Racing is a people business. Or better yet, the business of managing people’s expectations.

People expect you to provide a certain level of performance and service during each one of your events.

If you’re disorganized, indifferent, or snobbish, you can form your own expectations about your business very quickly — you can expect to not have any customers.

No customers, no business.

When I say that racing is a people business, what I really mean is that you need to put every effort into finding ways to retain customers.

You must be deliberately focused on creating the most positive experiences you can manage for every customer you come in contact with.

So how do you do this?

How do you provide a positive experience each time?

It’s called The Disney Approach, and it goes a little something like this:

The Walt Disney World and Disneyland experience is the benchmark for all customer service practitioners to aspire to.

What does Disney have to do with racing?

Simple. You have no doubt from the very moment you get out of your car, until you return hours later, that Disney is in the business of creating happiness for people of all ages.

Creating this experience is so important to Disney, that it is in their mission statement.

They declare that their mission will be to become “… one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment…”.

In this statement, Disney sets out to provide the foundation for what kind of company it will be: a leading producer and provider of entertainment.

Simple. Elegant. Easy to remember.

How do your events match up to a Disney experience?

Chances are your races are less like Disney, and more like Gnarl and Shred.

Gnarl and Shred?

Yes! These are the two customer service personas that far too many race promoters have.

What the heck is a customer service persona?

Before you can understand The Disney Approach, you need to understand what is bad customer service really looks like.

See if this sounds like an event you’ve been to.

It’s never outside yourself
We begin with Gnarl.

Gnarl is an attitude that infects all. It starts with you, and then your staff.

It is the perception that all racers are dumb, interacting with racers is a burden and any question a racer has ever asked you as been a waste of time.

However, Gnarl will always blame the staff, and never themselves. Responsibility is not a trait Gnarl is ready to accept.

Gnarl loves the revenue and reputation that promoting races provides.

However, Gnarl is fond of saying, “If it wasn’t for all those dumb racers, this job would be fun!”

Gnarl likes the reward, but not the work. Racing is a people business that Gnarl does not appreciate.

People to Gnarl are a means to an end, not a reason for being in business.

The indifference created by having Gnarl behavior infects your staff too.

They start becoming annoyed by questions, develop an attitude of indifference, and have trouble going “above and beyond”.

A staff infected by Gnarl will have a beer and hang out while watching volunteers pick up trash and clean the venue.

They feel entitled to their breaks since they are the “real staff”, and those volunteers are, well, volunteer riff-raff.

They don’t do anything “that is not in their job description”, and do not go out of their way for customers — EVER.

And why should they? Customers create work, and Gnarl is not about doing anything that will require more effort than required.

The customer is always an inconvenience at a Gnarl race.

For only the beautiful people
Meanwhile, there is Shred.

Shred is the attitude that weak, slow people, are the worst part of racing.

Shred loves high-paced competition, especially if it comes down to 1st and 2nd place racing neck-and-neck to the finish line.

The drama is the sole reason Shred puts on races.

Yet, those other racers seem to get in the way of the drama.

They’re usually too slow, too old, or too young to create the right kind of drama.

Shred cannot stand those racers but knows they need to be at the race if the race is going to make a buck.

Poor performing people to Shred are a means to an end, not a reason for being in business.

Shred only likes winners.

Shred does not put too much stock in Women categories and often combines them into limited groups or Open classes.

Junior categories are also an issue for Shred. Don’t expect a “kid’s race” or too many Junior classes at one of these events.

Shred doesn’t have time for Juniors unless those Juniors are fast — then Shred is all about Juniors.

Nothing like seeing a Junior get an early select to a Pro Team or USA Cycling Nationals. Shred is your best friend if you’re at that level.

Beginner CAT3 winner? Shred has no time for you. Maybe if you go up a CAT or two and start winning, then they’ll talk to you.

Shred also likes to tear down an event before everyone has finished.

If they can save some time by loading the trailer, putting away all the pizza, and shutting down the music before you cross that finish line, then more power to them.

Shred is not interested in your feelings about coming in nearly last, no matter what you overcame to even get into the race in the first place.

If you’re really not lucky, Shred has already started pulling up the course tape before your even off the course.

Hopefully, Shred’s course sweepers don’t take it down in front of you, or tailgate you as you try to finish.

Those that work for Shred also like to give all the top finishers the love. Cowbells, shouts, and cheers are for winners.

