If there’s one company that knows a thing or two about keeping its customers happy, it’s Disney.

This is reflected in the increasing demand for the Disney experience. In 2018 – a record year for worldwide theme park attendance – Disney saw attendance grow 4.9% from 150 million visits to 157 million visits. What’s more, revenue from Disney Parks and Resorts increased 5% year-over-year in Q2 2019, boosted by a 4% rise in average guest spending in US parks.

Delivering a great customer experience might seem like an easy task for the ‘happiest place on earth’, but Disney uses much more to delight visitors than Mickey Mouse pancakes.

Let’s take a look at how we might learn from Disney’s approach to customer experience.

Making the mundane magical

Disney’s brand promise – which is what makes it most desirable and how it differentiates itself from others – has been the same since Walt Disney opened the very first theme park in 1955. Essentially, it is to make magical experiences come alive, and to create happiness via these experiences.

Anyone who has visited a theme park before knows that ‘magic’ (or perhaps enjoyment or entertainment when it comes to non-Disney parks) is often quashed by the mundane. This means basic tasks like buying a ticket, queuing for rides, and if you are an international visitor – getting to the resort in the first place.

Disney aims to deliver its brand promise by making these mundane details magical, and focusing on the unexpected ways it might bring happiness to customers.

There are lots of ways Disney does this, but one in particular is to turn around any misfortune. For example, since recognising that children often queue up for rides only to find out that they aren’t tall enough – it now hands out special passes to enable disappointed kids to skip to the front on their next ride.

The Play Disney Parks app, which was first introduced in 2018, is another example of this. The app is designed to relieve boredom for visitors who are queueing for rides and attractions. It also helps to build excitement, too, with the games relating to whatever ride the person is waiting for.

Visitors in the queue for Space Mountain at Disneyland can design their own rocket ships, for example, or those waiting at Toy Story Mania in Disney California can play games involving the Pixar characters.

Elsewhere, the Disney brand promise acts as a natural extension of its internal company culture, with employees (or cast members as they’re known) embodying the six characteristics that make up The Walt Disney Company’s corporate culture, including ‘Decency’, ‘Community, and ‘Storytelling’. The latter is particularly important in Disney parks, as employees effectively put on a show in order to make the experience magical and seamless.

One small but interesting example of this is how employees can become ‘language certified’, which means that they can then wear pins which indicate what languages they speak, in turn making it clear to guests that they can assist them if necessary.

Immersion is everything

Dedication to the little details means that Disney is about much more than just the rides – and in turn visitors want to entirely immerse themselves in its world.

One way the company extends this immersion even further is through its hotels, which allow consumers to enjoy Disney from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.

This is also something that Disney is heavily investing in, even going so far as to make ‘immersion’ the USP of a brand new hotel. Later this year, the new Star Wars hotel is set to open in Orlando Florida, allowing visitors to watch or participate in themed stories throughout their stay.

While it’s been pointed out that many hotels also have immersive qualities, such as the Legoland Hotel and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Disney seems intent on raising the bar. A scale 3D model of the park shows the intended attention to detail, with guests even reportedly seeing a depiction of outer space outside their windows instead of the real world.

Meanwhile, this summer, the new ‘Star Wars: Galaxy Edge’ experience opened in Disneyland California. The 14-acre parkland is notable for its role-play and high levels of interaction, whereby visitors can directly interact with walk-around characters. According to Disney, the aim is for visitors to feel like they’ve stepped into a Star Wars movie (rather than observe one), with surprise elements meaning that all visitors do not have the same static experience.

Data also allows for deeper immersion. The Play Disney Parks app is turned into the Star Wars: Datapad, allowing users to complete tasks and collect rewards related to the park’s story. In turn, characters or park staff can draw on this to interact with visitors (in ‘responsive areas’) there and then. For example, a bartender in Oga’s Cantina – the first real bar in Disneyland – might reference what a visitor has completed so far or needs to do next.

Interestingly, the app is geared towards visitors who already have an in-depth knowledge of Star Wars. This also shows how Disney is putting more emphasis on targeting demographics outside of children and traditional families, instead aiming to attract more of a millennial crowd. Some have pointed this out in response to a recent New York Post article that poked fun at childless adults going to Disney World (spurred on by a Facebook rant posted by an angry mum).

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Unexpected moments of personalisation

The aforementioned Play Disney Parks app is another way Disney creates a personal connection with the thousands of visitors who visit its parks each day. As well as relieving boredom, the app uses Bluetooth technology to trigger special effects in the user’s physical environment. For example, when people near the front of the queue, they can see the results of their game displayed on digital screens.

Technology also allows Disney to create tools that help to both streamline and elevate the park and hotel experience. Through its smartphone apps and electronic MagicBand, Disney draws on data to discover how visitors behave and shop while in its Parks.

Consumer privacy is a hot topic at the moment, of course, with the likes of Facebook and Google under scrutiny for how they collect and use data. However, Disney insists that data collection is entirely opt-in, with MagicBand wearers fully aware of how the company will monitor them. Bloomberg points out that people are more accepting of this because Disney effectively acts as a physical manifestation of a ‘walled garden’, only using data to elevate the experience within the resort.

The benefits are great, too, including perks such as advance ride booking and restaurant reservations. The MyMagic+ system also allows the brand to create a more seamless experience all-round, with the MagicBand acting as a room key, park ticket, and even an optional payment method.

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MyMagic+ also enables Disney to increase levels of personalisation – not only in the messages it sends via the mobile app, but also at particular touchpoints within the park and resort. For example, MyMagic+ members might see their name appear on a screen as they walk by (alongside the caption “it’s a small world”), or a photo taken on a ride might unexpectedly appear on the app (along with the option to buy).

According to reports, the MagicBand system has massively streamlined park logistics, reducing turnstile transaction times by 30% and increasing park capacity at the same time.

Listening to customers

To complete the cycle, Disney uses ‘listening posts’ to assess the customer experience and identify which areas need to be improved upon.

Unlike data which enables the brand to better target and engage consumers, listening posts allow Disney to understand the expectations, needs and wants of visitors. In turn, this can be used to address gaps in customer service or areas where the aforementioned ‘magic’ might be lacking.

Just like the previous example of children being given free queue passes, Disney continuously introduces features to improve the customer experience based on this feedback. For instance, it created subtle ‘Special Assistance’ passes for disabled guests, to take away the need for any potentially intrusive questions. Similarly, after discovering that visitors would often ask about the location of characters, it introduced the CHIP system (which stands for Character Hotline and Information Program) to let visitors find out where they are located at any given time.

Disney is also working to improve the links between its separate Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida. In September, the long-awaited Skyliner system will open, allowing visitors to travel via gondolas between the connect Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot.

Instead of making the experience of travelling a chore, the idea is that it will become an impressive experience in itself, allowing visitors to enjoy the sights below.

This is just one part of Disney’s hefty expansion plans, which also include a number of new rides based around Disney franchises, such as Frozen and Marvel. Overall, Disney is reportedly set to invest $24 billion on new hotels and attractions over the next five years.

Whether it’s in the little service-based details or big park upgrades, Disney is an example of a company that continuously works on improving its customer experience.

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