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Customer Experience Spotlight: Walt Disney World

customer-experience-spotlight:-walt-disney-world

What do you think of when you hear the following phrases?

Ohana means family.
A dream is a wish your heart makes.
You've got a friend in me.
Just keep swimming. 

Chances are you find yourself remembering the first time you dove deep into the sea of Finding Nemo, or feeling your breath catch in your throat as Cinderella slides her foot into a glass slipper. These are only a couple examples of the powerful magic that is inherent to the wonderful world of Disney.

For 100 years, the Walt Disney Company has been dedicated to creating entertainment that excites, transports, and inspires audiences around the world—all in the name of magic. With influence in the entertainment, retail, and tourism industries, Disney has become the ultimate example of how to provide an exceptional customer experience.

Bringing the magic to life, IRL

2 images showing Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World in Florida, U.S.A. in the daytime and at night. The first image shows the extravagant gold, white, and blue castle in the background with a statue of Walt Disney holding Micke Mouse’s hand in the foreground. The second image shows the castle at night, surrounded by red and gold fireworks. The castle is decorated by a light display showing animations of different iconic Disney characters like Pocahontas, Aladdin, Snow White, Cinderella, Woody, Elsa, Anna, Aurora, and more.
Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World. (Photo Sources: Rick Han and David Guerrero)

Since October 1923, the Walt Disney Company has strived to delight adults and children alike with engaging, awe-inspiring content. Nowhere is this more evident than at each of the enterprise’s dazzling amusement resorts. In 1955, Walt’s dream of opening a family-friendly amusement park came true in California as Disneyland opened its gates for the first time on a sweltering day in July. Since then, additional parks have opened in Florida, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. With locations spanning the globe, it’s now true that “the sun never sets on Disney”.

While each of the resorts is exceptionally designed, Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, FL is truly a work of art. Opened in 1971, the resort was the last project Walt Disney would officially be a part of, making it a continuation of his original Disneyland dream.

With four distinct theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and entertainment complex, and 31 resort hotels (among other amenities), Disney World has become a quintessential hub of Western culture and has become a beacon of joy for millions of people all over the world.

How does Disney keep the magic alive for customers?

In today’s culture, it is almost impossible to find someone who has not been exposed to the magic of Disney. Whether it’s through film, music, or performance, most people have come into contact with Disney products, and it is these experiences that have manifested themselves in the form of Walt Disney World.  

With so much cultural history, Disney World has become the epitome of nostalgia, transporting children and adults to some of their earliest, most joyful memories. This, in essence, is the goal of Walt Disney World, as the organization defines its purpose:

“We create happiness by providing the finest in family entertainment.”

Environment is paramount to the success of these experiences. Unlike many other amusement parks, Disney World focuses on engineering an ambiance that directly dictates how guests should feel when exploring and experiencing the resort. This is achieved in a variety of ways, starting with the theme park’s layout. The Magic Kingdom provides the best example of this element at work.

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When most people think of Disney World, they picture the Magic Kingdom. With its cobbled streets and idyllic storefronts, approximately 57,000 people pass through the park’s gates each day, making it a bustling hub of activity. With all 4 parks attracting an average of 160,000 people per day, it’s clear that Magic Kingdom is the busiest. Let’s dive into why that may be.

Save the date! ✨ From Sept. 22 – Dec. 31, 2023, EPCOT will ramp up the #Disney100 fun! Check out the new Premium Popcorn Bucket, backdrops, limited-time food & beverage locations and more: https://t.co/EWdi7ufGsO pic.twitter.com/8jFAQ0a6Of

— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) July 17, 2023

Although the park is best known for its stunning incarnation of Cinderella’s castle, this is not the only architectural feature it offers. Magic Kingdom is broken down into six distinct “lands”, each of which has a distinct theme that separates it from the others.  These boroughs include Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Main Street U.S.A., and Tomorrowland.

Each area is meant to evoke different reactions from guests as they pass through. While the decor of Main Street U.S.A. is designed to transport customers back to the early 20th century, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Adventurelandspeak to one’s sense of adventure, imagination, and the promise of a “big, bright, beautiful tomorrow”. Disney has recently announced that EPCOT is undergoing a transformation to an even more futuristic experience, giving customers one more thing to look forward to.  

A bird's eye view map of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park, highlighting main attractions, restaurants, rides, and more. It specifically differentiates the different boroughs in Magic Kingdom by labeling and color-coding their attractions. From left to right the ones visible are Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park Map. (Photo Source)

The movement from one area to another is where the magic truly happens (pun fully intended). When someone visits Disney World for the first time, most can agree that they are completely amazed by the seamless way each world works together. It feels as though you’re walking through a dream, greeted by nostalgic magical memories of your childhood along the way.

A place as massive as Walt Disney World creates this immersive experience by appealing to your senses through a combination of technological and ambient elements, including sound, smell, and architecture. With over 15,000 speakers Disney ensures that the sounds customers experience align with the area of the park they are in—digital music in Tomorrowland, percussion instruments in Adventureland, brass bands on Main Street U.S.A., and so on.

Each of these soundtracks is also accompanied by a flurry of smells, as specific scents are piped through each land to solidify the guests’ understanding of what it’s like to be in that type of environment. These elements, combined with site-specific architectural elements such as castles in Fantasyland and saloons in Frontierland, create an experience that is impossible to ignore. By creating a cocoon of predetermined elements, guests are given the chance to investigate a new environment without the risk of accidentally removing themselves. In an environment this highly engineered, they can feel comfortable in the knowledge that everything is happening for a reason.

While Walt Disney World is all about living your dreams in real life, you can create this same type of immersive customer experience online. Adding animated graphics, music, and branded icons on your website can transport your customers into the world and story behind your brand.

