Disney Creates World-Class Guest Experiences: 5 Keys to Their Success

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Disney Parks and Resorts transport guests to mythical places that create magical emotions. Disney is intentional and strategic about designing the physical places, systems, and guest interactions that drive such strong emotions. The result? Disney stands out in a crowded market place full of entertainment and theme park options. Fans of the iconic theme park brand are ravenous and loyal. This is not by mistake, as Disney leaves no stone unturned when developing customer experiences.

1. It’s all in the details.

Disney goes to extremes to make sure each and every guest touchpoint is planned and heavily measured for quality. Adjustments are made as guest satisfaction data is collected. The company even examines touchpoints that other organizations would deem out of their control. For instance, Disney has taken great steps to ease travel pain points and make luggage and airport travel experiences as seamless as possible. Guests can tag their luggage to travel directly from their home airport to their on-property hotel room. They can also take a Magical Express motor coach from the airport to their Disney resort hotel. Finally, when departing they can check their luggage with their airline at their on-property hotel. We’ve been told by executives that Disney can analyze more than 100 guest touchpoints in a typical guest experience, such as security, park entry, cast member interactions, line queue, and riding the first attraction. What’s so impressive about this number is that other companies may only identify 5-10 touchpoints for a similar experience. The Disney difference isn’t all magic, folks, but rather an acute attention to detail and desire to strive for perfection.

2. Senses.

Consumers are largely feelers, meaning they draw connections to brands through irrational means. We sense faster than we can process something cognitively, which means our senses have a significant impact on our cerebral processing that happens after the feelings and emotions are triggered. While many companies know this and use it to their advantage, Disney creates emotions through the five senses better than just about any company on the planet. Whether it be the forced perspective they use to make attractions and theming more real and appear larger and taller than they are, or the smell of fresh-baked cookies being piped onto Main Street, U.S.A. in each resort’s signature park, Disney has mastered the art of bringing special feelings to guests through the five senses. For example, did you know that Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom is blocked by the train station as you enter the park and that the buildings on Main Street, U.S.A. leading up to the castle are about two-thirds scale? These effects create a magical reveal and help make the castle appear much further away and larger and taller (it’s only 189 feet tall!) than it actually is.

3. Brand integration.

Disney has placed an impetuous on carefully integrating its massive portfolio of intellectual property into park attractions and shows. This increased effort is largely driven by the company’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) over the last 13 years. These acquisitions, coupled with Disney’s historically renowned brands, make for good park attractions, but they also create synergies within the company, as guests immediately connect with characters and places they’re already experienced in movies, books, and television shows. These efforts are in full swing with recently opened Toy Story Lands in France, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Hollywood Studios in Florida, and pending Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Lands in Disneyland Park and Hollywood Studios. No doubt even more integration is ahead with the recent purchase of 21st Century Fox.

4. Brand Protection.

Every role, function, and physical asset is important to fulfilling Disney Parks and Resorts’ mission of creating happiness. The role of the custodian is critical in that without cleanliness the magic is lost. Imagineers play a crucial part of the success, as attraction and theming details are a key ingredient in transporting guests to mythical places. At Disney, this is more than mere image management. Disney’s guest experience is at the forefront of what it does, and ultimately controls the fate of its brand integrity.

5. Cast Member engagement with guests.

The outlier of this list is the most important piece of Disney’s secret sauce for creating unparalleled guest experiences. The previous items are all critically important factors in Disney’s guest experience strategy, but they only set up what distances the company’s parks and resorts from other amusement parks and entertainment options – the uniquely authentic, personal, and memorable interactions guests have with Disney cast members. Not only are cast members trained to deliberately delight guests, but they are given creative license to create magical moments, such as a special photo shoot, moving to the front of a line, or a character taking the hand of a young fan for a special one-on-one walk. The power of these interactions leaves such an indelible mark on the guests that—despite the billions of dollars Disney invests in its immaculate infrastructure—the vast majority of positive feedback the company receives from guests points to the meaningful exchanges they have with cast members.

Disney isn’t the best by mistake. The company is thorough and consistent when it comes to self-examination of the most minute of details around guest engagement and experience. Few companies could even begin to fathom the intentionality with which they build their physical environments and prepare their cast members. Even fewer can imagine the discipline and humility of constantly reexamining those details over and over again into perpetuity. Yet that’s what Disney does with amazing discipline, and it’s why there is a difference you can feel in their parks and resorts. What systems and processes can you develop that identify all customer touchpoints and critically examine them for relevancy and quality over time?