Disney’s WOW Customer Experiences: 7 Ways You Apply the Secrets

Mike Schoultz
6 min readJul 29, 2020


Have you been to a Disney resort park? How about a visit to Disney World in Florida? With most of our family living 50 miles away, we often felt like tour guides. Not a bad thing though. Lots of businesses apply Disney’s WOW customer experiences and operations. We use many of them with our clients. They can be a real difference-maker because feelings have a critical role in the way customers are influenced.

Disney’s ability to “wow” its fans and captivate customers for decades is explored in-depth in Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, a veritable handbook for Disney magic. In this book author Ted Kinni reveals the secrets of delivering magic to your customers the Walt Disney way. Lots of businesses can learn from their insights.

Related: Should a Business Send Customers to Competitors?

Disney’s success stems from company-wide best practices including leadership excellence, people management, quality service, brand loyalty and creativity, and innovation, all of which are highlighted in Be Our Guest. It boasts fresh updates and stories that highlight the past decade of Disney customer service.

The Disney Magic, as you’ll read in Be Our Guest, is part art and part science — and Kinni details how the company approaches continuously raising the bar at every customer touchpoint. Of all the facts featured within, perhaps the most surprising is the 70% return rate of first time Disney visitors. It’s tough to overstate just how impressive that is, especially for a theme park. It’s loyalty on a whole other level.

Below, I’ll highlight some interesting and unique takeaways that are shared in Be Our Guest.

It is all about the process

Perhaps the most unexpected finding when evaluating Disney’s penchant for “magic” is the focus on process — the drive and ability to continuously optimize something that is working very well.

Walt Disney was obsessed with continuous improvement and process. He knew that the deliverance of a magical experience each and every time is dependent on developing processes that are easy for employees to use. Walt viewed his theme parks almost as “factories” that produced delight and entertainment. His belief was that the backbone of Quality Service was built on designing perfect processes and then repeating them at scale.

Disney has held true to these beliefs with their close attention to detail in constantly improving their processes. They always sweat the small stuff. And that concept is key to be the best for most businesses. But I would add to include the ability for your staff to improvise on their own … add delegation for some flexibility.

Some awesome examples include:

Disneys WOW customer experiences … fulfilling special needs

Disney cast members found that disabled guests were often frustrated with parks because they had to constantly remind staff they were disabled, and they wanted to let staff know discretely. Disney created Special Assistance passes and provided their cast with a wide variety of training so that they were able to identify and fulfill the needs of disabled guests without invasive questions.

Making things positive

Despite the efforts made to inform customers of height limits, often a young child will wait with a parent to go on a ride, only to find out he or she isn’t tall enough. Disney noticed that this was a major complaint from parents and, more importantly, ruined the experience.

They have given staff permission to hand out a special pass when this happens that allows the child to skip to the front of the line on his or her next ride. Something to take the place of disappointment.

Ending on a WOW

What better way to end a magic experience than with a smooth exit? Unfortunately, Disney found many guests had problems finding their cars when leaving on trams. Tram drivers now keep a simple list of what rows they work each morning, which is distributed to team members at the end of the day.

This allows guests to simply denote the time they arrived, and the tram drivers will know what location the guest parked in. A huge win for ending the day without hassle.

Walt seemed to perfect these techniques by observing each and every detail. He didn’t just want Disney Parks to be better — he wanted them to be awesome.

Away from the desk

In Disneyland’s early years, when a suggestion came about to build an administration building for the management at Disneyland, Walt opposed the idea vehemently.“I don’t want you guys sitting behind desks. I want you out in the park, watching what people are doing, and finding out how you can make the place more enjoyable for them.”

An early example of ‘walk-around management’, yes?

Here is a good example: when customer researchers at Disney found that guests greatly desired more access with characters — and also highlighted the difficulty of navigating the crowds that formed around characters like Minnie Mouse — cast and management were immediately informed of their grievances.

The two teams worked together to make fixes right away: characters were brought into specific areas so that they could be better managed, fixed greeting locations were selected and broadcasted throughout the park with signs and pamphlets, and the CHIP (Character Hotline and Information Program) was created, resulting in a phone number that any cast member can call to find out where certain characters are.

Disneys WOW customer experiences … continuous improvement

Walt was a stickler for the experiences at his park. His obsession with the park stemmed from the fact that he saw it as a forever incomplete product that could always be improved.

The lengths he would go to improve it is something of a legend: Walt would wear old clothes and a straw farmer’s hat and tour the park incognito. Dick Nunis, who was at the time a supervisor in Frontierland, remembers being tracked down by Walt during one of these visits. Walt had ridden the Jungle Boat attraction and had timed the cruise. The boat’s operator had rushed the ride, which had ended in four and a half minutes instead of the full seven it should have taken.

Dick and Walt took the ride together and discussed the proper timing. The boat pilots used stopwatches to learn the perfect speed. Weeks went by until one day Walt returned. He rode the Jungle Boats four times with different pilots.

In the end, he said nothing, just gave Dick a “Good show!” thumbs-up and continued on his way.

Show ready

Each customer-facing employee is expected to be ‘show ready’ whenever they are on stage. Everyone has a part to play as a component of the show. On stage, the show is on … everyone follows costume and customer interface guidelines.

Breaks and relaxing are ONLY allowed in areas unavailable to guests. Disney certainly knows all there is to know about customer immersion and customer experience, don’t they? It’s a culture handed down by Walt himself.

The bottom line

Exceeding customer expectations is the key to brand differentiation and customer loyalty in every kind of business. Every customer arrives with a set of expectations. If that set of expectations isn’t satisfied, that customer isn’t going to come back.

But that doesn’t mean the opposite is true: Customers who are satisfied might or might not come back. The goal of service should be exceeding guest expectations instead of simply satisfying them.



Mike Schoultz

Mike Schoultz writes about improving the performance of business. Bookmark his blog for stories and articles. www.digitalsparkmarketing.com