By Doug Baker, Vice President, Private Brands, Food Marketing Institute Dennis Snow Speaker at FMI Private Brands Business Conference

This weekend is the FMI Private Brands Business Conference where companies will mingle to discuss strategic relationships, define mutual goals and establish long-term alliances around private brands. I had the pleasure of sitting down with this year’s speaker Dennis Snow, author of Unleashing Excellence: the Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, to get to know him a bit better before the conference.

Dennis Snow’s customer service abilities were honed over 20 years with the Walt Disney World Company. There, he developed his passion for service excellence and the experience he brings to the worldwide speaking and consulting he does today. He also spent several years with the Disney University, teaching corporate philosophy and business practices to cast members and the leadership team. While there, he coordinated the Disney Traditions program which is universally recognized as a benchmark in corporate training.

What was your most memorable experience working for Disney?

While I have many memorable experiences, one really stands out. I was a manager in the Magic Kingdom and I was having a particularly bad day - hot and humid weather (while having to wear a suit), huge crowds, short staffed, etc. As I was walking back to my office off of Main Street USA, I passed by a woman who was sitting on a bench, staring at Cinderella's Castle. She had a lost look on her face as though something was wrong. I observed her for a few moments and she never moved. Thinking that I'd make sure everything was okay, I sat down beside her and asked if I could help with anything. She never took her eyes off of the castle and quietly said, "I imagine this is what heaven is like." Here I was, grumpy because of a little discomfort, and here was a guest truly moved by the place I had an opportunity to walk every single day. It was a powerful wakeup call regarding my responsibility in creating memories for our guests. I think we all need to remind ourselves periodically of the impact our companies and our jobs have on others.

What’s your favorite ride at any of the Disney parks?

I'd have to say that my favorite ride is the Pirates of the Caribbean. It's the perfect example of an attraction that tells a story. And at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction overseen by Walt Disney himself, so there's also that sentimental component of the ride.

What is the one thing about customer service that food retailers need to keep in mind?

The main thing food retailers need to keep in mind is that products are commodities—customers (whether end consumers or anyone in the supply chain) have a lot of choices. What truly drives loyalty is the overall experience. Every element of the experience needs to be designed and delivered in a way that builds loyal relationships.

How do you see private brands embracing innovation to inspire the way Disney’s does?

While certainly Disney is in a different industry than yours, the objective creating intense customer loyalty is exactly the same. We have to always be looking for new ways to engage customers in our brands by understanding their needs, wants, challenges, frustrations, etc. For example, Disney World knows that guests are spending a lot of money for their Disney vacation and want to experience as much as possible during their visit. So they instituted FastPass that allows guests to make reservations for certain attractions and more effectively plan their day. And it has been a huge hit. They're now taking it a step further where guests can reserve attractions before they even leave home via MyMagic+. These innovations are the result of relentlessly gaining insight into what drives guest satisfaction.