25:18: The Greatest Advice You’ll Ever Get (We think!)
25:50: “You should pay careful attention to your culture; because culture happens by accident, or by design. We hope to help you curate and create that culture by design”. Successful companies regularly step back and say: Where are we today? What's working? What's not working? They examine all the elements of their culture and ask what they need to do, to move forward.
Intro: Magical customer experiences don't happen by accident. They happen through careful planning and meticulous design. Kevin and Debbie have been engineering, extraordinary customer experiences for over 30 years. Join us as we explore corporate culture, branding, service, excellence, and much more through storytelling, technical curiosity, and friendly conversation. The Disney way for the digital age will be revealed.
[00:00:30] KK: Hey, Debbie. It is so great to finally be doing this, uh, boy, you and I have been working together and, and talking for almost two decades. I think we figured out I was going to go try and find my old Disney Institute book and see when that, when that first meeting was. Gosh, we've been working together forever it seems!
[00:00:48] Debbie: this, this is going to be a lot of fun to put our ideas together, to share ideas with, with others and make an impact. We hope on other businesses out there. So I'm looking forward to.
[00:01:01] KK: Yeah, likewise, uh, to give folks some background. Um, Debbie and I have worked together. I, I met Deb, uh, at the Disney Institute about two decades ago. We're figuring that out. And, um, we
[00:01:13] Debbie: started with, I hate to tell you, but I think it was longer than that, but that's okay. We'll go with, let's
[00:01:19] KK: go two decades. Geez. Um, yeah. And you know, kinda changed my life and my perspective of how to run my business and return. And, uh, you know, had, had to create a friendship and relationship with Deb.
And, and we had started working together, build a program for brands and, and, and, um, even agencies for reselling to brands that we would help structure a culture and integrate it with, um, brands and how their brand comes to life through service and a lot of other ways. So, um, that's something we've been doing.
It's, it's, it's been exciting work, so I don't know what five, six years ago. Let's write a book.
[00:02:02] Debbie: What great idea. Right?
[00:02:06] KK: So, uh, the Disney winning for the digital age. Yes, it is a book and a podcast. Um, we're doing well with the book, but, you know, w we we're, we're, we're finishing up and they always say that, what is it that 80, 80% is easy. That last 20% is 80% of the work. And that's kind of where we are with. And we started talking on these book meetings and we said, I think folks might find this interesting.
So that's kind of how this came about, right?
[00:02:32] Debbie: Yeah,
[00:02:32] KK: absolutely. So maybe, uh, maybe you tell folks a little about, um, yourself and how you started and, and what you've been doing for the past. A little while I won't get specific because you've already pushed us back into fourscore and
[00:02:50] Debbie: 40 years ago. Right. So, um, yeah, I did start my career with this Disney Institute, uh, that my unintentional career, I will say because I was like 16.
A couple months away from being 17. When I started with Disney, when they opened this new world here in Orlando, Florida. So I'm an opening team cast member and had really no intentions of staying as often happens with, with great companies 34 years later. I th you know, there I was, and I'd actually 30, after 34 years reached a crossroads in my career trying to decide what do I want to do next?
I had spent 25 years in leadership positions and operations positions. Um, so most of my career and most of my experience is operations. I am an operations girl. Ben. I, I love it. I love everything about it. And to lead operations at Disney was, uh, not only a wonderful learning experience, but it was a great happiness.
The last six years of my 34, I spent at Disney Institute sharing. The success stories and the processes that may did Disney successful. And that is where I met Kevin. He was the, the guy sitting in the front row raising his hand. Oh, oh, oh. And they'd stay after class. Not because he was bad, but because he had a ton of questions and that's how we got to know each other.
And it was just one of those things that felt like we had always been friends. So it's not. And then in 2005, uh, As I was at that crossroads, I decided that I'd really like to try my hand at starting my own business and expanding on what I had learned and grown up with at the Disney company. And so I left and started a, actually a training business with a partner that has evolved several times over the years, but I'm networking as a sole proprietor, specifically helping organizations.
With cultural change, um, process improvement, gaining those, those customers for life. And that's what my key focus is now. And I've been very, very fortunate to have been successful and that's really wonderful people and worked for some really great companies.
