Oh wait, I said that UX is a bullshit job title 🙂 Well, I just got back from a week at Disney World and I think there are some lessons that Walt and Co could teach all of us about User Experience. I have never encountered a company so completely devoted to the happiness of its customers.

Portrait of Walt Disney with painting behind him with Mickey Mouse standing in a forrest

User Experience can mean many things to many people, but we all agree that the end result is happy users. Unfortunately a lot of people feel that UX begins and ends with their site or app. My visit to Disney World solidified that true UX starts way before someone hits your site and long after they become a customer.

Here are couple things I learned from Walt Disney during my trip, and how you can apply them to your site or app …

  1. Obsess about first impressions: My first interaction with Disney was over the phone when I was trying to figure out the pricing for our hotel. The woman was cheerful – not annoyingly so – but genuinely happy to help me out. It was infectious. The first thing she asked wasn’t logistical details about the date of my visit – she just asked if this was our first Disney trip. When I said it was, she lit up and said they’d do everything they could to make it a magical experience for us. She stayed on the phone with me for almost 30 minutes, patiently helping me out. It was wonderful. If you don’t typically speak to your customers on the phone then you can achieve this same effect by carefully crafting your welcome email, being responsive and friendly on Twitter, and crafting your site copy.
  2. Focus your engineers on the customer: Disney knows that waiting in lines for rides sucks. So they developed this technology called ‘Fast Pass’. You walk up to the ride, pop your ticket into a machine, and it spits out a ticket with a return time. If you come back at that time, you completely skip the huge 40-minute line. It’s amazing. You can apply this to your app by making sure your new features are going to make your customer’s lives happier. There’s a lot of things you could be working or or developing, but how many directly make customers happier? Put your effort there first. (Hat tip to Nick for reminding me about this.)
  3. Pay attention to small details: When we arrived at our Disney hotel, they said “Welcome Home”. It was also woven into the welcome matte to our room. I thought “Oh, that’s cute” when I heard it, but all throughout the trip, it became obvious that they were serious. They worked hard to make our experience as comfy as being at home. You can apply this to your site by designing small touches into your site – providing they are backed up consistently throughout the entire customer experience. One small thing we do is welcome people by their first name as they’re signing up for Membership. Once you type in your name, we pop that in a message that says “Howdy Ryan! Welcome to Think Vitamin Membership”.
  4. Go over the top: We arrived slightly before opening time to the Magical Kingdom one day, and I’m so glad we did. Five minutes before the doors opened this insane welcome parade show started, complete with fireworks, a working steam train, signing and dancing. It made me smile and enforced that they were ridiculously serious about making our visit special. Another example is that they have two parades and fireworks at night every day of the year. Not just one parade, but TWO. It’s completely over the top, but it made us smile every time. You can apply this concept to your site by visually welcoming new users to the site. Why not go crazy and use CSS3 animation really welcome new people to your app? You’re excited that they chose your service right? And you truly believe that you’re making their life better right? Celebrate and bring them along on the journey.

I’ve lived outside the US for 10 years now and I know that a lot of folks think that American-style happy customer service is insincere or patronizing, and I agree. Some of it is contrived and scripted. However, when you are truly happy to help your customers and won’t stop at anything to make them happy, it is the most powerful form of UX in the world.

As a bonus, I took a couple snaps of posters that I’d like to share with you. Disney had posted these around the park on areas they were working on or building. It wasn’t good enough for them to just put up barriers to hide the construction mess, they had to pass on some of their beliefs. I love it.

A quote by Walt Disney that says 'When we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right.'

Quote by Walt Disney that says 'The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.'