How Disney is Using Service to Turn Pain into Delight / Behavior & Business 1.2

This is the second in a series of ten articles focused on designing better cross-platform retail experiences. To read the complete issue, download it here.

In our first post, we gave an overview of the challenges we see facing cross-platform retail, and an introduction to the three opportunity areas we think retail companies need to think about today and in the future. In this article, we dig into the first opportunity area, Service as Experience, and the first business directive, Anticipate Pain and Win Downtime.

Opportunity 01: Service As Experience

One of the best parts of having an iPhone is that we get to put some of our favorite branded experiences right next to one another. I have my most used apps on my homescreen, a few at the most strategically placed, thumbable locations. My Sonos app is next to Google Keep, and Waze next to WhatsApp. These apps have nothing to do with each other, except that I use them frequently.

It’s always been interesting to me to see very different companies offering very different value to me as a user, all in the same place. Over time and maybe like you, I’ve found myself comparing different features and interactions between experiences, even if the companies are in completely different categories. If the Starbucks app can make me feel so appreciated when I walk into my local spot to get my venti mochaccino, why can’t Google Calendar deliver a similarly mindful service experience around my planned vacations?

For Amazon, Prime membership is the lead feature of a service-first sales approach.

The fact is that there is a new bar for how services are being benchmarked in terms of speed and efficiency, and retailers need to meet that bar in their own products and experiences. The Uber-fying of digital services has not only made users accustomed to fast, reliable and seamless transactions and communications, the shift has also placed a higher importance on service as a primary experience medium. And with the rise of just-in-time shopping, customers are spending less time considering products themselves and more time within the service interactions that surround them, from shipping and returns to interactions with customer service. It makes sense, then, for retailers to shift resources and attention into designing better service experiences where customers are spending more time connecting with them, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis.

Service as Experience shifts customer service from a cost-centric, reactive approach to a revenue-generating, proactive strategy focused on the realtime needs and desires of customers.

That’s why treating service as experience becomes a great opportunity for retailers. It’s true that customer service has always been at the heart of great brands and valuable customer relationships. Ask a loyal Bloomingdale’s shopper why they keep shopping there (Hint: it’s the return policy). But with customers spending more time navigating a brand’s service experiences and a heightened expectation for personal attention and quality, retailers can create moments of service that give customers the chance to shop amidst already existing connections and conversations. A Service as Experience strategy shifts customer service from a cost-centric, reactive approach to a revenue generative, proactive strategy focused on the realtime needs and desires of customers.

Behavioral Analysis: Building Lifelong Relationships through Service

Service is about recognizing the ways that customers need to be taken care of before, during, and beyond the point of sale. The extent to which customers feel like brands are taking care of them is a defining feature of their relationship with that brand. We think that care gets communicated when brands anticipate and solve their pain, are mindful of their time and how they experience it, and by engaging with them on their terms, in the ways that they want. This is the stuff that makes connections endure.

Forging enduring relationships and connections through care has been a central theme in economic anthropology, where it was classically used to explain a key difference between two overarching kinds of exchange, gift exchange and commodity exchange. The difference went something like this: while gift exchange is geared towards developing long-term bonds of reciprocal obligation, commodity exchange is transactional — after the purchase, the relationship is over. Take, for example, the Trobriand Islander who explained to Annette Weiner the difference between two different kinds of exchange: mapula and gimwali. (You know, mapula and gimwali. Aren’t all of your retail strategies inspired by South Pacific ethnography?) His explanation went like this: “If my father gives me a coconut palm [mapula] and several years later a strong wind comes and knocks down the palm, my father will give me another one. If I go to the trade store and buy a kerosene lamp and later the lamp breaks, do you think Mr. Holland will give me back my money? Mapula is not the same as gimwali [to buy and sell].” (If the Trobriand Islands seem too far afield, think about your own relationship with the cashier at the grocery store compared to the relationship with people you exchange gifts with over the holidays.) Part of a long tradition of examining the differences between economic systems, gift exchange, and commodity exchange was differentiated on the basis of care and relationship. Gift exchange, the logic goes, builds enduring relationships; commodity exchange does not.

In service, we see the opportunity for relationship-building that extends beyond just making a sale.

