Customer focus is the business model

Bobby Greenberg blog

My family and I just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World.  This was our third time to Mickey’s house and we lucked out again with great weather and small crowds.  Every time I go there, I pay special attention to design elements and customer experiences that stand out. As usual, Disney didn’t disappoint with special attention to details, cleanliness and a focus on the kids.  One experience in particular stood out.

We were in the Magic Kingdom for a “Party in the Streets” where they brought out floats, characters, music and dancers.  In a matter of minutes, Disney  transformed an area filled with strangers into a giant, shared “smile-fest”.  You couldn’t help but look around and see everyone, and I mean everyone, laughing, dancing and genuinely having pure fun, all right in front of the iconic castle. This was more than a professional concert.  This was a shared experience where every single cast-member made a deliberate effort to engage the guests by making eye contact, pulling people into the streets and dancing with them.  Even parade escorts that were not part of the show were dancing with everyone and giving out goodies.  The energy and happiness of the performers was infectious and converted the crowd from disconnected visitors to one giant group of party goers.

So what?  Well, I doubt that this show was designed with a specific business case or ROI target. I am sure there are business metrics that support having that type of show with that many people, at that specific time and location but I don’t get the impression those are the design drivers.  Instead, creating a “wow” experience to engage people was the goal which in turn induces more hours in the park resulting in increased volume of food and goods purchased. However, the most important outcome of this experience is a positive emotional connection to Disney.  Disney is expert at cultivating happiness and these emotional experiences. I couldn’t help but channel my inner child during my visit and I got an even bigger boost by sharing it with my kids and family.  If you are like me and believe in the behavioral science that says 95% of decisions are emotional, then you can appreciate how this one party will keep me coming back for more.   There is no doubt that the Disney brand affinity left a powerful, lasting connection to my family and the 500 strangers with whom I partied.  That’s right, the brand.  The halo effect comes into play here when we associate that happy experience with the rest of the Disney umbrella, not just the parks.  This is not some sneaky plan devised by Dr. Evil-types but instead sound business practice centered around the customer.

Customer focus drives ROI but the results are an outcome not a design input. Companies that embrace this strategy have results that speak for its success. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, stated in his S-1 filing, “we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”.  They are likely to be valued over $100B in their IPO.  Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, follows a similar philosophy and said this in a recent Inc article: “Get them to fall in love with the service, and they would eventually pay, because they would be invested in its success.” Evernote does not charge for its fully-featured application and yet became profitable in 2011 with $16M in sales.  That is proof in the pudding.  Solving for customer needs and building great experiences is not a piece of the business model – it is the business model!

Can companies shift that haven’t previously embraced this strategy?  Only time will tell. But I believe if they don’t shift, it is companies like Facebook and Evernote that will take them over and create a new normal.

Finally, I leave you with this conversation with my son after we returned from our trip:
“I would love to work at Disney World.” – My 9-year-old son
“Well, people who work there work really hard and long hours.  What about a job like picking up trash?” – Me
“I wouldn’t care.  I would do any job because if it’s at Disney World, it’s gotta be fun.” My 9-year-old son

Now , that’s a “business model” that will be here for the long term and be plenty profitable.

How can this apply to your business?