A “Disney Way” Customer-Centric Culture in Local Government?


As a consultant, I have worked with numerous local governments who are seeking to achieve a “Disney Way” customer-centric culture. Walt Disney once said, “The city of tomorrow ought to be a city that caters to the people as a service function.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an internationally acclaimed professional services firm, suggests five drivers for the changing focus of customer service in government:

  • Customer Awareness – citizens today don’t compare government service to other public sector agencies; they compare it to Disney, Starbucks, Amazon and other great service providers
  • Budgetary Constraints – the need for examining all services and determining the “value for the money” as tax dollars shrink
  • Greater Accountability and Transparency – in today’s world, we are seeing a greater amount of social activism that can quickly turn minor issues into front page news
  • Drive for Competitiveness – attracting and maintaining business investment in your city, county, state or nation results in economic growth
  • Changing Demographics – attracting and maintaining your resident population helps insure a stable tax base

These drivers are in line with the values I espouse in my consulting business, and I have discussed them with many of my clients. But, I believe PwC missed a critical one – worker motivation.

Government employees at all levels are notoriously overburdened by endless policies, procedures, codes and rules with little or no focus on how to treat the customer. Due to this deeply entrenched beaurocracy, many government workers have fallen into the trap of becoming robotic processors of forms!

Al Vanderberg, County Administrator of Ottawa County, Michigan; said, “Disney’s goal is to startle and amaze their guest at least once per visit.

In government, residents would be startled and amazed if they were just treated with respect and dignity.”

I was honored to help guide Ottawa County on their journey to implement a Disney Way-inspired “Ottawa Way” Customer Service Initiative. As is true of countless government agencies, Ottawa County employees were constrained by laws, regulations and codes. They felt they had no ability to provide good customer service.

Commenting on the transformation of his workforce of 1200, Al Vanderberg said, “It is almost a freeing thing…the real goal is that we are here to serve people and that they are treated in the best way possible while fully meeting the laws and regulations. For many people, it has opened their eyes and given them a whole new look on being a good steward of the public trust.”

As this year comes to a close, think about how you might unleash the potential of your employees to prepare for 2017. Define your “story”, “dream” or the mood you want to set for your organization. Identify “core values” that will help guide all your decisions, and create “codes of conduct” that define behaviors that support those values. The results can be, as Al Vanderberg stated, “…nothing short of amazing as perceived notions and limitations of the applicability of customer service to local government have been shattered.”

Ottawa County has come a long way. Now, they recommend deputy sheriffs and health inspectors for quarterly customer service awards, even after those folks hand out citations! Another local government entity that has established a “Disney Way” culture under my guidance has an employee who postponed his retirement because the new culture was “a fun place to work.”

You can read more about Ottawa County’s customer-centric journey in The Disney Way 3rd Edition. If you are not in the public sector…ponder this comment that a gentleman made to me after one of my keynotes in Colorado during which I featured Ottawa County: “If you can make this work in government, you can make this work anywhere!” Yes, YOU can!


Next Week – All I want for Christmas is How to Lead Millennials!