Today’s retailers have come a long way from the kind of commodity exchange described with regard to Mr. Holland’s lamps, however, and the sharp distinction between gifts and commodities has come to seem less pronounced than it may once have been. Instead, retailers are working to forge lasting relationships between customers and their brands that endure far beyond a single exchange. It’s not just about product, but about service, which is about a relationship. This is not a new idea, but the bar is being raised and the possibilities are expanding. The cases that follow highlight the ways that service relationships are being leveraged to communicate care for customers, transforming previously painful service interactions into opportunities to build lasting relationships. Providing high-quality, innovative service is a way for businesses to add a little mapula to their gimwali and build relationships with customers that extend well beyond basic transactional exchange.

Business Directive: Anticipate Pain and Win Downtime

There is an adage popularized by Mahendra Vora that startups, in order to win customer attention and scale effectively, should be ‘pain killers and not vitamins.’ The thinking is that customers will value a product or service that solves their pain more than one that is a nice-to-have.

The idea will probably resonate with any customer service-driven, relationship-focused company. Solve a customer’s issue and your brand will be rewarded with customer satisfaction and return business. While important, this is largely a reactive approach. What happens when solving pain becomes a much more proactive, anticipatory service experience?

Take Disney’s Magic Kingdom. I visited the park with my family this year for the first time since I was 12, this time with my infant daughter. The problem with Disney, or any amazing theme park, is matching customer desire to action. It feels like there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. And if parents end up waiting in lines all day with screaming kids, it’s far from a magical experience.

Long lines at Disney’s ‘Frozen Ever After’, a popular attraction at Epcot, are made easier with FASTPASS+.

Disney was starting to feel the effects of that customer pain: guests’ intent to return was dropping. It didn’t matter that guests didn’t get to go on every ride or see every attraction. The pain of high ticket prices, long lines, and failed workaround strategies (like splitting up the family to maximize access) were too much to beat back a one-and-done customer mindset.

What happens when solving pain becomes a much more proactive, anticipatory service experience?

So they invested ($1B+) in addressing this pain with MyMagic+, a personalized, RFID- powered system that maximizes enjoyment by putting ‘vacation planning magic at your fingertips.’ I’m not sure I would have survived Disney without the best part of MyMagic+: FASTPASS. You get to pick your Top 3 attractions, the times you want to go to them, and basically skip the normal lines to get in. I know, it sounds magical. It is.

MyMagic+ empowers so much at Disney, from park and room access to in-store merch purchases.

But it’s more than just beating the lines. My favorite part of FASTPASS was using the app on the day we were in the park — we could switch to earlier or later times as our schedule naturally evolved, essentially mapping our plan to how other parkgoers changed their plans. In other words, our experience got better as the experiences of others changed. FASTPASS changed our experience from, ‘Beat everyone to the front of the line and win at all costs!’ to ‘Everyone is here to have a great time on their own terms and Disney helps make that happen.’

Connected. Personal. Easy. Painless. All I could think about was how taken care I was by Disney. They had turned a pain point into a moment of care, a perfect example of Service as Experience.

I was not the only one who is happy, Disney is happy, too. Transaction time due the RFID-enabled MagicBand has cut turnstile time by 30%, park attendance has increased, and so has return rate. With the added time, park guests have less time to get annoyed and more downtime to shop for Disney-branded merchandise.

We ended up shopping on our way out of the park, bringing a stuffed Tigger home for my daughter in the end. I guess dreams do come true.

The next post in the series, How Rent the Runway + UberRush Give Shipping a More Engaging Voice, continues to share ways that brands can embrace Service as Experience. Click here to keep reading.

About Behavior & Business

Behavior & Business is a series that explores the behaviors of customers and the ways businesses are meeting their needs in innovative ways that drive growth.

About Runyon

Runyon is a design and innovation firm that helps companies grow. Behavior & Business is indicative how we approach our work: we use equal parts customer behavior and business strategy to inspire the market-facing and revenue-generating experiences that we design with our clients.

About the Authors

Anthony D’Avella is the Founder of Runyon. He designs growth experiences with great brands like American Express, Target, and the Harvard Innovation Lab, as well as with amazing startups. Prior to Runyon, Anthony designed, built, and launched cross-platform businesses at IMG and for Fortune 500 clients in IDEO’s New York studio. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and teaches venture design in the graduate MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. When he’s not at work, you can usually find him on a beach somewhere with his wife and daughter.

Dr. Nicholas D’Avella is an ethnographer with research interests in markets, expert knowledge, and urban ecologies. His work connects Science and Technology Studies with anthropological themes related to money, exchange, and value. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Davis prior to holding postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley and at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art. He is currently a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU.