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How Disney Creates World-Class Guest Experiences: 4 Keys to Their Success

How Disney Creates World-Class Guest Experiences: 4 Keys to Their Success

How does Disney transport guests of its parks and resorts to mythical places that create magical emotions? By intentionally designing its physical spaces, systems, and guest interactions to drive emotional reactions. That’s how Disney stands out in a crowded marketplace full of entertainment and theme park options, and it’s what makes Disney fans so ravenous and loyal.

Given the importance of customer experience in just about any field, here are four Disney strategies to follow:

Attend to the Details

Disney goes to extremes to make sure every guest touchpoint is planned and heavily measured for quality, making adjustments based on the guest satisfaction data collected. The company examines touchpoints that other organizations would deem out of their control, such as travel pain points. Guests can tag their luggage to travel directly from their home airport to their on-property hotel room, can take the Magical Express motor coach from the airport to their Disney resort hotel, and when departing, can check their luggage with their airline at their on-property hotel. Unlike other companies, which may analyze only five or ten touchpoints of the guest experience, Disney executives can analyze more than one hundred, including security, park entry, cast member interactions, standing in line, and riding the first attraction. The Disney difference isn’t based on magic, but rather on acute attention to detail, and the desire to strive for perfection.

Feed the Senses

As consumers, we sense faster than we can process something cognitively. Many companies use this to their advantage. But Disney has mastered creating emotions through the five senses, whether it be through the use of scale to make certain attractions look taller, or by piping fresh-basked cookie scent onto their Main Streets. To create a magical reveal, Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom is set behind the train station, and the buildings leading up to it are built at two-thirds scale. These design devices make the castle appear farther away and grander in size than it actually is (in reality, it’s only 189 feet high).

Integrate Your Brands

Disney carefully and intentionally integrates its massive portfolio of intellectual property into park attractions and shows. This increased effort is largely driven by the company’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm (creator of Star Wars) over the last 13 years. The combination of these new acquisitions and Disney’s historically renowned brands not only make for good park attractions, they also create synergies within the company. Guests immediately connect with characters and places they’re already experienced in movies, books, and television shows. These efforts are in full swing with the recently opened Toy Story Lands in France, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Hollywood Studios in Florida; and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Lands in Disneyland Park and Hollywood Studios. No doubt even more integration is ahead with the recent purchase of 21st Century Fox.

Engage with Your Customers

Final on this list is the most important piece of Disney’s secret sauce for creating unparalleled guest experiences and what distances the company’s parks and resorts from any others. That’s the uniquely authentic, personal, and memorable interactions guests have with Disney cast members. Not only are cast members trained to deliberately delight guests, but they are given creative license to create magical moments, such as a special photo shoot, moving to the front of a line, or a character taking the hand of a young fan for a special one-on-one walk. The power of these interactions leave such an indelible mark on the guests that, despite the billions of dollars Disney invests in its immaculate infrastructure, the vast majority of positive feedback comes from these meaningful exchanges.

The lesson here is that Disney isn’t the best by mistake. The company is thorough and consistent when it comes to scrutinizing the most minute of details of guest experience. Few companies could even begin to fathom the deliberateness with which Disney builds its physical environments and prepares its cast members. Even fewer can imagine the discipline and humility of constantly reexamining those details over and over again, into perpetuity. Yet that’s what Disney does. That’s why you can feel the difference in their parks and resorts.

The next time you’re looking for ways to improve customer success, consider these four factors. And look at your own organization as closely as Disney does. Look at your systems and processes. What could you develop to identify all customer touchpoints, and critically examine them for relevancy and quality over time?

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by Rob Mathews // Rob Mathews is the Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University, USA. His new book with Michael G. Goldsby is Entrepreneurship the Disney Way. Learn more at

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.