Your Small Business Success: Learning From Disney’s Customer Experience Magic

I was fortunate enough to take my family on a trip to Walt Disney World recently. Anyone who has travelled to WDW knows that Disney is among the best when it comes to the customer service experience and accommodations. In fact, my brother has been there nine times, and one of my friends refuses to take his family to any place other than Disney. What exactly is it that keeps travelers returning to Disney, again and again? How can your business learn from Disney’s model to ensure the ultimate customer experience? This article easily could have had “an excellent customer experience” as one of the reasons folks decide to part with their hard earned money with recurring trips to Disney World. However, when I looked at other reasons, I came to the conclusion that other reasons aren’t necessary: At Disney EVERYTHING is about the customer experience. The perfectly manicured landscapes, cleanliness, friendliness, visual details, music, and of course the wide variety of fun activities all help convey a special, magical experience. So how do they achieve this?

1) High Quality

Disney’s attractions are noted for their originality and entertainment, which are a lot of fun. They have several attractions such as “The Pirates of The Caribbean”, and “The Haunted Mansion” which have been in operation for decades. Even so, folks continuously line up and re-visit the “old” attractions. They continue to provide some of the old, traditional attractions with some minor face-lifts, in order to keep them relevant. One example is the recent addition of Capt. Jack Sparrow to “The Pirates of The Caribbean” attraction. Where else can folks find this type of fantasy/reality themed family entertainment?

Then there are the newer attractions, which are in their own leagues altogether. My favorite is “Mission Space”, whereas my kids enjoy the “Rockin’ Rollercoaster”, New “Mt. Everest” Coaster, and “Space Wars”. The “rides” themselves aren’t really that intense compared with those in other theme parks, such as Busch Gardens and Six Flags. However, the overall themes and how Disney presents them make each attraction special and magical. For example, most of the queues are indoors; this keeps the rides going in the rain, and allows Disney to play music, convey lighting, props, and even offer some interactive tools while waiting in line. Yes, even waiting in line can be made fun!

We have never had a bad meal at Disney. They offer the typical French fry side, but also offer fruit alternatives. With a Disney meal plan, folks can redeem their points at over 100 restaurants ranging from fancy table dinners, to quick service meals, and of course snack stands. The food is well prepared, the portions are good, and the food is tasty. Most important, the food is consistently good across the board—literally across the entire “world” of Disney.

2) Consistency

This goes hand-in-hand with high quality. It is hard to find any non-consistencies with anything at Disney. The transportation always seems to run like clockwork, the food is always good no matter where it is purchased in Disney World, the smiles from the employees are always there, and the entertainment, attractions, and shows, are always top-notch. No skimping or short-cuts that I can see.

3) Training

Every employee we meet is friendly, and no request is too small for them to meet. They all smile, and are well groomed. Apparently, all employees have to attend the infamous “Disney University”, which is literally underground. Upon graduation, Disney employees understand that their mission is purely to promote the ultimate customer experience.

4) Integration and Technology

For decades Disney’s monorail system has been second-to-none. Customers can hop on the monorail for free, and head to their hotel, one of the theme parks, or be dropped off at Disney’s Transportation Center. From this free transportation hub, busses are available to other parks, hotels, etc. Customers at the Disney resorts, upon check-in, are handed their “key to the world.” This is a debit card, which contains both a bar code and an encoded magnetic strip. This plastic card can be used to open your room door, to purchase food, purchase gifts, obtain fast pass tickets at the parks, and to validate entry into the parks. The card can be used as money anywhere and everywhere within WDW, without having to dig for cash, or a credit card. As a transaction is completed the card balance is updated in real-time. My daughter impressed me with her phone application that told us, in real time, the wait time for each and every attraction at any of the parks. The application is called Disney World Wait Times, and is extremely accurate—real time!

5) Nostalgia and Branding

This one is closely related to the strong Disney brand. While my kids are now too old to be interested in meeting Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, they still stop and watch, when the Disney characters are near. I must confess—I do too. There is just something special about being in the presence of the traditional, world famous Disney characters. Then there are landmarks such as the Castle in Magic Kingdom. My daughter must have taken 20 pictures of that castle. The castle seems to appear before and at the end of Disney movies, and advertisements. I guess when we are near the Castle, there is that feeling of magic. Of course the shows, attractions, monorail, Pineapple Float Treats, employees, food, and having a lot of fun, all contribute to an overall magical customer experience. This is what you call strong branding, and is the reason folks continue to visit Disney World again and again.

How can the Disney customer experience points above, translate over to your business?

Obviously there are a ton of different business models. While Disney is of course an entertainment resort service company, we can translate their model over to other types of businesses including your business. Have fun with this. Get creative. And take note of how each point is not exclusive of the others; they all overlap.

Here are four business model examples along with some unique tips to help convey an excellent customer experience:

RighterTrack—Value Added Seller of Labeling and Tracking Systems

High Quality- Offer products that have been proven over time
Consistency- Source from ISO9000 suppliers; have proper documentation systems in place
Training- Attend latest webinars on product line offerings; attend workshops on enhancing interpersonal skills
Integration and Technology- Convergence of voice and data systems; keep OS up to date
Nostalgia and Branding- Offer free long-term support to customers even after 10 and 15 years; Build long-term relationships; Strong personal service and support


ABC Company—Retail Toy Store

High Quality- Offer products that have been proven over time; offer only the safest choices
Consistency- Keep store clean and refreshing; don’t stray from business model (i.e. high quality instead of discounted junk)
Training- Attend latest webinars on product line offerings; attend workshops on enhancing interpersonal skills; learn latest shopper trends
Integration and Technology- Accept smartphone enabled payments; web-site pre-ordering and store pick-up
Nostalgia and Branding- Offer something unique such as lifetime warranty, points for old toy donation, create a fun and exciting store environment, perhaps catered to each season


Rain Computers—PC Manufacturer for the Entertainment Industry

High Quality- Offer products that have been tested over time; offer only the best components
Consistency- Proper quality control procedures in place; purchase from same pool of suppliers
Training- Attend latest webinars to become familiar with recording software and hardware offerings; attend workshops on enhancing interpersonal skills
Integration and Technology- Proper system in place for customer, inventory and order tracking. State-of-the-art web platform.
Nostalgia and Branding- Offer the best service along with a wealth of free information and helpful resources


LL Bean—Direct Mail and Retail Clothing, Outdoors, and Home Products

High Quality- Products sold last a long time; best return policy and life-time warranty in the industry
Consistency- Source from long-term suppliers; have proper documentation and QC systems in place; directly monitor suppliers and facilities.
Training- Attend latest webinars on product line offerings; attend workshops on enhancing interpersonal skills
Integration and Technology- Provides real time order tracking information; flexible payment options; exceptional web-site/store.
Nostalgia and Branding- Rustic outdoors high quality comfort brand. Seasonal direct mailing catalogues. Retail stores in Maine provide how-to workshops, rafting trips, top-notch customer service, and a small running stream with a mountain/outdoors cabin feel. Visitors return year-after-year.

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