Friday, January 1, 2016

Disney’s Magic Kingdom with Six-year-old on Christmas Day … and a few lessons learnt

A visit to Disney’s Magic kingdom is almost a rite-of-passage for contemporary families with young kids, especially those graduating from kindergarten and elementary schools. A visit to Disney or Disney Institute is also a rite-of-passage for management gurus looking to excel in customer expectations management; Disney also happens to be among the most studied case studies in Business School, especially in Marketing and Customer Management 101 courses.
I remember reading about, and discussing the intricacies of Disney Cast Members’ training and skills in managing customer and guest experiences, years ago in a Business School course. Management gurus and business executives alike make a pilgrimage to Disney Institute to learn the “D Think,” but a trip to Disney with young kids can teach one more than any textbook. This past Christmas day, many of those old lessons came flooding back during a trip to the Magic Kingdom with our six-year-old.  

Build it - really well - and they will come
Disney’s Magic Kingdom is an elaborate, well maintained theme park focused on putting up the best show possible, for the maximum number of people that can be accommodated. At Magic kingdom, all the Disney characters – not just Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Snow-White – but contemporary ones, including Frozen’s Elsa and Toy Story’s Woody and his pals come alive, and are milked for all they are worth.
Disney invests boatloads of money in dreaming, creating and buying up characters, and is perhaps rightfully, protective of their use. A recent Economist article describes “An intricate flow chart drawn by Walt in 1957 elegantly lays out the firm’s component parts and strategy, with films at the center surrounded by theme parks, merchandise, music, publishing and television.”  (link) That zeal for maximizing investments in ideas continues. Having invested four billion dollars in buying up rights to Star Wars from George Lucas, Disney is more than content to exploit the franchise: If you want Star-Wars branded paraphernalia, you’ve got to buy it from Disney or their licensee. 
Large drug companies have perhaps taken the same lesson from Disney. They spend tens or hundreds of millions developing new drugs and formulations, and make sure those are patented to ensure milking of the blockbusters.
Note to self: Successful companies and entrepreneurs create or acquire the best ideas they can, and exploit them for what they are worth.

It’s all about valuing one’s Intellectual property
Nobody knows the value of Intellectual Property better than the folks running the show at “white slavers,” as George Lucas calls Disney’s folks.   The “white slavers” know and value their intellectual property assets, and the potential is on display at the theme parks and resorts. The rides and shows are all themed in tune with the characters, and so are the expensive souvenirs, trinket and food at themed restaurants. One might think the entrance tickets to theme parks are pricy, but the thousands of folks paying hundreds of dollars to travel to Orlando to endure endless hours of wait for rides and shows think the experience is worth the price; market economics at work.
Note to self: Disney “owns” Mickey and his pals, so if you want them to come alive, come to Disney! Successful entrepreneurs and organizations to “own” and manage their IP well.

It’s all in the App, stupid!
As a technologist, I am not easily impressed by technology or User Interfaces. When it comes to user experience with technologies, large financial institutions and eCommerce sites with endless resources have set the bar quite. I must admit, “Disney World” App, with its easy-to use interface, real-time updates on ride, shows and wait times, combined with free-wifi in the theme parks is among the best use-cases using technology to connect with customers and visitors.
Many, if not most, of Disney visitors are tech savvy and seemed to be comfortable using the “Disney World” App on their mobile devices. The app combined with free-wifi has another benefit: keeping parents and teenagers glued to screens while waiting in queues. And, for those without smartphones, fast-pass kiosks are scattered throughout the park, with helpful cast members around to guide non-techie folks.
Note to self: Designing an easy-to-use App is just the first step towards user satisfaction. Focus on design of the entire eco-system that goes with it.

Delegate the dream of Magic to guests
On an average day, Magic Kingdom gets almost 53,000 guests; my guess is that on holidays, like Christmas day when we happened to visit, the parks get double that many visitors.  Keeping that many guests, most with picky, fussy kids is no mean feat.    This is a task Disney does really, really well by delegating expectation management to parents and visitors.
For instance, I had planned and “booked” several interesting rides/shows using our allotted three-fastpass bookings, prior to coming. But our six-year old chanced upon Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland and insisted we join the queue. The smart folks at Disney have designed the serpentine queue to weave into the arcade, making it hard for a six-year old to visualize the meaning of a “120 minute” wait that the app indicated.  After waiting for an hour on this sunny Florida Afternoon, when the little one began getting restless and repeatedly asking “how much longer, dad,” it took all my wits to not reply “it was your idea to wait for this ride, dear;” but to cook up some Disney like story to keep the little one engaged.
This experience made me reflect on the oft quoted expression “explain this like you would to a six year old.” Having survived the wait, and enjoying the ride at the end, I am sure I will be able to use that skill at work too.
Note to self: Delegate customer self-service by setting customer expectations upfront.

Endnote
Our Christmas break at Magic Kingdom was a memorable vacation, and the teeming crowd and endless wait at the rides just added to the experience. For Disney, crowd control is really about delegating patience and control to visitors. Having sold the ‘dream of Magic’ to parents and kids alike, Disney’s cast members just have to execute their part. But executing their part is what the Cast members do, and they do their part really, really well!


(Cross post from linkedin Pulse)