Administrative Opinion

Bringing the Magic of Disney to Camp – Customer Service

Last Updated on

I LOVE Disney…okay, maybe that’s a bit much. I don’t love the long lines, the high prices and the crying kids, but I really like the way Disney does certain things. After all, they are the leaders when it comes to great customer service.

Two of my favorite Disney business books are Inside the Magic Kingdom, 7 keys to Disney’s success and The Disney Way.


Treat your customers like guests.

Disney is known for their customer service. Overall, their training, supervising and employee systems are the gold standard.

Of course, being such a huge company, not every employee (or cast member) is going to be stellar. One thing I have noticed is that their BEST customer service people are primarily in key positions. They usually aren’t in the stores or the restaurants, they aren’t even at the attractions. No, their best are at the ticket sales areas, at the unique experience areas (dive pool, pirate face painting booths, etc.) and at the information areas like Guest Relations. These are the places where customers (or guests) are more likely to have more than a 1 or 2 minute interaction with the cast member.

Of course, at camp, most staff will have extended interactions with the “guests” (campers). However, a few of your staff will have extended interactions with parents as well. You know, the people shelling out hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars for their child’s camp experience. The employees in these key positions might include your office admin and random staff who are doing the checking-in and checking-out. You should definitely make sure that these particular staff are extremely friendly, mature and are problem solvers. Put your best people wherever they are going to have extended interactions with the parental customers.

Complaints and Special Requests

A question I have been asked a few time is, “What happens if a parent has a complaint or a request that goes against policy?” Customer service is not an art, it’s a science. Start with using Disney’s LAST model. Listen. Apologize. Solve the problem. Thank them. Then take a look at the policy in question. Who is that policy serving, you or the customer?

A mother called one day to request that her son and his friends (6 of them) all be in the same group. This was against camp policy. We allowed for one friend request, and occasionally made exceptions when there were 3 campers wanting to be together. Any registrar or camp director will tell you that working with friend requests can be very time consuming and frustrating. In fact, some camps don’t allow friend requests at all.

If you look at it through a parent’s lens, however, it sends the message that this camp is not willing to create the best experience possible for their child. If they don’t honor friend requests, where else are they going to fall short? When you look at it through the camper’s lens, they don’t understand why they can’t be with their two best friends. Sure they’ll make new friends, but it’s not the same. Imagine if you went to Disney World with a few of your friends and at the gate they tell you that you have to spend the day with people you don’t know and your friends are going to spend the day with other groups of people they don’t know. Yes, you will make new friends, and you may stay in touch with one or two fo them for years to come, but after your trip, you’ll return home with your friends. You’ll talk about the rides you went on, the food you ate and the other neat things you experienced, but there’s a difference between sharing your individual experiences with your friends and experiencing them together.

The registrar informed the parent of our policy that she can only request one friend for her child to be paired with. She went on to explain that a big part of camp is making new friends and that if all parents could have unlimited friend requests it would be very difficult to honor all those requests. On top of that, we had found that, on occasion, a child may request to be with someone that doesn’t want to be paired with them. Usually, when you explain the purpose behind a policy with a few examples given, most parents understand the reasoning. This mother, however, would not be deterred. She wanted all the boys together. It was her son’s birthday week and she wanted him to be able to spend it with his best friends. The registrar asked me if we could make an exception.

I got on the phone with mom. I listened to her plea and complaint about our policy. I apologized that our policies, however good intentioned, were a source of frustration for her. I explained again why the policy existed, but I add that my biggest fear for a group of 7 was for the other 3 boys who would be in the group as we have a 1:10 ratio. They would certainly feel left out. I didn’t want to give her son and his friends the experience they wanted at the cost of 3 other campers’ experience. But, I wanted to work with her. I wanted to find a solution. In the end we filled the other 3 spots with a few more of her son’s friends. This was a win-win-win situation. Mom put together a memorable birthday experience for her son, her son had a great time with his friends, and the camp got some new campers that wouldn’t have otherwise attended, as well as a raving fan who was going to tell other moms about our camp.

The best part is that it didn’t cost the camp anything to do this, but it meant everything to the mother. Had I refused to break the policy, chances are she probably wouldn’t have registered her son at all (and certainly his friends would not have attended), and she certainly would have told the other moms why they are choosing a different camp. If you go to guest relations at Disney and lodge a complaint (that isn’t obviously a crackpot complaint) they’ll give you and your family free tickets most of the time. They want you to have a great experience, and if something went wrong and you’re in the frame of mind that you wasted a lot of money to be at the park that day, it could ruin your whole vacation. Giving you and your family free tickets to return (or passes for early admission, or fast passes to the ride of your choice, etc.) costs Disney nothing, but for you the value is worth hundreds of dollars. Even if Disney were to give you and your family something that did cost them money, like free meals or a free nights stay at a resort, the good will and positive word of mouth marketing you are sure to spread is well worth it.

Through Others’ Lenses

We all love the camp industry, and hopefully you love the camp you’re working at right now, but because we love camp and believe in what the camp experience provides for us and others, we are often blind to why campers and parents may not be happy with our facilities, programming, staff, policies or customer service. Parents see camp through a set of lenses that we don’t. Their children (your campers) see it through an entirely different set of lenses. Instead of educating parents on why we do the things we do and then sticking to our guns, we need to listen and adapt. The parents and campers who are unhappy, you want them to speak up, to tell you what they think is wrong with your camp. You don’t want unhappy customers to just leave, never to return, and bad mouth your camp without giving you the chance to make things right.

Welcome the criticism. Solve the issue. Thank them for speaking with you.

What’s Your Customer Service Story?

Do you have a story about a time you, or your camp, gave great customer service? Does your camp or organization do something better than others when it comes to customer service? Share it with us in the comments section below.

Coming Up…

This is the first of a series. Future posts include:

  • Dare to Take Calculated Risks in Order to Bring Innovative Ideas to Fruition
  • Train Extensively, and Constantly Reinforce the Company’s Culture
  • Everyone Walks The Talk
  • Everything Walks The Talk
  • Pay Fantastic Attention to Detail
  • The Competition is Anyone the Customer Compares You With
  • Customers Are Best Heard Through Many Ears
  • Support, Empower, and Reward Employees


Golden Mickey Photo by CL Photographs on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
Welcome Sign Photo Source:
Unhappy Photo Source:
Photo Lens Photo by Photo by Jonas Svidras from Burst

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.