Oh, guest service! I learned so much about great guest service at Walt Disney World. I was the friendliest, pixie-dustiest, “have a magical day!”-iest person you ever could meet. I lived it. I was nice everywhere: at work, at Publix, at the Hess Station, at Panera, at… well those are the only places I really went. But I was SUPER NICE.
And then I moved to New York City.
PERSONALITY CRISIS: Do the Disney guest service standards apply in a city like this, where too many people need to be too many places with not nearly enough time, where if you smile at someone you are running the risk of inviting an up-close-and-personal interaction with a sociopathic lunatic?
And how can I help the guests of New York City have a great, authentic experience, just like I would have done if I was still working in a theme park, since apparently I am a compulsive hostess?
I gave it some thought — about ten minutes while I was waiting on an F train — and here’s what I came up with:
On projecting a positive image
At Disney, this means being your smiley pixie-dusty self. Greeting guests! Welcoming folks with a warm smile! You can’t do this in New York. Bad scene. Don’t do it. The best way to stay positive in New York is to assure the others around you that you’re not a threat, you’re just in a bad mood — just like they are! I like to let people know I’m not a serial killer by keeping my eyes fixed on an undetermined object in front on me. Eye contact in NYC usually indicates that a person is a lunatic or an out-of-towner or both.
On respecting all guests
This might just be a question of being polite at the theme parks, but in New York, it’s more a question of forbearance. Politeness dictates that I hold the door open for you if you’re exiting the Starbucks I’m trying to get into, but I forbear from verbally abusing you for blocking me from getting into the Starbucks before that woman with six children who all want breakfast sandwiches gets in through the other door. See the magic?
On staying in character
I like to help create authentic New York experiences for tourists by giving them authentic slices of gritty city character. For instance, in Midtown I like to shove past sight-seers who stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk, usually muttering something under my breath and sighing gustily. Sometimes I even roll my eyes. This gives tourists the exciting feeling that they have been brushed past by a real honest-to-goodness busy New Yorker. And a rude one at that! And look, it’s Carnegie Deli! Take a picture!
On going above and beyond
Although you can get by for months without acknowledging another human being in New York, there are occasional moments when you are called upon to be a good citizen. Noticing a person with a white cane exiting a subway and offering to help them navigate a busy intersection is a great example. Sure, you’re taking a decent risk of the person hitting you with said white cane, but such is the price of civilization. Occasionally, if I am feeling incredibly generous, I will offer someone who is clearly lost directions.
All that being said, I think we have our own code of service basics here in New York. We may not smile at one another, or look at one another for that matter, but we do what’s best to help each other get by in this crazy town.
And maybe all this is why Walt Disney World has such a huge guest audience from New York… does anyone need a magical escape more than us?