Walt Disney: The Master of the Ultimate Customer Experience

DesigningDisneyI recently picked up a copy of “Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show” by John Hench, one of Walt Disney’s top Imagineers. What started out as a pleasure read turned into an “Aha Moment.” It happened on page two when I discovered how Disney came up with an idea that is at the heart of what all product manufacturers should strive for—creating the ultimate customer experience—one that goes far beyond the product experience.

The father of Mickey Mouse had taken his daughters to an amusement park one afternoon and while they were having a grand old time on the rides, he was bored out of his skull sitting on a bench. It occurred to him that there could be a theme park that catered to both kids and adults. He envisioned a place where people would be treated to a theatrical experience from the moment they arrived to the moment they left. And that meant every element, large and small, had to work in unison to tell a story, one that would make people feel better for having visited.

Here are a few examples of how Disney accomplished that:

1. Guests Know Best

To Disney, it all started with the customer. Or, rather the guest, as he preferred to call them. He genuinely liked people and wanted them to feel respected and appreciated. He would often walk through Disneyland listening for reactions to things. If something wasn’t right, he would hear it from the horse’s mouth and change it. One time, a gardener came up to him and said they needed to put a fence around a flower bed because people were walking through it. Disney replied that people must want to go that way and insisted a path be put in. In short, the customer…er…guest wasn’t just right, they were everything.

2. Long Lines = Long Faces

Waiting in a long line for an attraction or a ride was anathema to Disney and his Imagineers (not to mention their guests). One solution was to lose the single-file line and give it a switchback approach. That way, people would face each other, which allowed for conversation and a pleasing way to pass the time. For the “Indiana Jones Adventure” at Disneyland, they took the static standing in line situation and added in story elements from the ride to create a sense of anticipation. To go from merely having guests queue up to giving them an uplifting experience was nothing short of brilliant.

3. Post-Show Perfection

Early on, the one part of the guest experience that hadn’t been considered was the one at the end of an attraction. For example, when the “It’s A Small World” boat ride concluded at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, there was a message from Bank of America, its sponsor. Deemed too commercial, the Disney team created a scene featuring kids saying good-bye in several different languages. This served two purposes. One, it allowed the exiting guests to adjust their eyes from the ride to daylight. And two, the guests waiting in line got to see the smiling faces of those leaving, which reassured them that the time spent waiting was definitely going to be worth it.

Good customer experiences are not new and never go out of style. Walt Disney knew this and that’s why his theme park design went beyond the rides and attractions. It included everything, from the shops and restaurants to the rest rooms and even the trash cans. They all were an integral part of the story and the experience. What’s more, he knew that if any of those details were missing or incorrect, the guests would be able to tell and, in turn, no longer believe in the story.

If the notion of seeing this experience up-close-and-personal appeals to you, I invite you to tour a Disney theme park with me—looking at it through the lens of customer experience. Or, if these ideas resonate and you’re curious to know how they might be applied to your product or service, let’s schedule a time to chat.