[00:05:12] KK: And then, and that is quite a run and, um, it's kind of exemplary.
Have we got together? Right. So you were consulting with your partner. I called you up as many folks exiting their, their training at Disney Institute would say, wow, this is fantastic. I'm going to go back to my business and I'm going to have no idea how to implement this. Can you come out and help? And that time was no right.
They didn't know. So you said, now let me, let me help these folks. And then let me try this independent. So, you know, and then, you know, we've done that as well. So, um, a little about me, uh, Kevin Kelly. Yeah. What is so, um, so yeah, late eighties, early Niagara, you know, got out of Berkeley college of music. I was a recording engineer and a drummer and a couple of touring rock bands.
You've never heard. And was lucky enough to do some work with some great folks. Like I got to work with Madonna and Phil Collins and some other great people, but then, um, and, and, and that was wonderful. But then the internet came along and I tell these folks, these millennials and some of the younger folks, like, so when the internet was invented, I started my company because it was like, wow, what is this show?
I was always a technology guy and creative in the music side, and I saw the internet come about. And I'm like, This is definitely technology and like the creative palette for, you know, being able to build a website and build web apps and all this stuff was just wide open. Got me so excited. So I started a company called big buzz, uh, in the mid nineties, sold it last year and, uh, have a few companies.
You know, I'm, I'm realizing that if it doesn't have some sort of connection of creativity, culture, and technology, I'm not so interested. So, you know, my, my passions lie at the intersection of technology and creativity and certainly is, is, um, you know, service, culture design is something that lives in that space.
So. Yeah. So, so, and then about us, we've worked with, uh, all kinds of companies, fortune 500 companies helping them, um, as we call it, you know, engineer creatively engineered, there, there. As we'll talk about later, right? Culture exists. Whether you just let it happen or you design it and, you know, we hope we're going to help you figure out how to, how to do the ladder and design it.
And that's a big part of our focus, right? From, from your brand essence to the people that live
[00:07:35] Debbie: it. Yeah. And that's why Kevin and I are such a good team. I am the. Big per picture operational person. He's the technical person. And I have, I am not a technical person. Let's just put it that way. So when we get to the technical piece, I go, Kevin, your turn, we need help with this.
[00:07:56] KK: Yeah, we are union yang like that. It works really well. Absolutely.
[00:08:01] Debbie: It works,
[00:08:02] KK: but I think we've rubbed off on each other. So.
[00:08:06] Debbie: Yeah.
[00:08:07] KK: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, um, yeah, this first episode is going to be probably a little different than the rest, you know, we'll, um, digging right into particular issues, but the format is going to be, you know, introduction.
Hey, how you doing? Um, we're always going to focus on, you know, um, service culture. Uh, analysis and design, um, superior customer service systems, how to you identify them, create them and, and help them thrive in your organization. And then on the tech side, you know, I'm, I'm very excited and passionate about AI and, uh, CX design, customer experience design.How do you use this technology like chatbots and voice and web apps and, you know, the device that everyone holds in their hand there's. You know, we've got this thing that's in everybody's hand, how do we use it to, to help, um, reach our customers and help them engage with us? So, Yeah.
[00:09:00] Debbie: And, and I would just, I would just like to say, you know, as we talk about, um, we'll say things like.. and you'll understand these a little bit later. We'll say things like service framework and understanding your culture, how to deliver exceptional service for your service framework. But the piece that has been missing until recently in is necessary is a technology piece. The question is how much technology do you need? You know, is it, is it huge or is it certain things like that, a chat bot that to help you with customer service?
Um, so those things become important, not just putting technology into place for the sake of putting technology into place, but it certainly is a plus plus to. Yeah, the service experience, it can drive you to greater Heights when you're delivering that service, um, to, to your customers. So we hope that in future episodes, they help you to understand how to analyze that assess your current culture.
And, and build in the technology that's necessary, um, that is relevant to the rest of your service framework. In order to give you, give your customers that, that great experience, we will always be candid and honest and upfront with you. When we give you examples, tell you stories. Yeah, we'll be professional, but we won't necessarily sugar coat, some of the tough subjects.
