Amazing Customer Experiences: Magic or Method?

Danyel LaGow

I recently attended the Disney Institute’s inaugural Customer Experience Summit to learn first hand how Disney is able to execute such amazing customer experiences time and again. Over the course of three days, summit participants enjoyed a program packed with keynote presentations from top Disney leaders, interactive breakout sessions, group activities, field experiences that went into exclusive behind-the-scenes locations of the Disney Parks, and a few surprises filled with Disney magic, of course.

Most people would agree that Disney “gets” their customers — they understand how to exceed their expectations and needs by providing experiences that seem magical and last a lifetime. It can feel daunting for companies that are attempting to look inward to determine how they can reinvent their brands or create better customer experiences, particularly when contrasting their own experiences with those as impressive and magical as Disney’s.

But, let me share a little secret that the folks at the Disney Institute shared with us: “We don’t use magic to create amazing guest experiences. We have a method. Everything is intentional. Everything is by design.” — Jeff James, Vice President & General Manager, Disney Institute

Disney Customer Experience Summit
Photo credit: The Disney Institute Customer Experience Summit

The company continues to run on the foundational vision and values that Walt Disney himself instilled in his company decades ago. They believe wholeheartedly that to provide their guests with exceptional experiences, they must begin by taking care of their employees (aka cast members). Their culture fosters high-quality interactions that are promoted by well-designed and intentional experiences.

Designing and providing amazing customer experiences starts with leadership. In the Disney Institute’s Bruce Kimbrell’s words , “Values-infused leaders cultivate success by making values foundational to their decision-making. Leaders must explain the “why” and help people get behind the vision through an understanding of the values.”

Disney achieves this through what they call their Chain of Excellence: Leadership > Cast Excellence > Guest Satisfaction > Business Results. Yet, what I found truly inspiring was how every employee/cast member, at every level, lived by the same four common values that were instilled by Walt Disney himself.

Walt Disney World’s “Four Keys” (in their own words):

  1. SAFETY. Providing for the welfare of our Guests and maintaining their peace of mind.
  2. COURTESY. Treating every Guest like a VIP, a Very Individual Person, and respecting the diversity of each person, Cast and Guests alike.
  3. SHOW. Providing a seamless performance and not allowing reality to interfere with fantasy.
  4. EFFICIENCY. Providing the smoothest possible operation of our parks and resorts.

To help make the Four Keys a defined part of their culture, each Key is broken down into several Quality Standards that are taught and performed on a daily basis, to help employees see how they can apply these high-standards to their day-to-day work.

Whether it was the Disney Institute folks who kicked off their presentations with a Safety slide to ensure everyone in the room knew what the emergency procedures were and felt safe, the cast members in the parks that showed authentic Courtesy and poise as we interrupted their work to learn about the backstage surroundings, or the hotel staff that made sure the whole process of check-in to check-out went seamlessly (Efficiency) and exceeded my expectations, it was clear that Disney culture has their employee satisfaction and their customer experience at the forefront.


Clearly, not every company is Disney. But every company can take cues from what they’re doing. Strong-Bridge Envision’s approach to transforming culture is both pragmatic and achievable— something that can nudge companies closer to Disney. It looks like this:

  • CUSTOMER INSIGHTS. Developing a deeper understanding of customers, including primary research, ethnography, and persona development. Sharing customer insights and tools to foster a more customer-centric culture.
  • CUSTOMER JOURNEY MAPPING. Mapping a multi-channel customer journey to provide an understanding of the critical moments of truth that drive business results.
  • CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE VISION & STRATEGY. Analyzing the current state, envisioning the future state, and creating the strategic roadmap and associated business case for achieving the vision.
  • ORGANIZATIONAL ADOPTION & ACCOUNTABILITY. Driving change and accountability horizontally across the organization and vertically from C-suite to the front line.
  • MARKETING EXECUTION. Managing programs and projects, experience design and development, and campaign management.

If you’re looking to take the first step to transforming your culture, remember that sometimes being magical is methodical. And being methodical isn’t impossible.

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