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Disney defines the battle on the frontline

"When your staff have your trust, support and the resources to add value, you will have a consumer service operation that drives people and customer loyalty and meets its business objectives...

"When your staff have your trust, support and the resources to add value, you will have a consumer service operation that drives people and customer loyalty and meets its business objectives..."

The UK's Institute of Customer Service


If he works for you, you work for him.

Japanese Proverb


It's funny how you notice things.

We ski here, hike the woods, run the trails, shop; live like we were living in just any old community in Canada.

But we are not.

We are a number one-rated ski resort and a year-round destination drawing millions of visitors.

We are also in a front-line battle for tourist dollars - a fight for the return customer and the new one.

Most days it's easy to forget that we are living someone else's vacation dream. Then you take that long overdue trip and suddenly you start to notice a few things.

Just before I arrived in the editor's chair the family and I spent a long weekend in California's Disneyland - thought I better get some of the roller-coaster riding out of my system before settling into work.

We stayed in a Disneyland hotel and could walk everywhere - not unlike the experience many visitors enjoy in Whistler.

As the days passed I found I was noticing the same thing all the time - the amazing level of service. From the front desk to the street-garbage collectors and talking garbage cans, to the individual shops of Downtown Disney - they all wanted to make sure that I was having a good time.

I love "staycations" so I have stayed at just about every hotel in Whistler and if anything I would say I have had at least as good, if not better service, here than in Disneyland and its neighbouring hotels, a few of which I have also called home during the holidays.

But when it comes to the day-in day-out contact with servers of all sorts Disney might have us beat.

Oh, I can already see the eye-rolling as you read. Don't I know that Los Angeles County has a labour force of 4.9 million; that Orange County's unemployment rate is 8.9 per cent and California's is at 13 per cent this month?

And what about places to live - thousands to choose from, though rent for a one-bedroom, according to the most recent statistics, is pretty high at US $1,100 ( Added to that is the fact that staff doesn't turn over all the time with the seasons and the years.

But let's put all those things aside for just a moment and look at what Disney has accomplished when it comes to customer service or guest experience, because there's just got be a lesson there for us.

Tony Bruno has been guiding Disneyland's resort hotels for over 20 years. He is also responsible for the Downtown Disney district, a stroll area alive with street entertainment, an eclectic mix of shops and eateries and pedestrian access to the Disneyland and the Californian Adventure theme parks. None of these shops are owned by Disney, yet they all give the same level of service - it is a seamless experience.

While he is careful not to draw comparisons between Whistler and Disneyland Bruno believes it's the way you choose, train, treat and maintain your staff that is key to success.

"We know that you have got to keep the guests happy and in order to keep the guests happy you have to keep the cast happy because they are the ones interacting," he said this week.

So there has to be an overriding understanding of what great guest experience looks like in every sector associated with the product - in our case that's the whole resort.

Said Bruno: "We can build the most beautiful hotel in the world but if your people are not great and if they don't bring it to life in the right way you are nowhere."

To help achieve Disney's level of success every business, large and small, has to be on board.

"All those different businesses you have, do they come together as a group?" he asked.

And what about keeping tabs on what our guests experience?

Said Bruno: "We draw in top-line revenue, our volume is there, but we also spend money on the other side of it. I have people out there walking through all the stores, it's what we call the Inspect What You Expect Program."

Now Whistler does have a similar program, the Service Challenge - run by the Chamber and supported by the RMOW. But only 72 of the hundreds of businesses in town are signed up.

Like Disney, Whistler is in the business of creating memories, and guests' experiences don't start on the ski hill. They start on the bus ride up here, the first contact with their accommodation, the grocery store clerk, the housekeepers.

And for those employees to make the guest feel special they need to feel special as well.

Tough times in the last few years have meant that many local businesses have turned away from that golden rule; the focus instead on the bottom line.

That's despite last year's Whistler Chamber of Commerce survey showing that businesses believed that outstanding customer service should be the resort's competitive advantage.

"We can't control weather or exchange rates but we can control the guest experience," Chamber President Fiona Famulak said this week.

"That is really the lead we have taken particularly in the last 12 months.

"We are trying to affect a cultural shift in the resort, very much like the one you experienced in Disneyland. It is a philosophy and we need to all buy into it."

The Chamber's Spirit program goes a long way to achieving this philosophy and thanks to Whistler Blackcomb's subsidized pass program thousands get to learn about it.

But there is a level of anxiety in town, justifiably so, but in some places it is breeding a very negative atmosphere.

Finger-pointing won't help. Instead it is up to every local, every employer, every employee to work to win guests and bring them back.

As Famulak put it: "I think perhaps there is not enough appreciation of how important the employees are in business. They are not just a mechanism to serve a customer, they actually are an important part of the fabric of the business and if they are not engaged, and if they are not recognized and inspired everyday by the people who are leading them then great guest service isn't going to happen."