Arment Dietrich

The Ideal Customer Experience: Lessons in Loyalty from Mickey Mouse

By: Arment Dietrich | August 28, 2013 | 
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Ideal customer experience

By Jason Konopinski

A few weeks ago, I hopped into a 15 passenger van with some of my closest family and started a long drive to Orlando.

Our destination? Walt Disney World.

My niece and nephew (ages four and two) are eyeball deep in a serious Disney princess and Mickey obsession, so we knew it was time to head down the road (well, 15 hours down the road) for a good, old-fashioned family vacation.

As we went hurtling down the road with plenty of plush stuffed animals, a stack of DVDs, and scads of salty and sweet snacks to fuel our enthusiasm, I thought back to my first trip to Disney as a senior in high school.

It was our senior class trip (all 435 of us, mind you). Unleashing that many rowdy teenagers on the parks of Disney might not have been the best decision by our class advisors, but I digress.

I was far too focused on simply spending a week away from mom and dad and celebrating graduation with my friends to really pay attention to fancy things like the ideal customer experience or branding continuity, but fast forward 15 years and it’s another story completely.

The Ideal Customer Experience

As one of the most well-known global entertainment brands, Disney knows know to create authentic brand loyalty. There are few global brands that can boast the passion and loyalty that legions of Disney fans feel for Mickey Mouse and his creator, and any marketer worth their salt knows that of all the things it takes to build a lasting business that can weather economic and industry turbulences with ease and grace, brand loyalty is the hardest to pin down.

It costs a lot less to keep a customer than find new ones, and loyal customers are certainly worth their weight in gold. Walt Disney recognized brand loyalty begins in the most inauspicious ways possible — with an authentic relationship. From the moment you enter a Disney property, it just feels different. Those aren’t just employees at the check-in desk at the resort or maintaining the grounds. They’re cast members focused on providing visitors with simply the best experience.

Be Our Guest

Philosophically, you’re not just a paying customer. You’re a guest in the home of the Disney family. You’re not just there to be entertained or amazed (though that certainly happens). You’re going to feel special. It’s Disney Magic and the tremendous power of memory — and they’re in the business of making memories that build loyalty.

There are lots of tangible reasons people break up with companies. Broken brand promises, product that don’t live up to expectations, changing customer needs. The list goes on. At the top of the list? A customer’s perception the business just doesn’t care about them.

Creating the ideal customer experience — one built on precious memories and a little whimsy — informs everything Disney does from the moment you pass the ticket turnstiles and enter one of the theme parks. Famous for their friendliness, knowledge, passion, and superior customer service, the Disney employees have been fueling the iconic brand’s wild success for more than 50 years.

It’s no surprise Disney University, founded by Van France, turns out some of the most engaged, loyal, and customer-centered employees the business world has ever seen.

Ideal customer experience

So, How Do They Do It?

Forge an Emotional Connection. My niece is something of a princess expert. She knows all the Disney princesses by name, and she really, really likes Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” Princesses exist in her world. Cast members at the parks called her “princess” everywhere she went, even bowing when they passed. It might have something to do with the dress she wore, but I can’t quite be sure. Cough.

Be the Memory Makers. Positive interactions delivered on a personal level result in lasting memories, and begins with the cast members themselves. When they see an opportunity to make a positive difference in a guest experience, they do so. The iconic Disney characters pose for photographs, sign autograph books, and interact with guests. Couples honeymooning in Disney are gifted wedding-themed his and her Mouse ears, and families are randomly selected to take a starring role in the daily parades coursing through the park.

Building Repeat Business. My wife Lisa went to Disney every year growing up. Her mother worked in a factory, and when things shut down for a few weeks each summer, the family car got loaded up and they hit the road. She has her own affinity for Disney animated films, and has her favorite attractions. We rode “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Big Thunder Railroad.” Twice. Why? Because those were her favorites, and we had to keep the tradition going. Now we’re sharing that same Disney Magic with our niece and nephew.

Focus on the Little Things. That’s right, details matter. Theme parks and long lines go together. As I queued up waiting to take my flight to Mars on Mission: SPACE at Epcot (my FAVORITE!), I marveled at the attention paid to environmental and set design. The Mission: Space waiting area is fully styled to resemble a space station, with lots of sensory stimulation. The effect is profound: You’re not just waiting in line to take a five-minute high G force simulation ride, you’re going moving through an interstellar outpost and getting proper training!

The Sum of Its Parts

What makes Disney’s brand and customer experience the topic of so many case studies and leadership programs is its simplicity. There aren’t really any complicated moving parts, but they all work together.  Really, really well.

If you can succeed in forging emotional connections, and empower internal stakeholders to call audibles in improving customer experience on the ground, you’ll capture the hearts, minds and loyalty of the market you serve.

No pixie dust required. You’re safe, Tinkerbell.

P.S. We have Jay Baer joining us tomorrow (!!!) for a free webinar about his new book, Youtility. You can register here.

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