VGM Heartland Conference Tapped into the Magic – Customer Service Lessons from Disney that Leave a Lasting Impression

Posted on in Growth Strategies

By: Bob Justis, first-time Heartland Conference speaker, communications professional and three-time Disney Institute graduate

I had a tremendous and inspiring experience as a presenter at the 2016 VGM Heartland Conference. It was my first time attending what has grown to be one of the Cedar Valley and the state of Iowa’s largest and most successful events of the year. Reviewing my experience has some irony to it. My presentation was titled “Customer Service----Corporate Culture or Flavor of the Month.”

My personal experience easily answered that question when it comes to the VGM organization. What I saw first-hand cannot be accomplished as a “flavor of the month.” These folks are a family, and visitors and customers are treated like family. Sure, some of that is because this is Iowa and that’s just what we do. However, the VGM team takes hospitality and appreciation to a whole new level. As a three-time graduate of the Disney Institute, I want to share my impressions of VGM Heartland Conference through the scope of the customer service lessons I shared during my presentation.

Lesson #1 – First impression is a lasting impression.

From the second a customer walks through the door, their journey with your brand has begun. Building staff relationships with the customer and co-workers must become part of your company’s pulse or first impressions will fail. Building company culture around the way people are treated and respected should be prioritized, which requires training and re-training. From the second I walked into the Heartland Conference, I could feel the positive energy of the VGM team. I was greeted with big smiles, helpful directions and could smell the warm cookies around the corner. That’s a first impression I just can’t forget.

Lesson #2 – How do your employees represent the routine of the workday? 

Let’s face it, wearing the smile and bringing a positive attitude to every interaction with a customer or co-worker can be challenging. Whether you’re a business owner, manager or colleague, how do you recognize the commitments of those around you who are truly dedicated to creating an excellent customer experience? Here are important tips.

  1. Recognize boredom exists.
  2. Talk about it.
  3. Thank those around you for what they are doing for your business and your day.

Acknowledge the work that employees are doing for your business with more than a raise. Recognition for a job well done goes a long way.

Lesson #3 – Empowerment

Empowerment is magic. At Disney, “cast members” are encouraged to make a difference in their customer’s day. At VGM, associates are encouraged to make customers feel they belong to something bigger. When owners, management or leaders give authority to employees, those employees become empowered to go above and beyond for the customer. Is this idea genius? No. Is it helpful? Yes!

It’s as simple as saying, “You have the authority to address the issues our customers have the best way you can.” This verbal authority, when expressed consistently and with training, gives your employees the green light to make someone’s day.

Lesson #4 – Loyalty

Customers will return to your business because they love the way they were treated. Is it magic? No. It’s brilliant. The good feelings and respectful, helpful culture all start in the way we treat employees. Employees are our first customers and should be treated like treasures. Create common purpose for employees to embrace and emulate. Invest in their personal growth and happiness as you would invest in the growth of your business. By doing this, their contentment will shine through the customer service they offer and will keep your customers coming back to a place they like to be.

In my short experience at Heartland Conference, it was clear to me that VGM has a strong pulse running through their associates, which was so clearly seen being passed on to members and attendees who were thrilled with their experience. The Heartland experience isn’t unique to one event; it’s felt daily as part of the VGM business culture. From the Heartland experience of fireworks, sharing of new, big ideas and friendships made, to the contentment of VGM associates who were so eager to make someone’s day, I can tell that VGM has tapped into the Disney magic.

Bob Justis has spent more than 40 years in the communications field. For 20 years, he was director of corporate relations and development for what is now UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. He was a senior account executive with The Roberts Group, a health care marketing and advertising firm. He served in various leadership roles with the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber in Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Following his retirement, he and his wife formed Justis Creative Communications, a marketing, advertising, public relations and fund-raising consulting firm. A three-time graduate of the Disney Institute, Bob incorporates Disney concepts into presentations that help attendees learn how to address customer service and creativity and develop customer loyalty.