Back-of-the-pack finishers or the last racer across the line? Shred staff are nowhere to be found.

They’ve most likely left early since everything was cleaned up long before “those people” finished.

You can point out a Shred event simply by how you are treated when you come across the finish line — if there still is a finish line when you arrive.

Customers are an afterthought at a Shred race.

A better way
Yeah, Gnarl and Shred are examples of bad customer service.

One could care less about your repeat business, the other could care less about your accomplishment.

One noticeably repels customers, the other repels them as a consequence.

Both attitudes will ruin you.

So why do they exist?

A very good question. Lack of caring is one reason, while another is poor leadership.

But the best reason for Gnarl and Shred to exist is that most race promoters don’t know how to stop them from appearing.

They are not equipped with a way of changing their customer service direction towards a system that works.

No one ever taught them a customer service strategy beyond “the customer is always right”.

And even that is not correct.

Not correct? Isn’t the customer always right?

No. The customer is SELDOM right. But it is your JOB to make them FEEL like they are right.

See the difference?

One is capitulation, the other is strategic.

One is rolling over and giving the customer whatever they want when they throw a fit, the other is a pre-planned way to deal with a fit-throwing customer, that everyone in your company is prepared for, and already has the power to deal with.

That is the power of a customer service strategy.

It is your plan for how you will treat customers, teach your staff how to treat customers, and deal with customer actions before they happen.

The Disney Approach is an example of a customer service strategy that has 50-years of proof to back it up.

You cannot argue with 50-years of dealing with every kind of customer under the sun. That is why The Disney Approach is a perfect example for you to model our own customer service strategy after.

You’re not going to become Disney, that would be unrealistic. But you can emulate Disney’s approach by realigning your business to help you also retain customers for life.

For life?

Yes, for LIFE!

Does this sound difficult to do? It shouldn’t. Remember, Disney has been doing it for 50-years.

However, did the customer service attitudes of Gnarl and Shred sound far fetched as well?

I know some of you have had a Gnarl or Shred (or both) experience at a race.

Snarky people at registration? Many times.

Race directors with no time for your questions? Many times.

Or maybe it was a starting line full of people, but a finish line that was deserted?

I once crossed the finish line in an adventure race where the only people left in the park were my family, the chief timer, and the race director. Everything and everyone else was gone, including all the other racers… and the pizza!

That is the kind of bad experience I would like to help your customers avoid.

Dedicating yourself, and your business, to helping your customers experience the best side of customer service is achievable.

Disney has been doing this for 50-years.

Disney continues to do this every day.

Hopefully, after this article, you will know how to do this too!

Are you ready to learn how to retain customers for life?

Then let’s start helping your customers by first changing your customer service strategy.

Your first customer service strategy
The Disney Approach was not created overnight, so give yourself some time to take all of this in.

You will first need to understand what goes into a customer service strategy. Then, once you know all the pieces, you can start working on what parts of your racing business need to change before others.

Your strategy does not need to address everything customer related, but it should focus on at least these seven (7) key elements:

#1 – Be guest focused, not customer focused
Disney does not call customers “customers”. They call them guest. If you think about it, calling your customers “guest” completely changes the relationship you have with them.

Customers are people that share a transaction with you, then go away. There is no connection to you or your business.

Customers are rather lifeless entities that “consume” your service, and when full, move on to consume something else.

A guest, on the other hand, is a respected visitor.

Guest is symbolic of someone you invited to your race, just as you would invite them to your home for dinner.

A guest is not a casual encounter, it is an intimate connection between you, your event, and their experience.

If you start to think of customers as The Guest, your entire customer service point-of-view changes drastically.

You might not do anything for a customer, but you would do anything for a guest in your home.

A guest is someone you would treat like family. Would you pack up everything before the family has come across the finish line?

No, you would not.

Treat your race like your house, and your customers like guests in your house.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the term guests instead of customers.

#2 – Set team expectations
You are responsible for creating a unified vision of your racing company.

This vision needs to contain a clear message that is communicated in every training you give your staff and volunteers.

If you remember from before, Disney declares that their mission will be to become “… one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment…”.

How do they do this?

Disney uses something they call the “Disney Way”.

They find out how to please their guests by doing research on them, finding out who they are, and then acting on that research.

Disney combines research, guest preferences, and expertise to assure that the company fulfills its mission.

How does this work for my race?

