5 things companies can learn from Disney World

I was lucky enough to spend some time in the sun during the past week or so. One thing my kids were most looking forward to on our Florida trip was a visit to Disney World. A place that, honestly, I had no interest in going. Other than Pixar’s productions and a few of Disney’s animated efforts, I’ve lost a great deal of respect for the Disney brand in the last decade. The Disney Princess thing is everywhere, especially at the lower end of the market and the crappy dollar store toys that have made their way into my girls’ hands really takes the shine off of what used to be a hugely positive experience.

So, it was with a little dread that I donned my most comfortable sneakers and set off with the family via monorail for a full day at Walt’s famous theme park, the Magic Kingdom.

The first thing you notice at Disney World is the massive lines. We were there on the busiest day of the year so far (the day before President’s Day long weekend) and the queues were enormous even at 8:30 in the morning. We hit our first line at the parking entrance. After paying $14 to get into the parking lot, we were greeted by row upon row of smiling attendants who directed us to an empty spot on the far side of the lot. No fewer than nine people motioned us to the most appropriate spot. It was incredibly efficient, and took any stress out of finding a spot. They then directed us to the trams that would take us to the ticket booth. Other theme parks use these too, but Disney does a great job of it. Throughout the day, I was amazed over and over again at how efficiently Disney moves people through their parks. They stream a single line of people into multiple queue boxes for each ride, transportation system and vendor. This gives the impression that things are moving faster than they actually are, unlike say, the multi-queue system Superstore and Sobeys use for the grocery cashiers.

So that’s lesson 1: give people the impression that lines are moving quickly. After all, perception is reality, truth is negotiable. On a corporate website, this could translate into making it easy to find contact information, or simplifying forms so that they take little to no time.

Lesson 2 is something that old school Macromedia Shockwave developers and game builders learned years ago: give people something to do while they’re waiting. In the lineup for Space Mountain, Disney has huge multi-player video games built into the wall. There are three or four different simple space-themed games that can be controlled via three buttons mounted on the hand rail. Even better, the games are collaborative so people learn to work together. My young kids had no problem learning to operate the games. Impromptu competitions were popping up all through the line as different groups of complete strangers were trying to beat each other’s high scores as a team. It was incredibly interesting to watch from a social perspective. These simple games became a shared social object between people, and helped people connect to each other in fun and meaningful (if passive) ways. The next time you host a corporate event, think about how you can connect people to each other while they’re waiting in line for a beverage. Don’t just give them something to read.

Big Thunder MountainThe last point is really about details. Details are the things that many people won’t even notice, but they can tell when no focus was given to them. I first noticed this while riding one of the many Disney busses that ferry people all over the resort. Even the canned recordings telling people about safety rules and pointing out attractions are thoughtfully written and professionally recorded and played back over quality speakers–making it a pleasure to hear. They add to the experience and actually make you want to hear more. When was the last time you cared what the faceless announcer said over a loudspeaker? Exactly. These details take downtime at the resort and make you happy you’ve come. And thoughtful touches like this are everywhere throughout the park.

While the Disney Princess junk at the dollar store leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the thoughtfulness of design at every turn in the park was fantastic. Whether it was the signage providing fun details on Tom Sawyer island or the costumes. They add little doses of delight even where you’d think it didn’t matter. My kids still think the animatronic deer in the woods were real because their ears would flick and the heads would turn. The guy giving out instructions to the people in line for the Haunted Mansion cracked jokes that fit with the experience we were about to have. Think about how you can provide delight at every turn, whether it’s something as simple as a fun congratulation message after someone enters their info correctly or a thoughtful follow up email message.

Disney World uses a system called FastPass that lets you plan ahead and get tickets for a popular ride up to hours ahead of time. You can only get one FastPass at a time, and often it doesn’t get you on the ride for at least an hour. But, if you show up during the window of time printed on your pass you get to bypass most of the crowd in line. In this way, they’re rewarding the people who think ahead, but it’s almost impossible to abuse the system because you can only hold one at a time. How are you rewarding your smartest customers? You should think about how you make it easier and more rewarding for the people who think ahead.

By focusing on the details and providing a consistent and delightful experience for your users, you can bring some of Walt’s business theory and acumen into your marketing whether it be online or in real life.

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