Although both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have rabid fan bases who have vowed never to set foot inside the “enemy” park, the reality is that the two resorts are very similar. Both are dedicated to providing a top-notch guest experience, and both go about it in nearly the same way. Employee training is nearly identical, as are the expectations and job duties, and thousands of people now work or have worked for both companies.
I was one of those thousands. At Disney, I was an Innoventions hostess, an ice cream seller, and a Kilimanjaro Safaris driver. At Universal, I was a Kongfrontation tram driver, an Earthquake spieler, a Triceratops Encounter “scientist” and a Halloween Horror Nights scareactor. Here is an insider look at the similarities between life as an employee at Walt Disney World and at Universal Orlando.
1. The Four Keys to Guest Service
Disney may have codified the Four Keys, but they form the building blocks for guest service at both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. In order of importance, the Four Keys are Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. Employees at both resorts must pass detailed tests about not only their own work location, but generalized procedures for the resort as a whole.
After training, employees are responsible for living by the Four Keys every day. These policies guide employee decisions among conflicting choices, ensure that each guest receives excellent guest service, and help to provide consistency throughout the massive resort complexes.
For example, Earthquake was filled with conflicting responsibilities. We needed to meet hourly targets for the number of guests going through the attraction, yet we could not dispatch trains until every guest was safely settled in a row that was not overcrowded. Reviewing my training made it easy to see that safety trumped efficiency, and I was never tempted to dispatch an unsafe train just to meet my hourly goals.
2. Empowerment and responsibility
Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World empower their front-line employees to solve problems, to exceed guest expectations and to deliver unexpected surprises to guests. While some companies require managers to intervene in even the smallest situations, Universal and Disney trust their employees to use good judgment.
When I worked at Kongfrontation, we frequently had small children who were both intrigued and frightened by the ride, and unsure whether they wanted to give it a try. I often took those children into the control tower, where video monitors covered the entire attraction. After watching the ride for a few minutes, some kids decided to try it out, while others felt they were too afraid. If the child decided to ride, I arranged front row seating. Either way, the kids enjoyed the attention and the parents were grateful for the assistance.
Teamwork is absolutely essential in creating an excellent guest experience. Each position is a vital link in a chain of positive guest interactions. Cast Members and Team Members are trained never to say, “It’s not my job,” or “I don’t know.” Managers pick up trash. Food service employees can find out the current operational status of a ride that is located across the park. Everyone pitches in, using their collective knowledge, skills and resources to make the parks the best they can be. This creates a feeling of family, enhancing individual performance and increasing job satisfaction.
At Innoventions, another Cast Member and I frequently played off each other. Whenever a new item came in, we would work together to develop a comedic presentation that showed off the item’s features to guests. At night, after Innoventions closed, employees were stationed at strategic locations to wave goodbye to guests leaving after the Illuminations closing show. My friend and I continued our comedy routine late into the night, making tired guests laugh or smile as they made the long trek to the parking lot. That partnership not only enhanced the guests’ experience, but made me excited to go to work to every day. I always had a genuine smile and an enthusiasm for my job that ultimately made me a better employee.