It's easy to mock the mouse. After all, when you visit Walt Disney World in Florida, you see Mickey's image everywhere: on drink coasters, t-shirts, and even a security guard's jacket. (Imagine a gold-embroidered outline of Mickey Mouse's head, including those unmistakable ears, paired with the word “Security.” Even for someone who generally respects authority, that emblem was tough to take seriously.)

Make fun of Mickey, though, and you'll miss the lessons Disney has to offer for apartment companies interested in improving customer service. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Last month MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE's own Rachel Z. Azoff covered a handful of best practices that multifamily firms are borrowing from other industries. “You never know where you'll find your next inspiration,” she wrote. “You could be at a diner, a boutique hotel, or even a car rental shop when you spot a savvy business strategy in play.”

Little did her editor realize that Disney's Polynesian Resort would prove to be the next source of such inspiration. If you want to bring some of Disney's magic to your properties, here's what I suggest.

  • Treat your residents hospitably in every encounter. This may be corporate policy, but it may not be on-site reality. I once arrived on time for a scheduled visit at a luxury apartment property, only to be left waiting while a leasing agent took off her shoes and moaned about her aching feet. Contrast that experience to the Polynesian, where every Disney “cast member” greeted me with “aloha” and then ended our interaction with “mahalo,” which is Hawaiian for “thank you.” While those particular words probably aren't appropriate for your properties (unless your portfolio includes Hawaii), the practice of greeting residents and prospects warmly at every opportunity, no exceptions, is one worth adopting.
  • Use branded materials to build your relationship with your residents. National and local apartment firms have embraced the philosophy of branding, putting their names on properties and more in their pursuit of quality residents. I'm sure such efforts build awareness, but do they also build your connection with your customers? Disney's do. At the Polynesian, I purchased a $12 souvenir mug because it offered free beverage refills during my stay. Knowing my, ahem, addiction to coffee, I decided the purchase made sense. Offering such a mug makes sense for Disney as well. It provides a reason for guests to return again and again to the resort's main building, opening up countless chances to interact with resort staff, discover new amenities and activities, and strengthen the Disney experience. Not a bad day's work for a refillable mug.
  • Promote your on-site activities. As you've read in these pages, Generation Y represents the next big wave of apartment renters, and this demographic is all about lifestyle: technology, socializing, and volunteering. If your company is making the effort to serve these residents with on-site events, promote these extras at every opportunity. Flyers, e-mails, and Web announcements are great, but a personal approach works too. When I checked into the Polynesian, I received a folder filled with information, including schedules for the resort and theme parks. But I didn't read a word of those materials until a Disney cashier told me about the nightly torch lighting ceremony, the rain dancers, and the fireworks display, along with the best locations to watch each one. She made me want to get the details. Will I return to the Polynesian? Of course. Borrow some of Disney's pixie dust, and your residents will say the same thing about your properties, making all your customer service dreams come true.

    Alison Rice, Editor