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5 Business Lessons from Disney World on How to Make Your Customer Experience Magical

Canadian Lindsay Nemeth set a Guinness World Record by visiting all 12 Disney theme parks in just over three days. She started at the original Disneyland in California and ended her trip half-way around the world in Japan.

Although I have not been to all of the Disney theme parks, I have visited Walt Disney World in Florida more than 200 times. I visited Disney World on the second day it was open when I was only three years old. My next visit will mark the 218th time I have entered the Magic Kingdom.

You’re probably wondering what attracted me so often and continues to draw me back to a theme park that calls itself “the happiest place on earth”?

As an entrepreneur in the retail automotive industry, I’m always interested in learning how to improve processes and services, especially when it comes to benefiting my dealer clients. After thinking about my many trips to Disney World, I’ve concluded what appeals to me most about the park is the consistency of a positive experience.

Obviously, a car dealership is not a theme park. Walt Disney World is as big as San Francisco in land area and packed with tourists; nearly 21 million visitors passed through its gates in 2018.  But here are five ways dealers can take a note from Disney to create a memorable experience for their customers.

1. Be Our Guest: Create a Customer-First Culture

Visitors to Disney World are referred to as guests, while Disney World employees are known as cast members. From the receptionist who checks you in to the ride attendant who straps you in, they all share the same goal: to make guests happy. This is not always easy. The costumes they wear, for instance, are made of wool and polyester and must be worn in a humid climate. To make matters worse, kids are constantly tugging and hitting them. Yet you would never know these cast members are uncomfortable, because they always put their “guests” first.

Lesson: Everyone gets the VIP treatment in the Magic Kingdom -- and in your dealership.

2. Heigh-Ho: Hire to Fit Your Culture

Creating a customer or guest-first culture starts with hiring. Sales skills and product knowledge can be taught, of course. But having the right attitude is more elusive. Applicants for a job as a character at Disney World go through a very competitive group interview process that often includes dancing and acting. Roles such as Snow White or Cinderella might require voices and accents. Even autograph signatures must be mastered to ensure it’s the same signature, from one Mickey to the next. While meeting these qualifications, applicants must, above all, inspire happiness.

Lesson: Start right by hiring right.

3. You Can Fly: Bolster Your Culture with Training

Before on-boarding, make sure your new hires have the right attitude about your culture. Toward that end, Disney workers are not only hired, they’re trained. Cast members attend Disney University to take classes related to their specific roles. Moreover, all cast members are required to take a class called Traditions, which introduces them to the Disney culture and shows them how to take care of guests the Disney way.

Lesson: Train your staff to be goodwill ambassadors of your culture.

4. A Spoon Full of Sugar: Make Your Store Reflect Your Culture

Whenever I visit Disney World, I know what to expect. I enter on Main Street, U.S.A., and can see Cinderella Castle in the distance. The setting helps me buy-in to the experience. Likewise, as soon as customers walk into your store, they should be able to immediately grasp your culture. It can range from the many smiling faces to the free popcorn to the friendly layout of the store itself. Openly display posters and other signage that clearly identify your culture and unique selling proposition. For example, if you offer a free lifetime powertrain warranty, highlight this unique benefit throughout your store.

Lesson: Your store should reflect your culture.

5. Remember Me: Leave Customers Feeling Excited

Daily life at your dealership and the products you sell might be old news to you. But as soon as customers enter your store, there’s a good chance it’s a new and exciting experience for them. At the very least, your excitement should match theirs. At Disney World, people of all ages have a chance to be a kid again.  Show customers you’re there to help them find their dream vehicle and make sure they leave feeling happy about their decision. When you do, they’ll tell others about their amazing experience—and they’ll be back.

Lesson: A culture of positive reinforcement works wonders.

I’d like to close my thoughts on creating a magical customer experience with this quote from Walt Disney: “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever." For me, the car business is the dream fulfillment business and that makes me happy.



Chris K Leslie

Our organization is a big believer in the Disney training method. We've even had Disney reps come in and do training with our teams. 

R. J. James

LOL... this touched a nerve!

Business Culture is that nebulous area that many mature businesses struggle to wrap their heads around.  Car dealerships are not alone in this struggle to shift their business model.  Several times a year I wrestle with clients about making conscientious and sustained shift(s) in their Business Culture.

Some of the major hurdles to this Business Culture Improvement Work has been: the business has been successful for a long time and resist change, they operate in departmental silos controlled by strong personalities, or they ventured down the Business Culture Change Track in the past and did not see Results.

Directing, Coaching, and Encouraging businesses through the Culture Change  Maze has been some of my most rewarding and satisfying work as a consultant.

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