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Acting Professionally

Almost 50 years ago, local music legend Buck Owens recorded the song, “Act Naturally.” Written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, the #1 Billboard Country Single tells the story of a man who is staring in a film “about a man that’s sad and lonely, and all I have to do is act naturally.” It appears to me that many people act naturally while at work, when what they should be doing is acting professionally instead.

For example, the customer service representatives who were openly arguing with each other in front of me were acting naturally. The waiter who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but at work was acting naturally. The receptionist who continued her personal conversation on her cell phone while I waited for her to finish was acting naturally. I suggest that, if they want their business to be successful, employers teach their employees how to act professionally.

Probably no employer is better at teaching professionalism than Disney. According to the book “Be Our Guest: Perfecting the art of customer service” by the Disney Institute, employees at Disney theme parks are called “cast members” and they are “on stage” whenever they are in public areas of the parks and in front of guests. New cast members go through an intensive orientation program during which they learn the “Walt Disney World Guidelines for Guest Service,” including “performance tips” such as:
• Make eye contact and smile!
• Greet and welcome each and every guest.
• Seek out guest contact.
• Provide immediate service recovery (resolve a service failure before it becomes a service problem).
• Display appropriate body language at all times.
• Preserve the “magical” guest experience.
• Thank each and every guest.

These performance tips are not difficult, yet they are often overlooked at many businesses. For example, preserve the “magical” guest experience at Disney means:
• Always focus on the positive, rather than the rules and regulations; and,
• Talking about personal or job-related problems in front of Guests is unacceptable.

How many times have you been told by someone waiting on you that they can’t help you because of company rules and regulations? And, how many times have you had to listen to employees chatting about their personal affairs or griping about their jobs in front of you? Just focusing on this performance tip alone would improve customer service at many organizations.

In the book “The Experience Economy,” authors B. Joseph Pines II and James Gilmore say that we have entered into a new age of competition where goods and services are merely props to engage the customer. Because we can get similar goods at similar places all over town, Pines and Gilmore say businesses need to provide customers with a memorable experience in order to bring them back. In my opinion, just being waited on by friendly people who act like they are happy to be at work and appreciate the business the customer brings is probably a memorable enough experience for most people.

According to the Disney Institute, “we are all in show business” regardless of where we work. I agree and know that acting professionally sometimes feels a bit like playing a part. Employers like Disney who purposefully teach their employees to play this part are usually more successful than those who allow their employees to just act naturally.

Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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