Episode #18: Why I’m Still a Fan of the Disney Magic

Grad Conn

November 28, 202012 min read

Share this Article

Nobody knows customer experience better than Disney. Today we celebrate the birthday of the cartoon mouse who started it all, and look at the famed Disney CX magic. Customer Experience is temporal, and the most recent customer experience is the one people remember the most.

All podcast episodes


Yeah, CXM Experience Here we are another day. Another CXM Experience with Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And today I want to talk about Walt Disney. And particularly, Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

For anyone that knows me, I’m a pretty big Disney fan. I’m not sure I’m the world’s biggest Disney fan, but I’m definitely in the top very small percentage of that… top quarter percent perhaps. I once, for example, spent nearly a year — 300 days — going to Disneyland every single day, just for perspective. I have been to Walt Disney World nearly 50 times. And you know, the list goes on. I’m a founding member of D23, the Disney fan club. And I’ve been to all the D23. expos. So big fan, big fan, big fan.

And particularly a big fan of Walt Disney himself. The Walt Disney family Museum in the Presidio in San Francisco is an entrepreneurs masterclass, in terms of the obstacles that he had to overcome, and the things that were thrown at him. it’s quite incredible. And what’s beautiful about the Walt Disney family museum is it’s the family’s museum. So they’ve got some amazing things, like the train that he used to ride on in the backyard, and all sorts of incredible family heirlooms and all sorts of incredible pieces of trivia, all his Academy Awards, for example. But they also tell it in a non corporate way, they tell the story from the standpoint of the struggle and the challenges and the issues that he had to deal with, and you really get a feeling for it. And at the end of the exhibits, you walk into a gallery where they talk about his death, and they have celebrities around the world, honoring Walt Disney. And I’ve been to a lot of museums in my life, but I’ve never been anywhere in any museum where I actually cried, and the power of that room is amazing. So yeah, I’m pretty big fan.

And I love the Walt Disney company’s work, I love what they do. I love the experiences that they create. I do think that the Walt Disney Company is arguably 50 years ahead of the rest of us in terms of understanding experience is, the new brand, I think they’ve been there for a long time. And one of the things I love about being in the parks is watching how everyone participates in creating a great experience. So if there’s a piece of trash on the ground, which is rare, actually. But if there’s a piece of trash on the ground, and the reason is rare, I’ll tell you in a second, you’ll see a manager reach down and pick it up and put it away. They don’t wait for the trash person to do it — everyone is responsible for keeping the park clean to making the experience wonderful for everyone who’s there.

One of the reasons there’s not a lot of trash is they did a bunch of studies and they found that if you’re always within 20 feet of a trash bin, you’ll tend to throw it out in the trash bin. As soon as the trash bin distance increases, then you start to become more likely to drop it on the ground. And so next time you’re in Disney World, or Disneyland or any of the Disney parks, just take a look around at how many actual garbage cans there are. And, they’re very cleverly integrated into the landscapes they don’t jar out. Because they’re painted to connect with… when you’re in Frontierland they look like Frontierland garbage cans, etc. But it’s shocking how many garbage cans are in the parks. And they do that to make sure that the garbage doesn’t land on the ground.

Anyway. So I have maybe my one regret in life, honestly, is that I didn’t work for the Walt Disney Company., I think that’s something I really wanted to do… it was actually my goal when I was at P&G would be that would be my next job. And I got talked out of it by a bunch of people. And I think that was a big mistake. But you know, it is what it is. So I have had a chance to enjoy the experience on the other side in many ways.

So why am I talking about Walt Disney today? So today is the anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie. So I’ll tell you about Steamboat Willie in a second, but it was the animated sound short cartoon that introduced Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse to the world. It was released on November the 18th, 1928. So you could argue that Mickey Mouse’s sort of official birthday is today and that he is 92 years old and I gotta say he doesn’t look a day over 90. He looks amazing.

And so… Steamboat Willie is an extraordinarily innovative film. In fact, it has been voted one of the top 50 animated shorts of all time. I think it was number 13 overall in the set. It was a very interesting story. You know it’s kind of a comeback story for Walt Disney. So he had had a series called Oswald the Rabbit. And it was animated by a lead animator who’s working with Disney at the time named Ub Iwerks. And Ub defected and took Oswald and most of the animation team while Disney was on a business trip on the east coast. So he’s on a train, goes to the east coast, does a bunch of business stuff, finds out that he has not only lost his character Oswald, but also his lead animator and his essentially entire animation team.

And as legend has it as he was coming back to the west coast on the train, he sketched out Mickey Mouse. And actually his wife said, you know he actually a different name for Mickey Mouse and his wife suggested Mickey and sort of, you know, not many people remember Oswald. Everybody knows who Mickey Mouse is. And ironically, a few years ago, The Walt Disney Company finally bought back the rights to Oswald the Rabbit and if you go in the parks today there is Oswald the Rabbit merchandise which I’m not sure it’s a big huge seller. But I do feel there’s a very poetic justice quality to having Oswald back in the family and having it all integrated again.