And, and we, we honestly believe that's the way to give you the best information.
[00:10:34] KK: Without question. Yeah. And, and there's so many opportunities, um, from the service standards and the things like you mentioned some terms that we may not get to defining, certainly in the first episode. So as we go through this, um, there's a whole system that some of it's obviously, you know, Deb's got years with Disney way and, and how they've done things, but they've, she's also worked with other large companies and I have myself, so we're gonna, um, um, Pull from all of that and share that with you.
So the other thing we're going to do it, I think it's my favorite part is we're going to share stories about our lives and mostly that's going to be from Deb. She has, I think she underestimates how many great stories she has of her years at Disney and funny, you know, um, one of the things. So I, I remember that first night, it was my first time I went to Disney Institute twice.
My first time was, um, Tracked. And we started with an evening and, um, Deb comes in and she goes right into a little history and then she, she matches this thing. My eyes went wide open called the dark years. And I said, what do you mean? What's she talking about dark years? Isn't Disney, just wonderful. And pixie dust.
Everything's always been great, you know? Well, you know, that was a real eye-opener right. It's like, like many businesses. They grew, they, they felt competition and they had a need for change. And, uh, maybe, maybe go into a little of that and, and where you were and how that, how you felt because you lived it.
I just heard the story,
[00:12:02] Debbie: you know, starting in 71, it, everything was. And actually still all throughout my career, I considered a, just a magical experience, but all companies stumble and fall to their knees. And the question is, how do you recover? Right? Yeah. And some don't, I mean, we can think of dozens of companies that just never were able to recover and what happened was, and when you think about it, it's a phrase that we used to use a Disney is to call the insidious decline where the company is.
Having troubles, Lou for Disney, it was losing those, those guests, attendance numbers getting more and more negative comments from our Disney files, our local biz or our loyal Disney folks. And. And yet the prevailing thought was we invented the theme park business. No one can compete with us. And basically we don't have any competition.
Um, so everything, you know, everything will be fine. And then universal starts to move in and SeaWorld. And of course we become, uh, uh, booming attractions metropolis here in central Florida, and suddenly Disney found themselves in a really difficult position. And when you think about insidious decline, it goes all the way back to, um, Walt died before the park opened, you know, and it opened in 71.
Walter died in 66, his brother Roy made the dream come true. And then three months after the dedication, Roy Disney. Passed away. And the company was left to, um, Ron Miller, super nice guy, married to Disney starter. Um, very, very nice guy, but, but actually it was way in over his head and running a company of this magnitude and their prevailing thought of.
We have no competition was, was really almost their undoing. The dark years themselves began with the end. A lot of, you know, this story and it's, it's also, um, printed a book called “Storming The Magic Kingdom”, which is a very accurate, candid, honest rendition of this period. Um, but a corporate Raider came in and he was trying to.
The Disney company and literally was within hours of acquiring the Disney company. And his plan was to sell the hotels to hotel chains, um, just, you know, either get rid of the same parks or, um, move them on to other companies. And. I had, at that time invested 12 years of my career in this amazing company.
And at this point was thinking I'm going to stay forever. And I thought, oh my gosh, you know, I've invested 12 years of my life in this company and now it's going to cease to be right. And so we cast members called it the dark. Park attendance, as you can walk down main street. And it was like a ghost town that isn't scary and guests were telling us, you know, the magical experience is not so magical anymore.
Your cast members, aren't all nice. Um, everything's starting to look a little worn and, uh, and this was around, um, oh gosh, I guess this started 80. Yeah, 84 or 88. Something like something like that around it. And, uh, and, and it was a really tough time and I really thought, okay, this is it. And then the, um, bass brothers came in as the white Knights to save the company.
They bought the majority of the stock to keep this guy from taking over the company and they had certain conditions. The board met those conditions. And one of those conditions was, is that we want to bring in Michael Eisner. Um, To run the company as the new CEO. So I, you know, I always say this whenever you think of Michael iceberg and he did get up at like centric towards the end.
