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What I Learned About Customer Service When I Took My Nieces to Magic Kingdom

Some events are once in a lifetime kind of things.

They are rights of passage that don’t come with do overs.

For me, just this week, I had the chance to take my nieces to Walt Disney World for the very first time.  With special permission from their parents, we planned the girl’s first trip to Magic Kingdom and as I write this article, they are still sleeping off the 13 hour adventure.

The day was pure Disney magic as seen through the eyes of a child – and for those of us who have been to the parks dozens of times, it reminds us why Disney cultivates such great loyalty in their Guests.

When the last ride was finished, the final funnel cake eaten, and the last princess visited, all that was left was the monorail ride back to the parking lot.  During those few minutes, my oldest niece crawled into my lap to watch the castle grow smaller in the distance, and I asked the obvious question.

What was your favorite part? “All of it,” she replied, smiling through heavy eyes. I asked again for her most favorite parts. “Thunder Mountain and being called princess,” she finally declared – at this point her nose was pressed to the glass, just making out Cinderella Castle and the Contemporary resort in the distance.

That got me thinking, from her point of view, about how Disney really drives that most amazing loyalty.

I hadn’t thought I could be any more loyal to that brand.  I place Disney in the same league I place Delta Airlines, Hilton, and Chick-fil-A.  Those are brands that I will go out of my way to frequent, even at greater expense or inconvenience than their competitors simply because of the experiences they have given me over the years.

But now, having seen how they treated my nieces, I walked away feeling even more loyal to the brand.

I had forgotten how much it meant to me when they treated my son so well almost 10 years ago – but he was much older than they were when I took him for the first time, so it was a different kind of experience.  There is something more vulnerable about kids when they are 3 and 5 than when they are 13 that it makes you even more grateful when they are treated with respect and deference.

So let’s start there.  Disney understands that adults will love them even more if they respect their children.  They make a special effort to really understand that every Guest is important – not just those paying the bills.   The deference that was shown to the girls was outstanding – and my 5 year old niece noticed that folks all day were calling them princesses.

So making people feel special and treating everyone with respect and dignity has great impact – whether they are your largest Customer or a new Guest to your organization.

Just because someone isn’t your biggest Customer doesn’t mean that they should have a lesser experience than someone who does smaller volume with you.  Sure they might enjoy frequency or volume perks, but they don’t deserve a bigger smile or more polite treatment.

Disney also understands the importance of milestone events.  One of the neat things they do is their button program. For those who may not be familiar, you can pick up special event buttons at the gift shops around the park to celebrate certain events.  You an pick from: “Happily Ever After,” “1st Visit,” “I’m Celebrating,” and “Happy Birthday.”  I remember pinning the 1st visit button on my son and then again this visit on my nieces.  I was actually celebrating my birthday along with their dad, so I was able to enjoy a little of the magic as well.  The great part about this is that along with all the other Disney magic in the park, there was the added fun of having folks wish us a happy birthday or ask if they were enjoying their first time in the parks.  To watch them smile as they replied “yes” was well worth the price of admission.

This is why engaging your Guests during important moments is key.  This is the organizational equivalent of the free piece of cake we’ve all enjoyed on our birthdays at restaurants.  Knowing enough about your Customers to wish them a happy birthday, celebrate their anniversary with your organization, or appreciate their loyalty through a rewards program can help you reinforce your Guests’ connection with you.

Airlines, hotels, and coffee shops have long understood that loyalty rewards builds a sort of muscle memory that makes it feel weird to do business with a different organization.

Finally, there is the surprise and delight factor.  When you think about engendering loyalty with your Guests, finding ways to go above and beyond occasionally really helps to cement your place in their hearts.  Along with the everyday magic you find in Magic Kingdom, there are some nice touches that are executed daily.  One of the newest is based in technology.  Something new that surprised us during our visit was being greeted by name on the It’s a Small World ride – accomplished by encoding Guest bands with enough information to communicate names to terminals.  This allows screens like the one above to display names and also for Associates to use your name if they are watching the screens as you scan your band throughout the park.

Ask yourself if you are looking for ways to wow your Guests every now and again – an upgrade, thank you note, free shipping, or a surprise mini dessert at the end of a meal are some examples.

Often, the smallest things get big attention – such as walking folks to a destination in a retail space, or in the case of our visit to Disney, Cast Members handing out small stickers “just because” throughout the park.  People love it when folks go above and beyond – and so long as you have the basics covered, these little gestures mean a lot to your Guests.

So I really only expected to walk away with stories to share with my family, but instead, there were some relevant business lessons to be learned when I spent a Sunday afternoon at the Magic Kingdom with my nieces.

  1. Make People Feel Special

  2. Celebrate Milestones

  3. Deliver Surprise and Delight

So remember these 3 things, and you’ll be well on your way to treating everyone like cherished friends – or like nieces you love to spoil!


Tony Johnson -Guest Experience Leader-

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