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Ruth Langley05/02/16 13:004 min read

How To Attract And Retain More Students: 3 Lessons From Disney

attract and attain more students

Simple but incredible customer service.  

This is Disney’s magic answer for increasing attraction and student retention rates. And it works. According to Disney’s book “Be our Guest: Perfecting The Art Of Customer Service,huge 70% of first time customers to their theme parks return for a second time.

Yes, Disney are a multinational company operating in the entertainment and experience business. They are not a registered training organisation dealing with students and education. But there are lessons in the way they operate their business that can be applied to fields vocational education training sector. And used in your registered training organisation to help attract and retain more students.

The corporate sector across the globe has been adopting their approach for years. Only last year banking giant Westpac shifted their focus to become more customer centric and appointed an ex-Disney great, Tom Doyles as their new Chief Customer Officer to help them do it.

So what are Disney doing? And what can we take from it? Here's how to attract and retain more students, based on three key lessons from Disney’s “Be Our Guest”.

Lesson 1: Everyone is a customer

It sounds too simple, but one of the first and biggest things Disney gets right is their mindset.

They never forget that the people in their parks are their customers. And as a business, they want and need these customers.

They train their staff to treat these people like guests (they even refer to them as guests). As a result, their customers are never taken for granted by anyone in the business. They’re treated well, really well, and so want to stick around and come back time and time again.

Your students are your customers. Whether they’re paying for their own course or it’s government funded, they too could have taken their business (and their money) elsewhere.

There are multiple schools of thought on how much students should be treated like customers, but regardless of your stance, ask yourself these two questions:

Does everyone on your team value the business your students are bringing to your training organisation?

And do your students feel valued by everyone on your team?

More: Free iPads? Forget It - Think Free Online Courses!

Lesson 2: Maximise customer experiences

Disney focus on giving their customers the best experience possible in every single part of their business and have done since day one. It’s what they call ‘creating the Disney magic.’

What they do for their customers is not important here, but how they do it is. For Disney, maximising a customer’s experience is done by thoroughly understanding a customer’s expectations and then exceeding them.

We are living in 2016, the age of the ‘customer experience’. A 2014 study by Harvard Business Review found that the customer experience is now one of the major drivers of future revenue in businesses.

Rightly or wrongly, many students expect experiences rather than just services or transactions. And this doesn’t stop when they step through the doors of your registered training organisation.

Do you thoroughly understand your students expectations?

And are you doing enough to exceed them?

More: What VET Fee Help Providers can learn about trust from the Volkswagen scandal.

Lesson 3: “Everything speaks”

Everything a guest comes into contact with will play a part in creating their overall experience. Or, as Disney says, “everything speaks.”

Disney look at every aspect of their business and ask: what kind of impact is this having on a customer’s experience? And what can be done to improve it.

“Regardless of intent, positive or negative, a setting will send signals to the customer about what the organization values. Are you sending the right message?”

- Bruce Jones, Disney Institute

If “everything speaks” in your registered training organisation, what is it saying? From how your receptionist answers the phone to how your training spaces are presented. From how good the coffee in the cafe is (if you have one!) to how long it takes admin to reply to students’ emails.

How is everything in your registered training organisation contributing to a student’s overall experience?

And where can you improve?

Disney’s focus on their customers does not take away from their quality product offering. But they recognise that a good product alone is not enough to keep customers coming back time and time again. And it’s not enough to generate ongoing referral business. There must be more.

Attracting and retaining more students in 2016’s competitive market takes more than a high quality course delivered well (although these are still essential).

Are you giving your students more? What else can you do?

For more ‘lessons from the mouse’ it’s well worth reading Disney’s book “Be our Guest: Perfecting The Art Of Customer Service”. 

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Ruth Langley

Ruth helps Hospitality and Training Organisation owners and managers to improve their front-of-house so that they can consistently deliver great service, reduce staff turnover, and create experiences that customers want to come back for.