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Beliefs, not words, can be magic

Words can be powerful. Sometimes, the right words can make all the difference. Other times, those same words mean nothing to the listener.

What makes one organization successful does not always transfer easily to another. The techniques that make one organization successful cannot be adopted by other organizations without understanding the underlying beliefs that make them effective. In the world of customer service, the Disney organization is often held up as an example of customer service excellence that many organizations attempt to duplicate, but not always with the anticipated results.

One oft copied Disney practice is that of referring to customers as “Guests.” Managers ask employees to follow the Disney example. They think that there is magic in the word, when the real magic is in the beliefs that prompted Disney to refer to customers as “Guests.” Visitors to Disney theme parks or Disney stores don’t feel special because they are called “Guests.” They feel special because “cast members” (Disney talk for all employees) think of customers as they would guests in their homes. These people were invited to visit (through advertising or window displays) and decided to accept the invitation. Cast members want them to enjoy themselves, so that they will return soon and often.

The ineffectiveness of imitating practice without an appropriate belief system was brought home during a recent visit to a fast food restaurant. Customers lined up in front of the single cashier on duty. As each received his or her order, the cashier called out “Next guest.” The delivery was mechanical, lacking any warmth or enthusiasm. She didn’t smile or make eye contact with the person placing the order. It appeared that she had been told to refer to customers as guests, but had no understanding of the meaning the word conveyed. There was no magic in the word.

In You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard (St. Martin’s Press, 1992. ISBN 0-312-09949-5), Bert Decker divides communication into three Vs: Verbal (the words we use), Vocal (our tone of voice and Visual (body language). The verbal accounts for only 7 per cent of the message that the listener hears. Much more powerful are the visual (55%) and vocal (38%). No matter how carefully we choose our words, no one is going to believe us unless all components of the message (Visual, Vocal and Verbal) are in sync. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

The cashier’s body language and tone of voice conveyed an impression that she cared little for her “guests.” She was not someone the “guests” would rush back to visit.

To prepare staff to provide customer service excellence, you must begin by creating an understanding and commitment to the underlying beliefs before asking them to say the “right words.”


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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