Uh, he and Frank Wells came in together and flat out say this company, and I can remember standing in front of the castle and he came to do his personal introduction. And I remember him saying, oh, You know, for all of my life, I've wanted to be part of the Disney company. He said, and I am not intending to destroy this company or dismantle this company.
Uh, he says, I am intending to build on all the wonderful things that Walt has put in place, but also to try new things, to, to get out and, and look at new technology and look at new ways of, of doing business. And that's my commitment.
16:40:Michael Eisner speech clip. Link to entire speech: HERE
17:08:I’ll never forget standing there in that crowd of cast members. And I was a manager at the time and thinking, oh my gosh, we're going to be okay. You know? Uh, and, and he literally did. That's when we entered what we call the Disney decade, we built hotels after hotels, the parks were cleaned up. We went back to right-fit hiring of the cast members and.
Uh, went back to delivering a magical experience again, and we had decades of phenomenal success based on the things that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells put in place. And we continue to build on that today.
[00:17:58] KK: I mean, that, that is truly amazing. And so many folks don't know that that even happened. Right.
They don't know that they've always been wonderful. Never, you know, it was never a threat. Um, what you had shown us that night was a speech by Justin Green who had, uh, I think he was heading up, uh, parks at the time. Yeah. He
[00:18:16] Debbie: was the chairman of parks and resorts and. The video that I showed everyone was called performance excellence, right?
[00:18:25] KK: Because the footsteps speech, maybe the footsteps
[00:18:28] Debbie: speech is what we used to call it because one of the things he says and he's opening dialogue is, you know, people are, because what it involved was complete cultural change. Um, Soup-to-nuts cultural change, stepping back and looking at it. Every element of the district culture, from how leaders behave, how leaders were promoted, how we hired employees, how we trained employees, how we met desks or exceeded guests expectations.
I mean, every element of the culture was, um, dissected and looked. To the answer degree. And there were many, many big changes that had to happen to move us forward. And he was put in charge of that by Michael Eisner. And the video was called footsteps. We called it footsteps. It was the performance excellence video.
And what it meant was, uh, he was sending a message to all the leaders that there is going to be big, big change. And we had to get on board with that change. He, he called it getting on the bus, which was a whole fun, uh, introduction, but, um, We were all given coaches and mentors and given a chance to change our ways.
If we weren't listening to the cast members, if we weren't, um, being respectful to our cast murders or we weren't listening to the guests, the old days of managing the way manufacturing companies manage, look, I'm the boss. You just get up and do what you're told. Yeah. He made it clear. Those days are gone and that is not going to fly in this company any longer.
So we were all given. Uh, chance to change our ways, if you will. And, and I, I was one of those that needed some help doing that because I was raised in the environment of, okay, I'm finally the manager, he just get out there and do what you're told. Right. And so we had big changes to make, and that was all part of the performance excellence initiative.
But. It was big cultural change. Oh yeah.
[00:20:19] KK: I mean that, for me, it underscores the entire structure of how to build the culture, how to arrive at higher. How did you put all those pieces together? Because as we've seen with the companies we work with, like, um, culture happens, right. If it's not the sound and for those 13, 15 years that you were there, I don't think you had structured.
It was, you know, be nice smile, you know, it was, you know, and, and make their day. Right. But that wasn't a structure that was repeatable, um, training. Right. So from that came so many, um, uh, that structure that still to this day, as part of that Disney magic is created. Um, you know, you talk about that insidious decline.
I just want to jump and, and come back to this for sure. But you know, you think about. Folks that aren't looking out for competition. Now just recently, Netflix took a huge dive in the stocks in the, in the market because they're not the only streaming game in town, not by a long shot. Right. They invented it.
They, you know, they figured. They have concrete, audible content. They're spending multi billions each year on content, but so's Disney, sows, you know, shows HBO and Warner and all these folks. So exactly the only game in town, they want to have 15 now, you know, so I feel like for such an innovative company, they, they weren't looking far enough ahead or looking over there.
Which is something you really got to do both though. Right? Right. Keep your, keep your eyes ahead. But you better take a look behind you too, because there's somebody always natur heels. And at that time, the footsteps that they heard was really universal, I think was coming in the mid eighties and maybe a quick, and we might have to wrap this first episode, but a quick story about the act, maybe I'll I'll I'll tell what I remember.
