The Disney Difference

I spent a week of my honeymoon recently at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida. I’m one of those people who have always wanted to go to Disney. When I was young, I ate slept and dreamed Disney so much that one day I woke up having vividly dreamed we were going to Disneyland Theme Park in Anaheim, California and packed my little suitcase only to be devastated when I found out it was not happening.

That said, I found that on this, my second visit to Disney (we went to Disneyland two years ago) I was able to remove some of my bias and wonderment at simply being at the place of my childhood dreams and look a bit deeper.

I found some of Disney’s business practices really interesting and wanted to share a few of them with you in the hopes that you’ll find something you can use (or R&D) in your workplace or business.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

When I give talks I often mention the need to strive for WIN/WIN situations even though human nature sometimes leads us towards thinking that for me to win somebody has to lose. One example I’ve been told about that I find so deliciously win/win is that of a child lining up to get on a ride. As we all know – some of the rides have a height requirement and some of the lines at Disney can be looong – I saw quite a few lines with a wait time of over an hour. Now imagine the disappointment of a child and their family when they get to the front of a line after waiting such a long time – only to be told that the child is too short to ride. I heard in a talk a few years ago that cast-members (never staff!) at Disney can provide a certificate to a child who has waited and been found to short so that next time the child returns to Disney they can go to the front of the line.

It’s one of the most beautiful examples of WIN/WIN I’ve seen in a long time with the child leaving with hope and with Disney avoiding a potentially huge scene. The added bonus for Disney of course is that the child is now going to be very very keen to come back to Disney when they achieve the desired height. Who knows maybe in the future Disney could give out a complimentary height chart with the required “Disney Height” marked on it!

What hidden win/wins are waiting for you in your business? How can you turn what could be a negative client interaction into a positive ensuring repeat business?

Tiny Touches

This time we stayed in a Disney hotel which was an experience in itself. If you stay in a Disney hotel everything is set up to maximize your experience and their bottom line. Now some may read that and think I’m saying that in a derogatory way – I’m not. Businesses exist to make profit, the best way I think to do that is to give people what they want and Disney is a prime example of this. The fact that I talk about them maximizing the amount people spend at their parks is purely a sign of admiration at their business techniques.

Take for example the fact that if you purchase any item in a Disney store it can be delivered to your hotel saving you the trouble of carrying it (and giving you the added bonus of being able to purchase more!) Or when you check into your hotel room you’re given a swipe card which not only opens your door to the hotel room but also gives you entry to the theme parks and can be a charge card so that as you’re ordering your food in the park or purchasing gifts you can simply swipe away. The convenience they provide is a great tool for them in making it easy to spend your money at Disney.

One tiny touch that really struck me while I was staying at the hotels however was when a child would purchase Disney toys – the room cleaning staff would do something with them so that when the child returned back to the room their attention would be instantly focused on their new purchase. One prime example I saw of this was a new Mickey doll strung up in the curtains of a room waiting to greet the child. The first bonus is that the child is delighted and the family surprised, the second – well everyone walking past that room including me saw the Mickey and this further increased Disney’s branding and merchandising branding.

What are the tiny touches you could incorporate into your business / workplace that would increase customer loyalty and your profit line?

Not for first time players

Disney quite obviously wasn’t created to be a one off attraction. There is so much thought and detail put into every item you see – some of which you’ll never fully appreciate until you visit a number of times, do a behind the scenes tour or read one of the many books.

Some fabulous example of this are the windows going down Main Street, the Hidden Mickeys and the carousel at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

As you walk down Main Street there are various names written on the windows above the shops. First time players will probably rush past them in a frenzy and not notice them. Those who know where to look however may notice that this small detail has been put in to recognise those who have made a significant contribution to Disney. It adds a special tone for those who know where to look.

The carousel is gorgeous in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom – however as we were in a rush trying to do every “cool” ride we skipped it on our first trip through the park. We looked, we said it was lovely, we ran on. After doing the behind the scenes tour however and finding out how much painstaking detail goes into stripping and meticulously painting each horse every two years we had to go and have a ride and inspect further. We learnt how the carousel had been rescued from near destruction and had been restored to its glory by stripping of layer upon layer of paint only to discover the beauty within. The combined facts that even the smallest horse on the carousel is worth a mere $75,000 USD each and that the artists whose job it is to paint them frequently spend time out at the carousel just watching the enjoyment their work gives to others made it a must see for us.

