On my one visit to Disneyland, I received an unexpected lesson in the difference proper training for true service can make.
Being uncharacteristically crabby (who, me? Never!) from the California heat and crowds, I rebelliously planted myself one step across the bright yellow arbitrary line separating customers from the nightly Electric Light Parade of Disney characters along the theme park's Main Street.
A Disney worker nearby very politely asked me to take a step back. It was the moment for my Mr. Cranky Pants stand.
"What difference would it make?" I said with churlishness that was equal parts sophomoric Nietzschean nihilism and sullen rhetorical gotcha.
In memory, I see myself expecting to be confronted for my defiance by burly Disney-thugs, who would drag me like a Dead Man Walking to Walt's cryogenic crypt craftily concealed in the artificial permafrost under Pirates of the Caribbean (where no one would ever think to look). There, I would be held incommunicado until I confessed to finding true spiritual communion in the blinking headlight messages of Herbie the Love Bug.
Maybe I wasn't really thinking that far ahead. At least, though, I anticipated a rebarbative carney's foul-breathed push back. Instead, I got this: "Well, exactly, sir. What difference would it make?"
Game, as they say, match and step back.
The lesson came back this week when I read that Disney Corp has gone beyond poisoning the entire culture, and particularly young minds, with thinly disguised Heideggerian deep ecology propaganda that turns the horrors of non-human existence into anthropomorphized butterfly fantasies. It is now, apparently, busily teaching the corporate world how to serve customers properly.
Blue chips from General Motors to Tim Hortons, and lesser financial powerhouses such as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats football team, are turning to Disney trainers and seminars to learn what customer service really means, according to Monday's Globe and Mail.
It may not erase all agitation arising from avuncular Walt's vile anti-Semitism and attraction to the American Nazi Party during the Second World War. But anything that restores a genuine understanding of service to North American life is a step in the right direction.
All of us have horror stories up the wazoo—don't get me started—about marketplace service that goes beyond unacceptable to infuriatingly stupid and ballistically insulting. My current peeve is the proliferation of companies that behave as if customer service means training staff to hand in-store customers slips of paper with a 1-800 number to actually get customer service.
No, jingle fritz, I've come to your place of business to get customer service. I'm here now. I'm looking your front line customer service agent in the eye. I don't want to return home to telephonically commune with some anonymous, invisible voice that might as well be in a cryogenic crypt buried under the Pirates of the Caribbean for all the good it can do me.
Such misbegotten behaviour epitomizes culture that has lost the understanding of service as the challenge of charity. Service doesn't mean just a justice-based calculation of quid pro quo. It means giving unexpectedly—even undeservedly—more. It means, above all, operating from an unshakeable assumption of human common ground, which is what that well-trained Disney worker did when she handed me a metaphoric mirror so I could see exactly how absurd Mr. Cranky Pants looked taking his stand. She served me with a difference.
If that is a legacy Walt Disney leaves us, may his many sins be forgiven. Or most, anyway.