Disney Day 4: Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test, plus the Service Scape

The fourth in a series of Disney-themed posts as I continue a quest to ingrain within myself the habit of learning two things a day. Our vacation continues…

Today I learned:

1. Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test: I get the sense Disneyland is a living lab, with constant testing of new ideas to see which generate the highest customer satisfaction and revenue. Subtle and not-so-subtle examples of experimentation are everywhere.

On the not-so subtle side, I have seen numerous appearances of a small army of pleasant, approachable, middle-aged researchers, with touchscreen devices attempting to collect data from customers immediately after different service contact points. The team has appeared after a street performance and a parade, while exiting a restaurant and after using a couple of the rides. They were even at the main entry point after getting our passes scanned this morning.

We completed one quick survey and it was focussed on basic satisfaction questions, rating our experience and whether or not we would recommend it to others. Nothing new, just ever present. The interesting thing is that I have never seen anyone turn down a request, which is well over 15 for 15 at this point. I am guessing that level of success rate would be unheard of in the outside world.

On the subtle side we have seen a few examples of unadvertised test-performances. One such street show related to the Princess and the Frog did not appear on any of the main schedules and seemed to be a trial run to see how the crowd enjoyed it, in comparison to the typical entertainment in that area of the park.

I suppose it is easy to keep your brand focussed on research when you control the environment as every day is groundhog day – you get a chance to start over and try again 24 hours later. This experimentation keeps the park fresh for recurrent visitors and ensures the show is constantly improving.

Test, iterate and re-test – it is all a part of what helps a great company stay great for 50+ years.  I can think of a few examples of companies that could use that kind of insight. There is a deal on right now for RIM stock. Anyone? Anyone?

2. The Service Scape: One of my favourite MBA classes was Strategic Marketing of Services, taught by Kenton Low, a former Vice President at The Walt Disney Company.  Within class he was able to convey a number of insights into the strategies employed in Disney’s theme parks to improve the customer experience, and extract a bit more of every visitor’s tourist dollar.

One of the more amusing anecdotes was about the research that went into every aspect of Mainstreet, USA, all the way down to the aroma in the shops. Apparently a replica of Main Street was built in a warehouse for test purposes and researchers subsequently learned that piping in the smell of cotton candy proved to sell the most sweets.

Along with the distinct odour of cotton candy, with what I believe was a mild undertone of waffle cone, today I was equally impressed by these aspects of the Service Scape:

  • Flow/Geography: The hub and spoke set-up of the park helps you always feel like you are constantly entering somewhere new. Each “Land” is unique and in look and feel helping to break up the visit and periodically revive interest as you move through the park. It also mean you can get from anywhere to anywhere in about 5-10 minutes (assuming you can walk at a healthy pace), meaning you can change activities with the whim of your mood. And, it all filters into a central spot that makes it easy for families to meet and re-group then head about their separate ways if they choose.
  • Mood: The pastel colours of Mickey’s Toon Town give a good balance to the wild energy of the toddlers climbing Donald Duck’s boat and running around Goofy’s Playhouse. More whimsical than other areas of the park it seems to draw my kids like no other, even though there are fewer rides. It just seems to make them feel happier and more energetic as soon as they arrive. Admittedly though, that might just be the smell of hotdogs. Now, if we could just get them to build Minnie’s Spa Town right next door.
  • Atmosphere: New Orleans Square is a long way from Bourbon Street but the energy found in the crowded, narrow thoroughfares and ample restaurant options makes it perfect for an evening stroll. A few more strollers than the real thing, but still a great vibe to generate energy after a long day at the park.

I could go on, but better to stop there and head back to the park for a post-nap evening with the kids!

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Disney Day 2: It is all about me and Get the Right People on the Tea Cups

This is the second of what I expect will be several consecutive Disney-themed posts as my family and I fit in a brief winter trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Today I learned:

1.  It’s all about me: At ages 4 and 2 it is debatable if our kids will remember their first trip to disneyland.

The two year-old? No way.

The 4 year-old? Maybe.

Regardless of the kids memories, I will never forget the look in their eyes as we embarked on our first ride,  The Finding Nemo Submarine. The unbridled laughter as they raced along the Autopia. The absolute terror as our 4 year old exited the Space Mountain Roller Coaster.  The enthusiasm as they sang along on It’s a Small World.

Will they remember it?  Who cares. 

The build up and anticipation. The look in their eyes. The laughter. The fun. Today I learned that it doesn’t matter what they remember of this when they grow up, because it’s all about me of course.

2. Get the right people on the Tea Cups: Even before you get through the gates at Disneyland one thing becomes abundantly clear.  They know culture, and they protect it voraciously by ensuring that they have the right people in every role, and that those people are empowered to do whatever they need to do to build lasting memories for the visitor.

It reminds me of a quote from Jim Collins in Good to Great, where he reflects on examples of truly great companies and their understanding of the importance of fit, and ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction:

“We found…they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then they figured out where to drive it.”

Disney definitely has the right people on the bus, or in this case on the Tea Cups, Mark Twain’s Riverboat and Splash Mountain.

To a certain extent I expected that though. What surprised me is this appears to extend to other the businesses operating within the park and surrounding areas. The people in the hotel are beyond pleasant. Restaurant staff ooze enthusiasm. The shops in Downtown Disney are staffed with young kids that are the dream of any retailer.

As an example, think about the interaction you had with staff during your last visit to a fast food outlet.

Now picture this: A young teenager at Jamba Juice made me laugh twice, asked open ended questions about our day, and at the same time managed to up sell me in my selection. She made the occasion of buying a smoothy into an occasion. This is so unlike any other fast food experience I have ever had it is unreal.

It is clear Disney knows a lot about hiring and they are passing along what they know to those in and around the park. They have figured out that it is not enough to control the customer experience solely at your own touch points, but you need to manage the same thing at every point that the customer comes in contact with your brand.

Unbelievably, rather than coming across as an act, the people all seem genuinely happy to work here.  I get the sense Disney, like other corporate culture leaders such as Zappos, is as much a lifestyle as a job for these people.  It’s infectious. It’s impressive.