Webconsuls Blog

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Take On Guest Experience Design

Lately I have been reading a lot on-line about customer service, particularly about social media and customer service. You may have followed a few news stories that covered how someone's tweets very quickly managed to get the attention of a large company. Then recently Chris Brogan discussed "guest experience design" and he followed up by touching on another new catch phrase "experience facilitators" (you might think "hotel concierge"). All of these discussions really are about marketing: marketing our businesses, marketing ourselves as employees, marketing ideas to our employers, marketing ideas to and for our clients, the list goes on. As I thought about all of this, it occurred to me that I would give you my take on "Guest Experience Design" and it might be fun to look back on some national advertising campaigns and see how effective these have been as "experience facilitators" over the years. This will be a multi-post personal walk down memory lane, because like the Meg Ryan's character in "You've Got Mail" said: "Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal."

Disney Resorts and Windows 7
Today I am going to combine two national advertising campaigns: Disney Resorts and Microsoft's Windows 7. I am a consumer of both and; therefore, an expert of sorts. Have you seen the latest Microsoft Media Campaign? It is "Windows 7 Was My Idea!"

This is a very clever ad campaign, but did you ever think that if Windows 7 is a commercial failure, like Vista was thought to be, Microsoft will have all of us to blame? All of the consumers that submitted suggestions, complaints, ideas, will be doing battle with thst MAC guy! Microsoft is trying to reach the people, the consumers, and thank them for their input on the ultimate guest experience design.

Now you are probably wondering how this campaign ties into Disney Resorts. I like to think that Disney's Fastpass was my idea. Historically I have been visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, California since 1955. My parents would drive us from San Diego, before Interstate 5 existed, when Orange County was really all orange groves. But there came a time in April 1994 when I visited Disneyland with Dennis (my husband), Aaron and Dan (our sons then 13 and 10) and my mother-in-law (then 82). In those days the Disneyland entrance had a huge sign that said "The Happiest Place on Earth". As a little girl, as a teen-ager, even as a young adult I never gave those words a second thought, but on April 17, 1994, I knew I was not in the happiest place on earth. The park was so crowded and really congested that one had to wait anywhere from 45-90 minutes to take a ride. In six hours we managed to ride four of the major rides and my children turned to us and said "can we leave now?" When we returned home from our long planned vacation I wrote a letter to the Magic Kingdom. I didn't yell, scream, or belittle the Disney staff, I didn't even ask for my money back. I calmly told them my story. I opened with this sentence: "On April 17, 1994, Disneyland was not the happiest place on earth." I pointed out to them that my mother-in-law was in a wheelchair sitting in the shade of a tree by the Matterhorn, waiting for us to disembark from the Matterhorn, when suddenly a man fell out of the skyway ride and into the shade tree! The day went downhill from there. My overall approach was not to just complain about the crowds, but to offer a solution. I suggested that Disneyland consider controlling the number of tickets sold per day, similar to a National Park (Yosemite) or any concert/special event venue. Then everyone would be able to enjoy that which they had perhaps saved for a lifetime to enjoy. About two weeks later I received a very nice letter from Disneyland. They thanked me for my suggestion and asked me to send them a copy of my receipts for all that we had spent at Disneyland that day. I sent them the receipts, two weeks later I received a gift certificate in the amount of $350 and in 1999 Disney's virtual queuing Fastpass was introduced. So you see I like to think that the Fastpass was my idea and maybe in some small way my ideas did matter to Disney. I like to think so.

Final thoughts and questions
In today's world I might have tweeted about my Disney experience in the moment and Disney would probably jumped right on my Tweet. But would they have had the opportunity to think through a resolution that would improve the experience for every potential guest? What do you think? Do you work on your "guest experience design"? Do you facilitate your guests' experience? Does the design control the guest's experience or does the guest's experience control the design?

Daniel, The Beast, and Judy April 17, 1994


  1. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing!

  2. Hey, interesting post! bookmarked :)

  3. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing!

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  5. I, too, read CB's post about guest experience design and got caught up with the word choice of guest. (Experience design, however, I think is a great phrase.) For some reason, guest just doesn't feel right. Be that as it may, I think companies would do well to be more aware of whether and how well they are or are not architecting great customer experiences. A great customer experience is like free advertising so it continues to amaze me that more companies either don't care that much or just don't feel like it's that important.

    That's a great story about Disneyland. I'm terribly impressed that they sent you a gift certificate as reimbursement (sort of) for your experience. That's the kind of thing that keeps people coming back for more.

  6. Judy, good on you for writing a letter to them and good on them on their response. It sounds like you were kind, calm and offered constructive advice which was responded to in kind.

    As my mother always says, "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

  7. Unlike you, who are indeed a saint, I did scream and yell and create a scene when I took your nieces and nephew to that waste of space otherwise known as "Legoland" in northern San Diego County.

    After paying their ridiculous prices to get in there, we found that nearly every ride was off limits to your nephew Joe who was five or six-ish, and some even to Caitlin who was nine or ten. We had recently been to Disneyland and he was tall enough for all but the most "vigorous" rides there including the Matterhorn. In Legoland he couldn't even go on this boat ride that was essentially the equivalent of that found in "It's a Small World" at "the happiest place on Earth."

    After expressing my displeasure to the workers "on scene" and being told that he was welcome to play all he wanted in their "fantastic" room full of everyone else's Typhoid Mary-clones snotting, puking and crapping all over the pile of Legos that was no more fantastic than what he had recently failed to pick-up at home, I had had enough.

    Both Eva and I remember all too well what it feels like to be the odd kid out, forced to sit on the sidelines for some stupid reason, looking longingly at the car or boat as it pulled away from the boarding station; so in our house, we do things as a family and if one of us can't ride due to a park rule that makes absolutely no sense, then none of us will ride.

    So in full solidarity with his Mom and sisters, I went to the park manager's office and flame sprayed the lot of them and demanded my money back or I'd be on the local news before the day was done.

    I never do this, but this time I was so pissed off that I pulled rank on them. This was early on in the War in Iraq and I slapped down my ID and told them that the last thing they wanted right now was a Navy Captain telling Navy and Marine Corps families to stay away from Legoland as their children won't be able to go on any rides that theI got the money, but as you can see, to this day I never pass up the opportunity to point out what a two-bit operation Legoland is and how folks should save their dinero for some other form of entertainment.

  8. Hi,
    I welcome this story. Do you know it is 20 years ago this month that Eva, Mom, Meghan, Aaron, Daniel, you and I went to Disneyland? Meghan was just four months old. I remember we waited in line to ride It's a Small World and when we finally got on the ride Meghan had fallen asleep. Do you remember us taking turns staying with the baby while others took a ride? Nice memories.
    Anyway, I know what you mean. I used to feel similarly about Storyland in Jackson, NH. Since most every ride was for children, why not let the adults in for free and charge for the wee ones who were actually on the rides.
    My post would have been too long had I mentioned all of the nightmares of that day. I really couldn't take the yelling and screaming between parents and all the children crying because no one wanted to wait in line.
    Now when I go somewhere like this I really try to learn all the fine points of "enjoying" the venue.

    Anyway, thanks for writing.


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