By Brook Barnes, The New York Times
Maryland teachers were instructed to engage children by crouching and speaking to them at eye level. Chevrolet dealers were taught to think in theater metaphors: onstage, where smiles greet potential buyers, and offstage, where sales representatives can take out-of-sight cigarette breaks.
A Florida children’s hospital was advised to welcome patients in an entertaining way, prompting it to employ a ukulele-playing greeter dressed in safari gear.
These personal service tips came from the Disney Institute, the low-profile consulting division of the Walt Disney Company. Desperate for new ways to connect with consumers, an increasing array of industries and organizations are paying Disney to teach them how to become, well, more like Disney.
Revenue from the Disney Institute has doubled over the last three years, according to Disney, powered in part by its aggressive pursuit of new business. Over the last two years alone, 300 school systems across the country have sought its advice.
Other clients range from very large entities — Häagen-Dazs International, United Airlines, the country of South Africa — to small ones: three Subway restaurants in Maine, a Michigan hair salon, a Boston youth-counseling center.
The Disney Institute recently hired a network of field representatives to sign up clients and started dispatching its executives to companies wanting help; before that, advice-seekers traveled to Walt Disney World here or Disneyland in California.
“We’re putting our people on planes all day every day, domestically and internationally,” said Jeff James, who runs Disney’s consulting branch. “Some clients are in great shape and want to improve even further, and some are truly clueless.”