Disney Bands

Every single element of a guest’s experience at Disney World is expertly crafted. Walt was committed to understanding the guest experience and would often encourage cast members to observe guests’ reactions in order to continually improve the customer experience.  

Many of these changes rely heavily on technology. Disney’s original intention was to create a place that never stopped developing, constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The team responsible for these changes is known as the Imagineers — an incredible assembly of engineers, technologists, architects, and creatives who seek to design the best experiences possible.

A screenshot from Disney’s website page explaining Disney Bands. There is an image of 5 colorful watch bands decorated with icons like the Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears, a crown, and the Walt Disney World logo. There is text under the image: Experience More Magic with Disney Bands. Unlock moments of magic on your vacation with just a tap when you purchase a Disney band upon arrival at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney Bands allow customers to easily access information and perform practical tasks.

One of Imagineering’s greatest successes was the introduction of Disney Bands. Using these wristbands, guests no longer have to worry about practical elements like losing their hotel key, park admissions, or FastPasses (a ticketing system that allows guests to skip lines for attractions). But Disney Bands go so much further by gamifying the experience even further with customizable light patterns, vibrations, and other immersive features to add more magic to the day.

My Disney Experience App

Along with the convenience of having everything you need in one place on your wrist, today’s mobile-first consumer appreciates being able to access everything on their smartphone too. This is why Disney introduced the My Disney Experience App in 2014. This trip planning and vacation management system allows customers to access all the information they could want before, during, and after their trip.

A screenshot of the Disney Bands explainer page on its website. It shows a banner image of 2 parents and a child smiling while looking at a smartphone. The text below says Download the My Disney Experience App. Plan your vacation details and access an array of handy features for your visit—with the official Walt Disney World App. There are CTA buttons to download the app on the Apple App store and Google Play store, respectively.
Disney offers a mobile app for trip planning and vacation management — My Disney Experience.

In the My Disney Experience App, guests are able to access the parks with a mobile ticket, order food and drinks, get real-time information about line wait times, showtimes, in-park navigation, and so much more. They can even connect a Disney Photo Pass to see all of the photos taken of them during the day in one magical place.

A screenshot of the Disney Genie Service explainer page on the website. The explaining text says: Complimentary Disney Genie Service. Make every magical moment of your Disney vacation count. Disney Genie service includes convenient features, such as: A personalized itinerary, based on your interests and favorites, and your own tip board, to track the wait times for your top experiences. Learn more about Disney Genie service. There is an overlap of two smartphones showing the Disney Genie Service page in the app. One displays a tab called Tip Board which shows specific information about individual rides like height requirements, wait time, and availability for Lightning Lane passes. The second image shows the My Day tab which offers recommendations for food and other attractions at specified times.
Disney Genie Service gives customers access to personalized itineraries and real-time wait time information.

While all of these features delight customers, there is one feature that is perhaps the most beloved part of My Disney Experience—the Disney Genie Service. Just as Genie grants Aladdin three wishes, this service is here to fulfill your every desire. With personalized itineraries based on your group’s interests and real-time wait time trackers, Disney Genie saves you time and stress by taking the guesswork out of planning an enchanted day.

Disney is all about creating lifelong memories

Above all else, Walt Disney World was created to make memories. In the dedication speech for Disneyland, Walt Disney expressed his hope that Disneyland would be a place where “age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future”.

Over 20 million people flock to Walt Disney World every year in the hopes that they can recapture what it means to be young and rekindle a bit of magic in their everyday lives. As you walk through the parks, you see toddlers and grandparents alike with stars in their eyes as they wait to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant or as they watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade travel down Main Street U.S.A.  Disney has also become a popular place for surprise engagements, adding one more type of magic to the air.

People of all ages are enthralled with the Wonderful World of Disney. Through words, videos, and images, people all over the world are constantly sharing their adventures, too excited to keep it to themselves.

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These types of moments are handcrafted by Disney Imagineers to elicit these exact reactions. Stories you may not have thought about for years are suddenly coming to life in front of you, and things you may have never thought were possible — like seeing a fairy fly through the sky — are made real.

In everything they do, Disney is looking to empower their guests to have fun and play, reveling in the escapism that nostalgia supplies.

Create an enchanting customer experience like Disney

Absolutely every element of Walt Disney World Resort has been crafted to make you feel a certain way. While everyone who walks through the entrance gates may fall in love with a different part of the park, we’ve boiled it down to three key elements that make Disney World truly special.

Immersion

Through carefully crafted environments, every area of Walt Disney World transports you to another time and place. Playing upon each of the five senses, Disney Imagineers have created worlds that allow you to experience the smells, tastes, and sounds of faraway lands and places you’ve only visited before in dreams, bringing a new adventure at every turn.

Nostalgia

Walt Disney has often been quoted as saying:

“I Only Hope That We Don’t Lose Sight of One Thing – That it Was All Started With a Mouse.”

This commitment to preserving the original foundation of the Walt Disney Company — its animated characters and films — has made the resort a walk down memory lane for millions of people since it opened.  

Through character meet and greets, parades, stage shows, and amusement rides, the spirit of youth has been captured in every element of the resort, allowing guests young and old to relive their fondest childhood memories with the people they love.

Magic

Above all else, Disney is committed to creating magic for every guest that passes through Walt Disney World’s gates. With innovative systems like My Disney Experience and Disney Bands, every guest is treated like royalty as their customer experience is personalized to suit their needs.  

At the end of each day, there are hundreds of thousands of smiling children and adults alike walking out of those gates. If that isn’t what phenomenal customer experience is all about, then we don’t know what is.

Recreate some of Disney's magic with your own customers

Start a loyalty program to enhance your customer experience

This originally appeared on Smile.io and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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