business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

When a business has the audacity to call itself the happiest place on earth it has some serious standards to uphold. So when reports are that Disney World is studying how to better manage customer flow—especially lines—it probably means that it’s a story worth listening to.

If by some chance you have managed to avoid Disney World all these years there is simply no way to easily describe the massive theme park in Orlando. It is a mix of business, recreation, entertainment and spending unlike any other place on earth. Apparently it is also a marvel of how to use technology to improve the customer experience.

The challenge Disney found is that on busy days the lines get out of hand, forcing park attendees to spend most of the day waiting. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the average Magic Kingdom visitor gets on nine rides during the course of a visit. That’s out of 40 total rides in that park alone.

The Disney folks see a couple of problems in that, but two stand out. First, the lines diminish the experience that is the core of the Disney brand. And secondly, people standing in lines aren’t in restaurants or shops buying all the goods featured at the park. Neither is good for business.

Now you could look at this as unique problems for a theme park that hosts nearly 30 million visitors each year or you could look at it for the relevance to your stores and shoppers who are the very same people, albeit in a worse mood than while on vacation in Florida.

As the Times reported: “Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more.

“A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.”

Suddenly it all sounds more relevant. Because those same impatient shoppers cursed with what seems to be societal attention deficit disorder are also in your stores. So just like Disney, you need a strategy.

The Disney story offers some interesting ideas. For some rides, Disney has the ability to pick up the pace of customer movement. (At Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, more boats are put in use.) In other cases Disney runs “Move it, Shake it! parades to pull shoppers toward less crowded parts of the park. Some line areas now feature video games to distract the waiting masses, while in other areas costumed characters are dispatched to entertain the crowds.

And there’s more. Disney is developing a mobile app to help visitors locate anything from the location of a costumed Cinderella or the hamburger stand with the shortest line. Other technological experiments to improve the customer experience are also in the pipeline.

The bottom line is that Disney understands the value equation of its visitors and is using technology to better manage even the most difficult situations and the ideas provide interesting discussion for any retailer. How can we better manage lines; how can we improve the experience in a way that is both enjoyable and profitable; and what can we do about better using our data?

After all it’s a small world and those same customers who get delighted at Disney World would love the same attention when they leave Fantasy Land and return to reality. And that’s where you live.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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