at Walt Disney World and Papa John’s International, Mike Donnelly shares his insights with audiences of all sizes and industries. As Chief Experience Officer of Donnelly Effect, he specializes in creating World-Class Customer Experiences through organizational, leadership and employee development. Mike has been contracted by the Disney Institute to deliver dynamic professional development programs throughout North America since 2004. Mike is the recipient of the 2015 WWA (World Waterpark Association) Best Speaker Award!