Every year, thousands of college students from around the world travel to Orlando to work in what must be – if not the most prestigious college internship opportunity – the most magical in the Disney College Program.
Annie Phillips, a server at D. Rowe’s (our favorite restaurant) and one of our favorite magical people on earth, recently experienced life behind the scenes through the program. Because we think so highly of their systematic customer service, I totally bugged her with questions.
1. What led you to Disney? How did your internship come about?
I had heard of the Disney College Program through a friend and actually just applied on a whim. I need an internship to graduate for my Hospitality Management major at the University of Missouri and thought this would be a great opportunity.
I applied on a Sunday. By Monday, I had an online interview. By Tuesday, I had a telephone interview…
I applied on a Sunday. By Monday, I had an online interview where they ask you a lot of multiple choice questions. Depending on the section, you had anywhere from 20-50 seconds to answer the questions because they want your first instinct answer. By Tuesday, I had a telephone interview which lasted about an hour. Here you were supposed to talk about why you wanted to work at Disney, and then your top choices for job placement.
I was told that it could be up to a month before I knew if I was accepted, put on a wait list, or denied. I ended up being really lucky and finding out by Friday, so in less than a week, I had been accepted into the program for a role in merchandise. I think this just proves how efficient everything is at Disney.
2. Once they invite you, how do they prep you for it – that is to say, what happens between when they notify and you and when you show up in Orlando?
Once they accepted me into the program, I got multiple emails about everything I was supposed to do before arriving in Florida for my check-in date on August 5th, 2013. For instance, they send you an interactive video game to learn all about Disney history. They have tons of example videos on youtube of “a day in the life of a cast member” and stuff like that for you to get a better feel of what you would be doing everyday. They also send packing lists and numerous things for you to read and sing. I had to sign up to live in Disney Housing and read all about the “Disney Look”. I also had to read the employee handbook which is over 90 pages long. I also had to talk to Mizzou about how I would be earning credit for the semester.
I also had the option of signing up to take classes through Disney University. I chose to take ‘Exploring Guest Service’. This class focused on teaching students how Walt Disney World strives to deliver the best guest service possible. Meeting once a week, this two-hour class focused on different lines of business, like merchandise or entertainment. With every topic comes a new speaker who typically runs the entire department we are focusing on for that week. The speakers talk about what they do to help guest have a magical vacation.
We learn to really understand how crucial good guest service is, no matter what line of business we are putting an emphasis on.
3. What’s training like? How would you describe it?
Training was a little intense because there is so much information being thrown at you all at once, but the trainers find little ways to make it fun for all. I was lucky to have had some wonderful trainers who very confident and knew the answer to every question I had.
On your first day working at Disney, you learn a lot Disney history and their basic philosophies of guest service. Training really helps you develop a whole new mindset and learn a set of values for the company Walt Disney set in place himself. My specific location at Downtown Disney had about a week of training before I was working on my own.
4. Are there any basic philosophies? Like, do they have a 10 Commandments of customer service or anything?
Disney has the Four Keys of Guest Service that we reference when in a guest situation. They are our moral compass on how to always put the guest first. (I am not totally sure if I am allowed to go into detail on these?)
She can, but I love that she was unwilling to share because she wasn’t sure! While Disney Institute does not go into depth publicly, I’ll write what I can about them tomorrow. Back to the questions…
5. How was it? What do you think you’ll always remember from your time there?
I absolutely loved my time down in Orlando. I actually switched my cast member status from College Program to Seasonal at the end of my program. As long as I work a minimum of 150 hours a year at Walt Disney World, I can continue to call myself a Disney Cast Member and keep some of the benefits that come with that title.
I think the most important thing I learned from the Disney College Program is that every little detail counts.
Among “little” things, I learned:
- never to point with less than two fingers,
- to get down on eye level when I am talking to children,
- to say “my pleasure” instead of “no problem”.
I never realized how the tiniest detail can make the biggest difference in someone’s vacation. I am so thankful to have gotten this wonderful opportunity and to have met people from all over the world. I have made friendships that will last my whole life.
6. Has it changed how you work at D. Rowe’s? If so, how?
I am very lucky to have gotten the chance to work at D. Rowe’s since 2009. I appreciate that David and Meghan [Rowe] have always held me to a high standard and encouraged all of their employees to take care of the customers as best as they can. I have realized that you can focus on the tiny details in every guest interaction I have. For instance, boxing up a guests food instead of bring them a box and letting them box up their food instead.
7. Has it changed how you experience things as a customer and consumer yourself?
Working at Disney has definitely changed how I look at guest service when I am a customer. As a cast member I was expected to provide guest service at such a high standard that now I expect more from people when I am a guest. This probably isn’t a fair expectation to all businesses, but I can’t help but set my standards high.
Thanks for being awesome, Annie! If you don’t head to Orlando for a career after graduation, we’re ready to fight David and Meghan for you!
As America celebrates its independence this week, and as we encourage Americans to celebrate small business independents as well, we hope your interview inspires more young people to look into the Disney College Program and more businesses to aspire to magical levels of customer delight.