The most fun fact we found though for second time and onwards visitors to Disney are the hidden Mickeys sprinkled all over. Hidden Mickey’s got their start at Epcot in Florida where it was decided that this would be the grown up park – ie: no Mickey, Donald etc. However the imagineers (that’s Disney speak for engineers / creative folk) had other ideas and his Mickey’s throughout the park – in wallpaper patterns, in prints, all over! Soon people cottoned on to their idea and the hidden Mickey’s spread out through all the parks. We found one in some wrought iron work in the waiting line for a ride, we found plates arranged to look like Mickey’s head on a table in the Haunted House, we found craters shaped like Mickey before Space Mountain – I must admit by the end of our trip I was more excited about finding hidden Mickeys than I was about the rides! They had created an experience for me that cost them next to nothing, peaked my excitement almost as much as the thrill rides and kept me constantly entertained while I was waiting for a pretzel, waiting in line, waiting for a show to start.

Why do your customers want to do business with you more than once?

Not Random HapPINings

You’ve been able to purchase collectable Disney pins for decades now – Mickey’s head, Goofy running etc etc. Rumour has it that some cast members attended the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996 and saw the frenzy that was created by the pin swapping there. It was thought that there must be a way to take that frenzy to Disney. The pin swapping was initially designed to create more interaction with the Disney cast members and the guests at the parks. Each cast member has a lanyard or pouch with a selection of pins on it – anyone with a Disney pin can come and trade one for one with a cast member – unless of course that cast member has a green lanyard in which case they can only trade with kids 12 and under.

I must say I thought the pin trading idea was fabulous and for my first few days at Disney found it so cute and amusing to see kids and adults alike rushing around trading with cast members. By day 4 I thought, just for fun, I’d get 4 small cheap pins and have a bit of fun. By the end of day 7 I was addicted, I’d traded pins tentatively at first with a lady working a line, then a cast member emptying a bin had a pin I wanted – no needed! I had to get the full set of the pins I was collecting and I desperately wanted the “cast member” collectable pins. I took great delight in forming a full collection before a professional collector at one stage.

Not only was this extra revenue for Disney (so I spent around $100 USD on pins!) but it also kept me entertained, it made me highly interactive not only with cast members at rides, but those selling me a hot dog and more and it sparked some conversation with other guests at the parks.

I was blown away at what a simple idea this was for Disney – but no more impressed was I than when I learnt it’s now a $58million US arm of their business annually.

What profit centers exist in your business right now that you have no idea about?

Change without Change

What’s the worst thing you can think of about amusement parks? Most people say waiting in the lines and I’d tend to agree with them. One thing I did love about Disney though was the ability to “Fast Pass” rides. This entailed going to the ride, getting a fast pass to come back at a certain time and going almost to the start of the line. There were a few catches, ie you could only have one fast pass at a time and usually by about 3.00pm each day the fast passes for the very popular rides were all used up. Not a problem for us though – we’d plan out our day – get our fast passes and save our time waiting in the long lines.

Now I was delighted with this system. But the reason I call it change without change is that – it doesn’t change the number of people waiting in lines – it simply gives people choices. Chose to wait in the line longer but go on the ride now – or come back later and wait less. People adore choices – I know I did with this particular Disney innovation that changed nothing in effect, but changed my experience by giving me choice.

Can your clients choose how they like to do business with you? Do you not only offer them the choice, but ask them to be proactive in making it? Do they know about the choices?

Showing Heart

Disney sells apples. Yes indeed – not just hotdogs and pretzels and turkey legs the size of my leg – but fruit and juices. That’s not what this is about; I was just pleasantly surprised by it!

One day during my stay I was standing at a food stall purchasing something, I can’t even remember what and a young boy probably around 6 years old stood in front of me with an apple to buy. The apple was $1 US and he handed over his folded $1 note. The Disney cast member said – that’s $1.06 with tax thanks. Ah pesky tax – it confounded me on many occasions! The young boy just kind of looked at her confused and almost as though he was on the verge of tears. The cast member kindly explained that the apple was $1.06 with tax and the young boy again said nothing. She then came out from behind the stand got down to our 6 year old’s level and said, “Don’t you worry about it, I’ll pay the tax for you.” To which he happily skipped off probably never thinking twice about the heart she had shown again.

What did happen however was that I noticed this act of generosity and I dare say around 5 other adults around me noticed it. It showed to me that this massive company had a heart and wasn’t all about procedures and systems. Was I thinking wow that apple costs around $1.40 AU? Nope – I was thinking, wasn’t that a sweet gesture.

Are people in your organization able to have some flexibility to “show some heart”? How could you incorporate that into your every day experiences with customers?

I must throw out a very huge and special thank you to my good friend Chris at the Disney Institute who organised my behind the scenes tour and has helped me get a special insight into this organisation. I highly recommend a behind the scenes tour if you get to any Disney park and also recommend you check out the seminars and courses offered by the Disney Institute who can help you sprinkle some pixie dust and magic in your business.

And if you want a fabulous book to read about the man himself – Walt Disney – pick up a copy of “Walt Disney: An American Original”. I found it a great insight, not so much into the magic of Disney, but more into the man – flaws and brilliance combined.