It doesn’t take much research to understand what your guests want.

At a minimum, your guests want staff and volunteers to be friendly, approachable, and helpful.

And they want this without any of them being condescending or mechanical.

This is achieved through training, but not just any kind of training.

This is expectation training. You need to sit your staff down and explain to them how being friendly, approachable, and helpful towards guests helps the business.

Furthermore, you need to make sure your volunteers are on board with the same message. This often requires a volunteer coordinator that greets, vets, and supervises volunteers.

The goal is getting everyone working for you to understand why this new behavior is important.

This is the foundation for team behavior towards guests.

They have to know why before they can learn how.

#3 – Teach team behaviors
When your team knows why you need them to be friendly, approachable, and helpful towards guests, you need to help them learn how.

The how is more involved, but achievable when everyone knows why they are doing it.

The goal is to teach everyone a set of behaviors, mannerisms, terms, and values that are specific to his/her job function.

It is what some might call the “cheat-sheet” to how to greet and thank guests, how to act in front of them at all times, and how to answer questions when asked.

It is centered around your service standards.

I don’t have any service standards.

No worries. Here are four (4) service standards that embrace the core elements found in the Disney Way:

  • Safety – Do no harm
  • Courtesy – Always be friendly
  • Show – Always be presenting
  • Efficiency – Do it well

These core service standards become the model that each team member can use as a guide for any situation.

They may seem like common sense, but trust me, they are not if you have never communicated them to your staff.

These service standards are the core values of your business.

They will allow you to judge your staff’s performance during each of your events.

But you have to teach it to them first. You cannot hold your staff accountable for these standards if you have never told them what they are.

You have to lead from the front on these standards as well. Part of teaching your staff these behaviors is exhibiting them yourself.

If your staff follows you in acting upon these new standards, you should immediately reward their excellence.

However, the Disney Way is not for everyone.

Asking your staff to change their behavior to match your service standards may not work for some members of your team.

If changing the behavior of a team member is too much for them to process, then make sure their dismissal is quick and decisive.

Do not let them become a distraction or obstacle to getting the whole team to change their behavior.

#4 – Empower your team to go Above and Beyond
You need to empower your team to solve problems.

They need to be able to read into guest questions and go above and beyond in answering them.

However, if they cannot act without your approval, then you will never be able to give your guests the best service you can deliver.

You need to provide your team with an understanding of what they can and cannot do for a guest.

You also need to avoid combustion points by controlling the areas that your team and guest will come into communication with each other.

Combustion points?

These are the points that usually cause guests to get frustrated with staff due to no fault of your staff.

Sometimes, this means having a staff member, empowered to make decisions, at specific areas to drive guest flow (avoiding long lines), or providing service attention to those guest having problems.

For example, you need to empower your staff to give refunds without your approval.

Refunds are a perfect combustion point that most registration staff have trouble solving without approval.

Give them the capability to do specific guest-focused tasks, without needing your approval each and every time.

#5 – Everyone collects feedback
Permission to go above and beyond also includes collecting feedback.

If you think about it, your staff has far more interaction with your guests then you do.

Use them to collect information on how everyone is doing during your event.

Your entire staff should be attempting to determine the feelings and attitudes of all your guests at all times.

They should also be checking in with you at specific times to give you updates on how guest are doing.

This is an important step in collecting feedback that is normally found in surveys, testimonials, and reviews.

Get this feedback live, has it happens.

But also think about collecting this feedback after the fact too.

Face-to-face feedback is going to be important in judging what is, and is not, working during your race.

However, guest will need some time to process their experience. Something they didn’t like might have been overlooked at the moment they experienced something great.

After a week or two, they might remember that parking was difficult, or that your registration process was confusing.

Give them some time to adjust after their time with you and your event, then reach out to them.

A combination of Mailchimp and SurveyMonkey are perfect for this.

Building a simple survey in SurveyMonkey, and then using a Mailchimp campaign to send it to all your guests, can help you get to know your guest better.

Giving them a chance at a raffle prize, or a discount coupon for their next visit is a great way to get them to fill it out as well.

You could also invite other guests to participate in phone surveys or provide comments via social media.

A feedback request post on Facebook can generate a significant amount of qualitative responses you never expected.

Feedback gives you insight into how you and your staff REALLY did during your event.

Your guest feedback is vital to knowing which of your efforts is working correctly, and which is broken.

