The “Flattys” Don’t Come Back- Two Vital Lessons Most of Us Have Forgotten


Flattys. This is how circus performers refer to their customers, the audience in the bleachers.

The reason? Since the audience is sitting beyond the reach of the bright lights shining on the performers, they appear – at least to the performers – as a faceless, emotionless, one-dimensional blob of cardboard cutouts. Hence, the word flatty.

Who would think of their customers as a faceless, emotionless blob of cardboard cutouts?

No one in their right mind would openly admit to this, yet countless companies continue to act as if their customers, and employees, are nothing more than flattys … they don’t matter and are easily replaceable. Their opinions don’t matter, so no need to ask them about the quality of the show or how to improve, right?

Here’s some sage advice I heard years ago from a colleague named Hal Burrows. “The flattys don’t come back.” In other words, treat people with indifference and they will be done with you. Hal was a time-management consultant I hired when I was in charge of training at the Disney University at Disney Studios. Hal helped create the award-winning “Managing Management Time” training program with Bill Oncken, better known as the “Who’s Got the Monkey?” time management seminar. Hal and I collaborated on a newer version of the time management seminar that we planned to call “The Monkey Meets the Mouse,” but that never flew with Disney leadership (that’s another story, altogether!). Hal eventually teamed up with Ken Blanchard to create the best-selling “The Monkey Meets the One-Minute Manager.” Hal was not one to take “no” for an answer.

I guess Hal was tight with circus performers since he was constantly harping on companies to treat their employees and customers with more respect, not like flattys. This is why Hal and I connected so well; our role in the Disney University was to ensure the quality of our “show,” both to our Cast Members and our Guests. I write extensively about this in my new book, “Disney U: How Disney University Creates the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal and Customer-Centric Employees.”

So, what are you and your company doing to avoid the dreaded “flatty syndrome?” Here are two vital behaviors guaranteed to ensure employees and customers aren’t being treated like flattys. Despite sounding amazingly simple, these two behaviors are profoundly absent in many organizations:

Greet people. Thank people. Say “hello.” Say “goodbye.” Say “thank you.” And do this with some direct eye-contact (yes, it means tearing your eyes away from your phone or computer for a few seconds). Since a growing number of customers and team members can also be in far-flung locations, it might mean sending a text, e-mail or letter expressing your appreciation. When was the last time you did this?

Flattys don’t come back, but those who are appreciated and respected do.