In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Gabor George Burt cited an experience at the Disney Theme Parks. After years of enduring long queues for attractions, in 1999 they came up with the idea of the fast pass, which improved the overall experience and cut down significantly on wait times. In the article, Burt quoted Disney VP Dale Stafford, “We have reinvented how to visit a park. We have been teaching people how to stand in line since 1955, and now we are telling them they don’t have to. Of all the things we can do and all the marvels we can create with the attractions, this is something that will have profound influence on the entire industry.”

The happiest place on earth was teaching its customers “how to stand in line” until they looked at customer feedback and started viewing things from their point of view. This comment struck me and I started to think about what my own customer experience program was teaching people. Here are a few insights, and two points that I now use and that I share with you.

  1. Is your customer experience program contradicting your core business values/mission statement? One of the jobs I worked at while in college, was at a local restaurant. The tagline for the enterprise was “Just like home” so as to make you feel that your Mother was doing the cooking and you could stretch out on the couch and watch TV while you ate. The reality was something totally different, our KPI’s were based on how fast we could seat people and then get them out. The experience was hurried and the menu was prefabricated (sorry—no home cooking). We were teaching them that they were a number and moving at light speed to consume their Stouffers lasagna and then get the heck out. “Just like home?” When I proudly took my parents there to show them where I worked (and to get the employee discount) my own Mother remarked that this was “comfort fast-food.” What we were “teaching” was that at the end of the day, we were just another fast food restaurant. Not at all like Mom’s.

Think of your values, your mission statement. Are you contradicting it? What are you teaching your customers?

  1. Do you “stand in their shoes?” A friend of mine in Arizona runs a senior Assisted Living facility. They charge significantly more than their competitors and when you walk in to the facility, the first thing you notice is that it doesn’t appear to be a “nursing home”—no smell (c’mon, we all know what that smell is), finely appointed furnishings, a restaurant-type dining hall with waiters in tuxedos and the rooms are well kept and appear as small condominiums. I asked him what prompted him to approach the market in this way.. (by the way there is a waiting list to get in and it has been rated as the best of state) he told me simply, “I put myself in their shoes, I even sat in a wheelchair and moved around to make sure things were accessible… I took into account all of the reasons people dislike Assisted Living and we addressed them directly.” The result is a wonderful customer experience—all because he “put himself in their shoes (and wheelchairs).

What are you teaching people? Are you delivering on your brand promise? Are you standing in their shoes? With a relatively low cost solution, Disney transformed wait times in Queues, and their customer satisfaction scores went off the chart. A quote by Thomas O. Jones and W. Earl Sasser, Jr., says it all, “The gulf between satisfied customers and completely satisfied customers can swallow a business.” Every customer interaction is an opportunity to teach—good or bad. How you respond and address it, will be the difference between you and your competition.