This article is part of the Remarkable Leaders Series (RLS), where I interview leaders who are making a positive difference in the world and share their stories with you.
Today I’m excited to share an interview with Lee Cockerell. Lee is the former Executive Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World Resort, a position he held for ten years. One of Lee’s major and lasting legacies was the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies which was used to train and develop over 7000 leaders at Walt Disney World. He has also held executive positions at Hilton Hotels and Marriott, and he continues to speak and teach about leadership on behalf of the Disney Institute.
In his first book Creating Magic: 10 Common Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, he writes about his experience leading over 40,000 Cast Members at Disney. Recently, he wrote The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service where he reveals everything he learned about serving customers in his career in the hospitality industry.
Today, he shares his thoughts about the book, Customer Service, and leadership with us. Welcome Lee!
You just wrote the book The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service. What led you to write it?
My first book Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney was so successful that my publisher asked me to write another book on Customer Service.
You open the book with a quote from your granddaughter Margot about Customer Service. She says, “Papi, the first rule is ‘Be nice!’” Can you expound on this?
There is not really anything to expound on. As I always say, “Don’t get bored with the basics in life. When you are nice, people will give you a break if you mess up.” Kids like Margot understand that being nice is an important trait to have to be successful in life.
You say that Customer Service is not a department. Why is it important for all employees in an organization to deliver excellent Customer Service?
Because your people are your brand. Everything is connected. Everything matters. People who face the customer must be great and the team that supports the customer-facing team has to be great too; so everyone must keep the customer central to everything they do. You are either in a position that serves the customer directly or in a position that supports those who do.
Was there a particular moment in your career when you realized the true importance of Customer Service?
I have always been focused on Customer Service because I started as a waiter and quickly learned that making customers happy increased my tips dramatically, and it does that for the bottom line of companies as well.
Are customers always right?
No, customers are not always right. But they are always your customers. So, if you want to keep them, learn to let things go. Think about the lifetime value of a customer.
Your first book, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, is about leadership. What role do leaders play in building an organization that’s focused on Customer Service?
Customer Service starts at the top, so leaders are the ones who set the example just like parents set the example in a family. The top is wherever you are. You don’t have to be the CEO to be a great leader focused on fabulous Customer Service.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you ever learned?
Be careful what you say and do as everyone is watching you and judging you every second.
While working for Disney, you wrote an 11-page memo to your staff titled, “A Perfect Trip to Walt Disney World.” It was a story you created to help your employees visualize and understand what world-class service would look like at Walt Disney World. What prompted you to write this and what effect did it have on your organization?
I wrote it because story telling is the most effective way for people to learn. If the story is well-written and well-told, everyone remembers it. In my story they begin to understand how to execute perfect service. We are all putting on a show every day in our businesses. To put on a great show, you have to have a great story (script) so everyone knows their part.
What advice would you give a new leader seeking to create a team focused on Customer Service?
Read my books and then sit down and “think” for a few weeks about what you want to communicate to your team and then be crystal clear about your expectations. Hire great people and train and test them before turning them loose on your customers. Terminate or fix people who are not “can do – make it happen” people. Make sure you have a customer-centric, respectful culture where everyone matters and knows they matter.
To learn more about Lee, please visit his website: http://www.leecockerell.com/. To order a copy of his new book, please click the link below.
Lee, thanks for sharing your insight with us today.
Scott Mackes is a leader and founder of the blog Margin of Excellence. A U.S. Navy veteran and graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Scott’s mission is to help others lead remarkable journeys. Connect with Scott on facebook and twitter.