More so with the things that are broken. But it gives you some idea of how well you are doing beyond the quantitative data of numbers.

Guests base their decision to return on how they felt about their experience, not whether or not they won the race.

You owe it to your business to find out what those feeling are, and how you can go about improving them.

#6 – Setting is important
Your setting is wherever your guests meet you. In racing, we call this the venue.

Your setting is often the first impression your guests have of you, your staff, your race, and your company.

This is why it is important to be aware of your setting at all times.

If you think about any experience you’ve had with Disney, their setting shouts “Disney” at all times.

Disney uses the same building materials for all their walkways, they have their logo on everything they sell, their staff wears easily recognizable uniforms, the list goes on and on.

All Disney settings speak to their guests and constantly communicate what is included in a Disney setting, and what is out of place.

Does your race do that? What kind of setting are you presenting to your guests?

Your setting should always support the “show” that you are creating for your guests.

From the pop-up tents and tables at registration to your crew work shirts, bib numbers, and timing result print-outs.

A setting also must consider all the senses of each guest. This goes back to teaching your staff to always be demonstrating their service standards.

Guest should not be hearing you or your staff cursing, nor should you be playing music that includes offensive language.

Your staff should not look like they were just released from super-max prison, nor should they be wearing suits to an outdoor race (unless that’s your thing – which I hope it’s not).

Garbage should be easy to find, but should not be overflowing with trash. It should also not be stinking up the place.

If you’re trying to be guest-focused, you should be aware of your setting enough to know that garbage cans need emptying.

Everyone on your staff should be looking and acting on all the things in your setting without being told to do so.

They should be your first and last line of defense in keeping your setting ideal for guests.

However, the only way they can possibly know this is if you tell them, and give them the power to deal with it when it comes up.

#7 – There are no menial jobs
All the jobs you have your staff doing must tie back to your overall mission.

This means that a job that does not tie back into the mission should not be something your staff is doing.

That being said, your staff needs to be fully aware of how their job DOES tie back into your company’s mission.

This is an important part of teaching them how to become guest-focused.

If they know how their job connects to the overall goals and objectives of the company, they will feel that their work matters.

If they feel their work matters, they are more likely to embrace your service standards.

Make your staff matter by making their jobs matter to the mission of your company.

An example of this is Reckoneer’s mission:

“Reckoneer will weave idle, outdoor racing knowledge, into actionable, business strategies, by developing and delivering the educational content required to build and run a successful outdoor racing business.”

We sum this call to action up with our tagline, “Build Better Races”.

This mission requires us to keep focusing on building your racing knowledge into actionable business strategies.

It does not direct us to start building better cake recipes.

So if we had a writer on staff writing epic cake recipes, then we have created a menial job simply by acknowledging that cake recipes do not fit into our mission.

The same is true with your race promotion.

If you have a staff member raking pine cones in a place no guest will ever go, then how does that fit into your mission?

If it’s a setting issue, and the pine cones make the venue look bad, then maybe its required?

But if it just bugs you, and you want someone to remove them from your sight, is that a job tied into your mission?

Probably not.

You need to seriously think through each job you have your staff and volunteers doing.

Doing a job just to give someone something to do is not supporting your mission either.

Remember, they have to KNOW how that job ties back to your mission, otherwise they will never support your service standards the way you need them to.

You need to make yourself stop creating “idle” positions that create poor staff attitudes towards the guest, or dysfunctional services.

Start creating “epic” positions that tie into your service, make the person in the position matter to the company, and watch how they become friendly, approachable, and helpful to your guests.

Embrace the Disney Way
Your final “weave” of these seven elements into your “guest services strategy” will be the new benchmark in how your business works.

You must first believe that your guest’s experiences matter.

If you dedicate yourself, and your business, to helping your guests have the best experience possible, you will create more than a loyal customer:

You will create a fan!

Fans are super-guests that think your way of treating them is superior to all others.

The benefit to their fandom is their ability to willing share your events on social media, tell all of their friends about your races and bring more people to your events than any marketing department could ever do.

Fans are those customers that you retain for life.

Simply by changing the way you treat people, will reward your business with their attendance, their money, and most of all, their love.

Is that worth doing things in a Disney Way?


The goal of your strategy is to take your next customers, treat them like valued guests, and turn them into lifelong fans.

Do whatever it takes to make that process come true, and you will never have a problem selling your race.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!