As part of my thesis for the Strategic Foresight & Innovation program at the Ontario College of Art and Design, I’m writing fictionalized scenarios on the future of “service as security” in the customs clearance context. Here’s a snippet:
The communications training had gone a long way to preparing her for the transformation. Part of the qualifying exam asked multiple-choice questions about customer service. For the most part, a teenager working a retail job could answer them, but Brandy remembered a tough one about dealing with someone who had a nosebleed. The right answer was C: Offer the traveler a tissue before asking about the nosebleed. (Answer A was the reverse – questions, then tissue – and apparently almost everyone in her class got it wrong.)
But after the exam came the training, and the training was hard. Brandy’s French wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best, either. She watched a lot of French films to keep thinking in the language. She also made sure to practise with the virtual role-play a number of times the day before taking her benchmark quizzes. But the hardest part of the training was learning to put her emotional uniform on with her real one. Like most of the students, she did all right at first – the uniform went a long way to putting you “in character” – but she tended to fall apart once any real problems came up. She panicked too soon in conflict situations, and was quick to pass even basic problems like surly travelers on to superiors. It wasn’t the sort of thing an officer of any authority should or would do.
A consultant from Disney explained it as a confidence problem. She was the senior VP in charge of strategic communications, “cast member” division, which meant she designed the personality each non-costumed employee in the parks was meant to bring to life. (The people in costume, the Cinderellas and Mickeys and so on, apparently went through even more rigorous training in what the consultant affectionately dubbed the “Dao of Disney.” It involved going away to some kind of camp for two weeks.) The personalities were different for each park based on cultural expectations, with subtle gradations based on the age and gender of the park visitor the cast member was speaking to. Part of the cast member training involved taking them on a field trip to the animatronic labs down in the basement below the parks, where they saw how each artificial intelligence was calibrated. Cast members were encouraged to emulate this calibration – to think of their hand gestures and tones of voice and word choices as something they could adjust the way they might adjust volume or brightness on their phones. You had to be in control, all the time, and that control required the confidence of knowing your own personality the way you knew your favourite handheld device.
Granted, the situation in the Disney parks was very different from that at the customs hub at the airport. But, the consultant stressed, there was still the potential for a lot of criminal behaviour in the parks that cast members had to watch out for while still maintaining a high standard of service – people kept trying to have sex in the Haunted Mansion, when they weren’t busy leaving human cremains there; the Pocahontas canoe ride was a regular site of aboriginal activist art; the parks themselves were common hunting grounds for pedophiles and crazed ex-spouses. Hearing these things about a theme park, Brandy wondered how she was ever going to manage possible drug traffickers or illegals or whatever other trouble the airport decided to test her with.
Her test came in the form of Jorge Rivera, exotic animal smuggler.