What I Learned from Disney

I recently took a family trip to Disney World with my children and grandchildren. I have fond memories visiting Disney as a kid and as a parent with our own children, but I think I had even more fun this time. What made it special was that I experienced it through the eyes of my grandchildren, Wes (5) and Addi (2).

Jeff-Wes-2It was fun to see how many things have changed, but yet so much has stayed the same. My favorite attraction in 1968 was driving the cars at Magic Kingdom, which today is called Tomorrowland Speedway. So for sure I had to go on that ride again, only this time with Wes. I didn’t fit in the car as well though.

This reminded me of the resiliency of Disney’s business model. I was impressed by how Walt Disney and his next generation of leaders have created a timeless brand and unmatched experience. Mickey was born in 1928 and is still very relevant to my grandchildren’s generation today. Certainly a lot has changed with wearable technology, fast passes and wait time indicators. Yet the foundation remains the same.

Today Disney is a $50 billion enterprise and around every corner there seemed to be another lesson we can take away to make our organizations better. Here’s what I observed:

  • Disney is what good looks like in customer service.
    I think we do a good job at Marco of providing high levels of customer satisfaction and have built a system to track and manage it. But Disney takes it to another level. They showed me that the customer experience can be flawless. It’s why leaders from across the world attend expensive training programs at the Disney Institute.

    I think the key to their world-class customer service is their attention to detail. From the characters, to the bus drivers, to the ride operators, it was obvious they were all well trained and at the top of their game. They call their employees cast members because they are an integral part of the big Disney picture.

    There wasn’t one certain thing I can pinpoint as to why their customer experience felt the way it did. But the fact that our time there was void of anything unpleasant made it stand out. The point is that regardless of their cast members’ roles, everyone did their job well and it showed.

  • Technology brings the experience to the next level.
    In the past two years, Disney’s deployment of technology has taken the customer experience even further. Upon check-in, guests receive colorful wristbands known as Magic Bands. These all-in-one devices connect wirelessly throughout Disney to allow guests to unlock their Disney Resort hotel room, enter the parks, buy food and merchandise and access other perks like the “FastPass” system and professional photos taken throughout the experience.

    Through a mobile app, guests can view wait-time indicators for attractions in real time, explore dining options and get directions to their destinations. It was simple and effective to use. These are good examples of how Disney leveraged technology to be more efficient and improve the client experience.
  • Big vision. Big execution.
    It was while watching his daughters play at a park that Walt Disney first formed his vision for a magical theme park where both kids and parents could have fun. He made location a top priority and bought extensive acreage for future growth. He developed plans for rides and attractions that would engage people of all ages and make it so they didn’t want to leave. Many of those first rides remain favorites today.

    He was 53 years old when Disney Land in California first opened. His imagination was big, but his ability to build a team to execute was even bigger. Walt never saw his vision fully executed. He died before Disney World in Florida opened in 1971. But his presence is felt throughout Disney and his vision continues to be carried out by their current generation of leaders.

  • Having a diverse business model is really the key.
    Our strategy at Marco has been to build diversification into our business model to be more resilient. Disney was ahead of the game on this one. From theme parks and resorts to movies and merchandise, their portfolio is diverse and they all contribute to a growing bottom line. It feels like Disney thought of everything and captures their customers’ entertainment spend like no other. It makes sense to spread your risk over multiple product and service categories.

I loved my Disney experience as a child, as a parent and now as a grandparent. And I’m not alone. Disney World set a record attendance in 2014, and I’m certain that it will continue to be what good business looks like for generations to come. So next time you experience Disney, remember there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Check out this video for a glimpse into the fun as my grandson experiences his first rollercoaster:

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