Ted Topping, Creative Insights Inc.

Vancouver, BC Canada

Disney’s Cast Adds Another Layer to the Experience

On the anniversary of the July 17 opening of Disneyland each year, the thoughts of many park Guests past and present drift back to the man who started it all.

Through the movies, television shows and theme parks that carry his name, Walt Disney emotionally touched pretty much everyone growing up in 20th century North America. He also demonstrated some valuable business lessons, including the vital importance of adding layers to the customer experience.

Businesses leaders often talk about the need to “Wow” their customers. This is because study after study indicates that having merely “satisfied” customers is not enough.

One study in particular found just a 35 per cent chance that a “satisfied” customer would return to a particular business. For that to become a 90 per cent chance, the experience had to be a “Wow” (defined as 4.8 on the study’s 5 point scale). The kind of experience that Disneyland delivers every day.

Disneyland’s Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour is an opportunity to learn about the man whose vision, determination and creativity brought the park to life.

In the Details, Not the Budget

When benchmarking Disney, we often find that the “Wow” lies in the details rather than in a huge budget.

This is because adding layers to the customer experience is an important way that Disney encourages repeat business – something that is as crucial for Disneyland as it is for any other business operating today.

The park does this most of the time not by offering deals, but by providing a super-rich experience that offers something more each time a Guest visits.

A good example is the Disneyland tour called A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps. Several years ago, my partner and I eagerly took this tour so that we could learn more about the man whose vision, determination and creativity brought the park to life.

It led us to a memorable experience in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland still bears Walt Disney’s name and its pre-show outdoor patio is wonderfully Polynesian.

A Direct Link to Walt

We already knew a fair bit about the attraction from the Disneyland 10th Anniversary television show, broadcast in January 1965 as part of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and now available on DVD.

In the show, Walt Disney introduced Miss Disneyland Tencennial, Julie Reihm, to José, the Audio-Animatronic co-host of the Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened in June 1963.

Walt told Julie with his typical, infectious enthusiasm that, “The same scientific equipment that guides rockets to the moon is used to make Jose and his little friends in the Tiki Room sing, talk, move and practically think for themselves.”

For many park Guests, this kind of background information links this first fully Audio-Animatronics show directly to Walt Disney, making a Tiki Room visit a wonderfully nostalgic experience.

As part of our Footsteps tour, Tour Guide Wendy led us onto the Tiki Room patio. The atmosphere there is wonderfully Polynesian, a reflection of the years immediately after Hawaii became a state in 1959. The patio is also the perfect place to enjoy a Pineapple Dole Whip.

When it was time to enter the unique Tiki Room theater-in-the-round, Wendy asked that our group stay behind when the show ended to let the other Guests leave. She had a special surprise for us.

As the performance builds to its finale, co-host Pierre introduces – direct from the islands – a musical luau.

Experiencing the Attraction

For readers who haven’t been there, the Enchanted Tiki Room show at Disneyland lasts 15 minutes. It stars four colorful macaws and features 225 animated birds, flowers and Tiki gods. And it irresistibly invites Guest involvement and participation.

Everyone can – and many people do – sing along with classics such as “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” and “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.” If you have ever seen the show, I suspect that one of those two songs is running through your head right now.

As the performance builds to its finale, co-host macaw Pierre introduces – direct from the islands – a musical luau. At this point, the lights focus on four elaborately carved canoes suspended from the ceiling. These act as stages for the beautiful animated singing orchids who now join in the performance.

And then – applause, applause – the now-nostalgic Audio-Animatronics show is over.

Tour Guide Wendy introduces the tour group to Ophelia with a mixture of excitement and respect.

Wendy Introduces Ophelia

Once the other Guests had gone, Wendy walked behind a screen into a private Cast area. She returned wearing white gloves and holding something gently in her hands. Then, with what seemed to be a mixture of excitement and respect, she introduced us to Ophelia the Orchid.

Ophelia is an authentic Audio-Animatronics character from the Enchanted Tiki Room. As part of a refurbishment before Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, Ophelia retired. She now serves as a “bonus” experience for Guests on the Footsteps tour, adding a whole new layer to the experience.

If we had no background to put the moment into context, or had just seen Ophelia sitting on a shelf somewhere, we wouldn’t have been impressed. Nor would things have felt in any way special. But this was at Disneyland.

We had learned all sorts of things about Walt Disney during the early part of the tour and had just viewed the performance, which provided all the background we needed. But it was Wendy’s actions that made everything feel extra special.

In an era when thousand-dollar items are sold in cardboard boxes as little more than commodities, customers in stores, hotels, restaurants, and attractions seldom get to see a product treated with respect and excitement. But that’s how Wendy treated Ophelia.

Meeting Ophelia was a “Wow” moment that added an additional layer to the customer experience.

And what did it feel like for us to meet Ophelia and actually touch an authentic link to Walt Disney? The “Wow” moment is captured in the photo above.

In numerous ways like this – and in particular through its individual cast members – Disneyland still delivers on Walt Disney’s original vision of adding layers to the Guest experience. This deepens the emotional connection with customers, and makes Disneyland a great business to benchmark.

Now… let’s discuss the ways that you can apply this Disney benchmarking experience to increase the success of your business.

Written and photographed by Ted Topping

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience is a unique, two-day benchmarking program. It demonstrates a service standard to which every consumer-facing business should aspire

This intense, small-group experience helps you to see the business behind the magic of Disney. Although you will be among thousands of guests, we will help you notice and study specific things – both good and bad – that most people will not see. You will interact constantly with the facilitators, and have time to discuss issues that are specific to your business.

While the Disney setting is amazing, this “learn by experiencing” program delivers practical ideas that you can apply immediately in the real world. And you don’t need to be part of a huge operation because Disney’s tactics, methods and standards work in any size business.

Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience will be most effective for people working at a level where they can influence both the service environment and the people in it, and who already “get” why those things are important.