The Value of Situational Empathy In The Most Magical Place On Earth

It was about 12:40pm, at Tiffins restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. My wife and I were just starting off the third day of a week long, and much needed, vacation to celebrate my birthday. It had been a very long year and we had been looking forward to this vacation for months.

After a morning of exploring the park, we were excited to enjoy our first Disney Parks lunch of the trip. We originally had the reservation for later, but we moved up the reservation time because we were hungry!

Just after ordering our meal, the phone rang. It was a call from the CEO of the startup I had just joined three weeks before. I will never forget the look on my wife’s face as I took the call – she immediately knew something was wrong. After just three weeks of employment, the startup was shutting down and my position was being eliminated along with most of the rest of the people on the team.

I was stunned. I told my wife. She was stunned too. There’s really not much to say in a moment like that. Fortunately, we had some reassurances that a severance package was in the works for all of the employees impacted, and there was no immediate need for concern. (Postscript: I have been treated well by everyone involved in the shutdown, and for that I am appreciative). Still, it’s a pretty awful feeling to get let go from your job:

  • the day before your birthday
  • while on vacation
  • from a company you had big hopes for

But, if you’re going to get let go from a job, having it happen at Disney World is probably the best place to get this news. Why? Because there are plenty of things to distract you. Also, because Disney castmembers are trained to deliver excellent customer experiences and exceed expectations (Sidebar: if you’re interested, do read Disney’s excellent “Be Our Guest” book which explains their philosophies towards service).

And, this is where a little kindness helped to turn a situation around and built massive loyalty for me and my family.

When the server, who was already perfectly in tune with our needs – attentive, and no-nonsense, came back with our food, my wife casually mentioned what had just happened. I’m not sure Disney castmembers often deal with “oh man, this dude just got let go in the middle of lunch”, but she reacted well in the moment, was respectful of the situation, and most importantly, she saw an opportunity to make a little “magic” happen.

She later brought back a free dessert, without really having to explain why. It just was there, as a “we’re sorry”, in an attempt to try to help a tough situation. Looking back on it now, it means even more than it did in the moment.

It’s moments like this that make me passionate about trying to deliver connections with customers using digital. They remind me that no matter where you are, there’s always a connection between people that can always be made by companies, and individuals who care enough to do so to help validate concerns, and sometimes make them better.


And yes, this of course means I’m back on the market! I’d love to hear from you if you’re looking for a passionate, motivated and empathetic customer experience / social media focused digital leader with more than 20 years in the business.  Please check out my LinkedIn profile, or grab a soft copy of my resume here.

One thought on “The Value of Situational Empathy In The Most Magical Place On Earth

  1. I’m sorry to hear this news but glad to know fellow a fellow member of the Disney family made some magic for you. Wishing you the best in your future endeavors.

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