You tell me how accurate it may be, but you tell the story about Justin's part of the speech with. The bus get on the bus for this bus is leaving, right. And we're going in this direction and it's going to be great for everyone, but you need to figure out where you are on this bus, this, you know, do you block on this bus?
And you said there was an employee exercise where you had to draw yourself on the bus, certain in relation to the bus. And he had some interesting output sometimes. Yeah.
[00:22:36] Debbie: Yeah, we, we had, uh, we did, we had to draw where we thought we were on the bus for, in relationship to the bus. And it was, it turned out to be a funny exercise because there were people who drew themselves driving the bus.
Hey, I got it. Right. And there were pictures. People drew of them being dragged by the bus. There were people running behind the bus yelling, wait for me. Um, Others clean tightly to the top of the bus. It was run
[00:23:08] KK: over by
[00:23:09] Debbie: still being run over by the bus. So it was really quite an interesting activity. And I will tell you that there w we were given high, I've got to say two to three years with mentors and coaches and training, and to change how we behave as leaders and those that didn't.
Either left on their own because they were unhappy or were asked to leave. And we lost about 17% of our leadership workforce after all of this rolled out for all the right reasons. And it was hard and it was terrible. And those of us that were left there weren't enough of us. And we were, um, pulling double duty.
But when those leaders were replaced, either through promotions or bringing folks in. The right fit for this moot culture was brought into place and the rest is kind of history. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:24:04] KK: We've seen that in what we do. Yeah. We, we do, you know, we take this and we apply it to companies that we work with and, you know, uh, as we go through exercises and, you know, walk through vision and where do you fit on the bus?
This is where we're going. Make no mistake. We've met with, uh, executive leadership and there's a vision. And, you know, and as we train that, we say, Johnny might not be on board. You might have to do, hopefully we can train him in, but if he's not fully bought in, maybe he'll slip some self select out, but.
Everyone would be served better if he wasn't on the bus, unless he turns the corner. So that 17% is probably not, probably not an uncommon number. Right. We've seen that, you know, in organizations that 30 and then organizations of, you know, the 4,500, you know, we've worked with both and seeing the same kind of outcomes, but in the end, Vetting happens.
It's better for everyone.
[00:25:01] Debbie: Oh, absolutely. And sometimes we see it more than 17%. It's um, it just depends. Executive leadership has to buy in or is the whole initiative’s a lame duck.
[00:25:15] KK: Well, I can't believe we're at about 25 minutes, so we're going to have to do a yeah. So we were going to try and end up every week and we've got lots more to talk about.
So please tune in for our, to our, to our next episode. We'll continue this conversation probably pretty much from where we left off, but we have a little segment at the end. We, we we'd like to share with you called the greatest advice you'll ever get.
We think maybe, I don't know, it's the greatest advice you'll ever get. We think so, you know, and, and today, and, and, you know, I want to hear your take on it to death, but it's the idea that you should pay careful attention to your culture because culture, it happens by accident, or it happens by design and we hope to help you curate and create that culture by design.
[00:26:03] Debbie: And the only thing I can add to that is that without a doubt, then it's proven over and over again, the most successful companies regularly, step back and say, where are we today? What's working. What's not working. They examine all the elements of their culture and what do we need to do to move forward and companies that don't do that.
The, um, the client next up on them. And sometimes it's too late to pick yourself up off your knee.
[00:26:32] KK: Yep. So high agree. Couldn't agree with that more so on our next episode, we're going to continue this conversation. Uh, we're going to talk a little bit about how to honestly assess your culture. Maybe a break that down into six questions you can ask and we'll also get into more of the technology side of things.
So, you know, delivering an extraordinary customer service experience through things like chat bots, voice experience. I've had the opportunity to work with a hard rock in a hotel launch. And before. Um, delivered some great, uh, guest experiences through, through voice. So things like that and much more we'll be coming up on our next episode.
So I hope you all can tune in. Thanks so much for listening. Thank you.
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