Model Guest Service Excellence

The Jungle Cruise dock today boarding guests for a wild adventure. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The Jungle Cruise dock today boarding guests for a wild adventure. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

When I was at the Disney Institute, we had a special visit made by Dick Nunis. Our leader, Valerie Oberle, had worked closely with Dick over the years, and she invited Dick to come and share his insights on providing great customer service. I heard him share the following story, one I have heard many times over the years, but heard essentially this way:

Dick Nunis during an Epcot press event in 2010.
Dick Nunis during an Epcot press event in 2010. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

In the early days of Disneyland, The Jungle Cruise was easily the most popular attraction. Before queues were designed to weave back and forth, lines could easily stretch out of Adventureland and down Main Street, U.S.A. Still, its earliest version was very simple in terms of what we have come to enjoy today. So it was important that the cruise was maximized to its potential.

A model at One Man's Dream shows a simpler Adventureland when the park opened years earlier. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
A model at One Man’s Dream shows a simpler Adventureland when the park opened years earlier. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

One day in Disneyland, a Jungle Boat pilot failed to notice that Walt Disney had stepped on the boat. By the time the boat came back to the dock, Dick Nunis, who was over an area superintendent of that section of the park was on hand waiting. Walt stepped off the boat, walked up to Dick and asked, “What’s the trip time on this ride?”

Nunis replied that it was seven minutes. “I just got a four-and-a-half-minute trip,” Walt said. “How would you like to go to a movie and have the theater remove a reel in the middle of the picture? Do you realize how much those hippos cost? I want people to see them, not be rushed through a ride by some guy who’s bored with his work.”

In a smart move, Nunis asked “Could I go on a trip with you?” The two boarded one of the boats with Walt at the helm. He explained how he wanted the voyage conducted. “Speed up in the dull stretches, then slow down when you have something to look at.” Walt demonstrated what a great experience should look like on the Jungle Cruise.

The Jungle Cruise in the early years did not have many of the sights we enjoy today. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The Jungle Cruise in the early years did not have many of the sights we enjoy today. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

For days afterwards, the  skippers were timed with stopwatches until they perfected the length of the ride. Then they waited. When Walt arrived for his regular visit to Disneyland a week later, he walked through Adventureland without stopping. He did the same the following weekend. After three weeks, he finally stepped on board a boat. When he returned to the dock, he entered the boat behind it for another ride. There were five boats in operation that day, and he rode on all five. By the time he stepped back on land, he turned to a fairly nervous Dick Nunis waiting for him at the dock. His response was simple: a thumbs-up sign for a job well done.

To this day, that story is told repeatedly to Disney Cast Members. A thumb’s up sign has come to represent “good show” in the Disney vernacular.

Even a "Thumbs Up" pin can be found for sale.
A “Thumbs Up” pin can even be found for sale.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you able to model great guest service?
  • Can you demonstrate a great, consistent customer experience?
  • What messages or gestures in our organization suggests excellence?

Do you enjoy these stories? Are you looking to improve customer service? Know that you can find these kinds of stories and more in The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. My 2nd edition has great ideas you can apply to your own organization. It’s available in print through Amazon and on Kindle. Check it out!

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