Sunday, February 22, 2004

Consider customers' experience

Essence of Disney

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

What if the Walt Disney Co. ran your business?

I pondered that question while spending two whirlwind days at Disney World. Thanks to short lines, good planning, and comfortable shoes, I saw four Disney parks in one weekend. While I don't recommend such a rigorous schedule of fun-fun-fun to others, the visit reminded me about the power - and necessity - of creating a "complete experience" for customers.

I was in Orlando, Fla., to conduct business-planning workshops for members of The Salon Association, owners of hair salons and day spas throughout the country. Now you might not think salons have much in common with the Magic Kingdom, but salon customers seek a certain experience - as well as a good haircut - when they take time out to go to a salon or spa.

In fact, customers of most retail and service businesses subconsciously want more than just a good product at a good price. They relate to the total experience of dealing with a company. From the minute they walk in the door, they respond to the decor, employees' clothes and attitudes, marketing materials, and a whole host of other small details.

Disney, perhaps better than any other company, understands this.

Creating a 'whole world'

In its theme parks, Disney creates a "whole new world" (to use a phrase from Aladdin) for its guests (never called "customers").

Disney carefully plans every little thing to reinforce the complete experience of that world.

Disney park employees are called "cast members," and they're putting on a show for their guests. It doesn't matter if their assigned role is Sleeping Beauty or street sweeper, they are trained and expected to remember that they're always on stage.

Everything seems seamless. If you are in one section of the Animal Kingdom, everything relates to that specific section - from the dress of the employees, to the design of the signs, to the food, to which gifts are available in gift shops.

Walt Disney's goal was to create "the happiest place on Earth," and nothing is allowed to jolt a guest out of that atmosphere. Even security guards wear bright blue and yellow outfits resembling jogging suits.

In the details

Disney can teach us about the importance of creating a complete experience for our clients and customers. We can recognize that little details - as well as the product or service itself - make a great impact on the customer's perception of our business.

No matter what kind of company you run, but especially if you run a retail or personal service business, ask yourself:

• What "experience" are you trying to give your customer/client?

• What role do you play in your customer's life?

• How does every aspect of your business reinforce or undermine that experience and role?

In other words, what if Disney ran your business? How would it be different?

Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Organizer, Wear Clean Underwear and The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies.

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