So anyway, so this cartoon was the first cartoon to incorporate sound, Walt Disney did all the voices, it was considered a very, very innovative cartoon of the times. Black and white. And Steamboat Willie has become sort of a classic of its kind. And so if you want to know more, I would encourage you to go to Wikipedia, there’s an excellent page on Steamboat Willie, and tells you all about it. So happy birthday Mickey Mouse. And thank you, Walt Disney Company for all the amazing, incredible memories that you’ve created for me and my families over the years. It really is been an incredible experience.

But I do have some feedback. And that’s unusual for me to have feedback. You know, I don’t recall a time when I haven’t felt touched by magic when I’m working with Disney, except my most recent interaction. And this, for me is an interesting example of how one bad experience can color your perspective, even though the Walt Disney Company has literally delivered thousands of amazing experiences to me. Thousands of amazing experiences. And just to be clear, I don’t want to be overly dramatic, I’m pretty much still in love with everything Disney does. But this had a big impact on me. And I was shocked. I was shocked to find my reaction the way it was.

Here’s the issue. So the parks have annual passes. I’ve been an annual pass holder in Disneyland or Disney World since probably early 2000 or so, 2000, 2001. So about 20 years. And it’s great being an annual pass holder, you get a little magnetic sticker, you can stick on your car, you get discounts in the stores, and you’re an annual pass holder, and you can renew it every year at a discount. Now, for some reason, my annual pass this year, renewed in January. And I don’t know what happened. I never saw a renewal notice. I didn’t get a notification… couldn’t find anything on it. Maybe it went somewhere else and it wasn’t forwarded to me. That’s not unlikely. But for whatever reason, I missed my renewal on my annual pass. Let’s just say for a second that’s on me. Okay, so it’s been a little weird this year in terms of addresses and locations and forwarding and i had some not fantastic forwarding protocols going on. And so it’s been kind of a wacky year. And so let’s say that’s on me, I missed it. I missed the renewal.

So I was planning on booking a trip to Walt Disney World, and I called up and I went online and went to renew my annual pass and there’s a notification that they’re not renewing annual passes right now because of COVID. So it’s kind of weird. I really want an annual pass. So I called and explain the situation, I’ve been an annual pass holder for two decades. I’m a D23. Expo members… still have that. I didn’t, I didn’t lose that. Have, you know, I’d say a reasonably fanatical devotion to the Walt Disney Company  and Walt Disney, and would really like an annual pass for which I was willing to pay full, full load. I’m not trying to get a deal or anything, I’m not even asking for the discount for January. I’m just saying, I am willing to pay full freight for an annual pass, not asking for any favors. And they wouldn’t sell it to me. And then the agent I was on with… I was like, really? How’s this even possible? And, and so she actually it was an interesting example of maybe how not to do what she said, Listen, I’m going to go call customer service going to get into customer service and talk to them. And I am going to see if I can make some magic happen. I’m… ah yes, because whenever they say magic in Disney terms, you know, something special is about to happen. They’re about to land some magic on you. I thought I’m golden.

And I was on hold for… I’m gonna say 45 minutes, it was a very, very, very long time. It could have been an hour. Overall, I think I was on the phone for about an hour and a half to two hours on this particular issue. And at the end of this extraordinarily long, hold time, which had no music and no character voices, and nothing fun. She comes back and she says I’m sorry. But we cannot sell you an annual pass. You’re just going to have to buy a park ticket like everyone else. Boy, oh boy, I tell you, I was really upset, like super upset. And I’ve kind of gotten over it a little bit. I’m okay, I’m actually planning on going to Walt Disney World soon. My fiancé actually has an annual pass, which she is not having a problem renewing, so she’s got one. But I will say I’m a little sad about it. And was actually surprised that they weren’t able to make any magic happen.

It was interesting to me where actually at one point, I was like, You know what, forget it. I don’t even want to go anymore. Let’s just go and do Harry Potter World or something like that. I was so pissed off. And, I caught myself and I’m like, oh man grow up a little bit and try to be a little bit mature. And try not to be a complete 12 year old all the time. But, also, it was amazing how frantic I was at not being able to get a thing I wanted, and how upset I was so quickly about an experience that was less than optimal, given all the amazing experiences they have.

So this is actually something that Gartner talks about a lot. You have to think about experience, not just from the standpoint of overall. Because overall, you want to provide a body of work that’s outstanding. But you also have to remember that the most recent experience is the one that people remember the most. And the most recent experience could be the checkout, or the most recent experience could be the call to the agent or the chat or whatever. But experiences are temporal and 1,000 great experiences from five years ago, are not worth nearly as much as one really bad experience 10 seconds ago. So that’s what makes experience even tougher to manage over the long run.

So we’ll be talking about Walt Disney a lot more. I love Walt Disney Company. I love Walt Disney. I’m really sorry I got kind of angry, but I’m good now. I’ll just go buy a park pass like everyone else. I’ll be a little sad when I do it. But you know, it’s okay, I’ll manage. And we’ll go from there. And maybe we’ll kind of get things back on track in a couple years. But I will say that for me it was an interesting example of the experience economy.

So that is the CXM Experience for today. I’m Grad Conn and I will see you next time.

Share this Article

Related Topics

Global companies elevate the customer experience with Sprinklr ServiceEpisode #192: How do Your Customers Really Use Your Product?Episode #191: Full Stream Ahead