The Happiest Place on Earth: The Magic Recipe Behind Disney Parks 70% Return Rate

“On a visit to a Disney theme park, a little girl and her mother came to a fenced-off construction site. To her mother’s dismay, the little girl threw her favorite Disney doll, Belle, over the fence. When park staff retrieved the doll, it was in a sorry state, spattered with mud, dress torn, hair bedraggled. Attempts to find a replacement in the shop proved futile: Belle had been replaced by a newer model. So the doll was taken first to a makeup artist, who washed her and styled her hair, then to the wardrobe department, which made her a new dress, and finally to a “party” with other Disney princesses, with a photographer in attendance. Good as new, Belle was returned to her owner that evening, along with a photo album that showed what a great time she’d had during her “makeover.” Later, in a thank you letter, the girl’s mother described the moment of Belle’s return as “pure magic.”

It is not surprising that Disney Parks are known as the happy place on earth, as Disney main value proposition is to create value for their customers by providing them with the best customer experience possible, going beyond one can imagine to transform each visit into a magic experience.

The magic recipe that makes Disney Parks have a return rate of first time visitors of 70%? Disney focus on employees training, customer feedback, real time analytics, technology and continuous improvement.

PLAID-CLAD MAGIC MAKERS: Wearing their familiar plaid waistcoats, Walt Disney World V.I.P. Tour Guides (L-R): Danielle Warner, Laurie Sintay Fox and Les Tsui -- all three Celebration residents -- pose with Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom. (Gene Duncan, photographer)PLAID-CLAD MAGIC MAKERS: Wearing their familiar plaid waistcoats, Walt Disney World V.I.P. Tour Guides (L-R): Danielle Warner, Laurie Sintay Fox and Les Tsui -- all three Celebration residents -- pose with Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom. (Gene Duncan, photographer)

Employees Training

The employees are a key puzzle piece for delivering Disney customer experience, as they are the face that interact daily with the consumers. This is why Disney dedicated great focus on not only training them but also empowering them to make their own decisions. From its hiring process, to its training, Disney World is making sure that employees are qualified to provide customers with the best experience. For example, Disney recruits, selects and trains everyone who works in the company in the same way, from third parties to cast members, recruiting the right people and transmitting them with the company’s culture is critical for success. Every employee from a new VP to House-keeping, full-time or part-time first day starts with a training in Disney Traditions, and then it goes to specific training by department lead by each other’s peers. Understating the company purpose, heritage and culture is critical for Disney’s success no matter in which step of the organization pyramid you are.

Customer Feedback

Getting to know his guests was key for Walt Disney to the extent that he even built himself a personal apartment inside Disneyland, so he could watch guest entering the park and see their reaction. Following the belief that customer feedback was a key ingredient in improving his operations and delivering greater value for his guests, Walt made sure that every corporate employee would get out of his desks and go walk the parks. Employees are encouraged to talk and listen to the guests as understanding their needs, concerns, frustrations and happiness is key on determining which are the areas Disney need to focus on for future growth.

Disney Parade

Real Time Analytics and Technology

Disney focus on real time analytics is a critical piece to ensure a smooth operation inside their parks that can hold more than 100,000 guest at a time. This is done through an underground bunker called the Operational Command Center, where by using high-end technology including video cameras, computer programs or digital park maps and real time analytics, Disney is able to optimize in real time the guest’s flows in order to improve their experience. For example, the Command Center is able to send a Disney Character to entertain the guests if a queue is too long, or route a mini parade too less crowded park areas to attract customers towards that part of the park. Moreover, they even control restaurants, realizing when additional registers need to be open or dispatch menus for people waiting in line. Disney ability to react in real time to data though the use of technology and analytics is key for providing a great customer experience for the guests.

Continuous Improvement

Disney is constantly looking ways to improve itself through innovation. This is clearly illustrated though its latest product MyMagic+, a combination between a wristband and a smartphone app that enables consumers not only to get fast passes for rides and see current waiting times, but also open hotel room doors and even pay for things inside the Disneyworld. Disney is able to provide its guest with this revolutionizing new technologies by the nature of its operation model: the emphasis on consumer feedback, real time analytics, and the empowering of their employees who are constantly encouraged to think outside the box.





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Student comments on The Happiest Place on Earth: The Magic Recipe Behind Disney Parks 70% Return Rate

  1. Great post, especially on a company that I enjoy greatly. I personally have gotten to experience the legendary hospitality of Disney at the parks (a castmember gave my fiancee and I free merchandise and a ride pass after chatting about our proposal story) – suffice it to say we will always go back. I agree with your analysis – the ability to make discretionary decisions at the lowest level really ties the operational model to the business strategy of the parks and makes the whole experience “work.”

    Did you also research some of the infrastructure/operations that go on in the park?

    One aspect of the park that has also fascinated me is the operational model of the back-shop support – each night the park is “reset” for a new opening day, and this requires a huge team of highly efficient and synchronized teams – mechanical working on rides, cleaning crews in the park (complete with a pneumatic waste disposal system underground), teams to repaint the park, resetting the fireworks, etc. Quite a lot of behind the scenes activity goes into fulfilling on that Disney promise.

  2. Thanks for covering Disney – so much love for this company the world over!
    Regarding its focus on analytics, I wanted to point out some risks that the MyMagic+ (and its MagicBand) represented before launch. (1) Privacy concerns aside, the project could (2) prove a logistical nightmare given the number of park stakeholders wanting to participate, or (3) be rejected by visitors, who might not want technology intruding on such a traditional vacation experience. Finally, (4) its price could be prohibitive, since estimates for the MagicBand pegged it at close to $35, i.e. 87,000% more expensive than the 4-cent paper tickets Disney had historically relied on. This is not to say that implementing this was not beneficial, however, since as you point out the individual guest’s data is extremely valuable to Disney.

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