Our family recently made the pilgrimage to Disney World. It was the first-ever trip to the renowned resort for myself and our two grandsons. The boys were wide-eyed as they took in the rides and attractions (although the lines tried their patience a bit). It was all fun, but as we went through the day, I began thinking more and more about the power of customer experience.
Everyone is familiar with “Disney perfection.” The pleasant on-site accommodations are conveniently linked with the various parks by an efficient transportation system. The parks are clean, the staff friendly, and the ample restrooms, food services, and souvenir shops are easy to find throughout the expertly designed grounds. In an era where “customer experience” rules, Disney holds the high ground.
One detail that stood out for me is how they tactfully block off areas under construction. Painted fences surround the building sites. Alongside are benches where visitors can take a break. And on the fences at regular intervals are little plaques with quotes from Walt himself, politely reminding everyone not to feel too inconvenienced. After all, the parks are all about turning dreams into reality.
One particular quote from Walt stuck with me. “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.” I recalled the cartoon “Steamboat Willie,” with Mickie happily at the wheel, and how that mouse became the character that launched Disney to fortune and fame.
Of course, it wasn’t just Mickey that made Disney successful. And the long-lasting fame wasn’t automatic. The success of Mickey Mouse opened a door that allowed Walt Disney to express his whole vision, which included pushing the technology and business of animation forward, and giving his customers something that he knew would delight them. And this got me thinking about Steve Jobs.
Both Steve and Walt valued customer experience. Both pushed technology to deliver products that customers love. Both were in touch with the ethereal world of dreams (Disney: “When you wish upon a star,” Jobs: “Think Different”). Both maintained complete control of their products, companies, and brands. Both brought ground-breaking innovation to their fields. Walt pushed the limits of cell animation, perfecting “multi-plane” camera techniques. This early 3D-like experience delivered the first animated feature film, “Snow White,” despite the trepidations of everyone around him. On the other hand, Jobs brought computers to the masses with the highly successful Apple II and then delivered game-changing products like the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Add to that inspired marketing, and he effectively married his gadgets into our daily lives.
But perhaps what’s most interesting is how Disney came to technology through entertainment while Jobs came to entertainment through technology. Walt, the entertainer, envisioned Epcot, the techno- “City of Tomorrow,” while Steve, the “tech guy,” became CEO of Pixar, the award-winning 3D animation studio, and brought the music industry into the 21st century with the iTunes store. It’s as if Jobs and Disney were both born with the ability to bring us treasures from the future. Whatever it was, their paths seemed destined to converge. Pixar inevitably was bought by Disney, and Steve ended up on Disney’s board as its largest shareholder.
You could say that Steve Jobs became the heir of Disney’s legacy. Connecting with customers’ most fundamental wants, and delivering unexpectedly satisfying experiences, link the two visionaries. Fans love their products because they’re delighted by them. Indeed, customers stand in long lines to ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” or get the latest iPhone. Their success isn’t the result of cold, calculating computer algorithms but the expression of a gift bestowed on only a few. It’s high-level creativity expressed in business, technology, innovation, and art, with unquestioned success as the result.
Today, the work of Disney and Jobs lives on, guided by the embedded philosophy of innovation and customer experience that’s in their companies. The world needs companies that can give us what was previously unimaginable — extraordinary products provided in exceptional ways. Perhaps a “sorcerer’s apprentice” is somewhere in the wings, waiting to take up this mantle at just the right time. The job description includes an unfettered imagination, an iron will, and a love for delighting the masses. “Thinking different” will help, too. Qualified candidates, however, need not apply. We’ll know you when we see you.