Listen to your guest. Your guest is your greatest source of information and real feedback. We pay extremely close attention to what our guests are saying, looking at feedback before we even check ticket sales, so that we can react quickly to improve the experience for the next guest. Giving our year-round team members the opportunity to be on the ground in a front-line role, walking through the experience to hear guests’ feedback in real-time is incredibly helpful in improving the experience year over year. At the end of the day, we’ve created Enchant for our guests and we want to make the experience as memorable as possible.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Johnston.
Kevin Johnston is the founder and creative visionary behind Enchant. He founded a decor lighting business in 2009, which has now grown into a world leader in illuminated experiences. A pioneer wherever he goes, Kevin aims to lead Enchant towards significant growth, innovation and a number of vertical integrations, as the company scales across North America and the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I was 19, my childhood best friend and I began stringing Christmas lights up on our neighbors’ homes in Vancouver, Canada. We eventually launched a small decor lighting business, decorating homes and retail spaces across the region. Five years into that business, on one fateful night, the idea to build a maze of lights was born. Two years of planning later, Enchant, The World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze, came to life in downtown Vancouver. That experience drew enormous crowds, welcoming more than 10% of the city’s residents. From there, we knew we had to find a way to bring this magic to more people… and we got to work!
Today, each Enchant experience features a holiday Village with local treasures to shop and treats to enjoy, an Ice Skating Trail, all adorned with glittering lights and of course one of five unique maze experiences that are all designed in-house. The tallest sculpture in our displays is always our center tree, which stands up to 100ft tall! To date, we have brought the Enchant experience to 5 different cities and welcomed more than 2 million guests.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This of course wasn’t funny at the time, but when we first launched in Vancouver in 2016, we set up our first ever maze on an old works yard that belonged to the city. It was one of those situations where we didn’t know what we didn’t know, but we had no idea that this site didn’t have any drainage and we didn’t even think to ask. We got the maze all set up and used bark mulch to cover the cables and to line each pathway and it looked and smelled amazing. We then had a huge rainstorm and the place flooded with nowhere for the water to go. We had to pivot quickly and I had friends help me put wooden pallets down to build bridges across ponds that had formed within the maze. That got us through our opening weekend, but we had to apologize to many guests for soggy, muddy shoes. From there, we ended up piping out all the water and putting gravel down, which allowed for better drainage. But this was a huge learning experience for us. When we opened in Dallas in 2017, we thought we learned our lesson, so we used gravel, but it was super dry there and we ended up with a dust storm! Thankfully the fire department was willing to come by and spray down the maze for us. Once we moved into the stadiums, we built the maze on grass or turf, which worked much better. We’ve since evolved and actually use plastic flooring today, but we learned so much in those early days, which enabled us to really improve and perfect the guest experience with each iteration.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There were so many people who helped us along the way, but Cindy Ryon was invaluable, especially in the early years. Enchant is a complicated undertaking, and Cindy ensured that everything keep moving on the backend. She handled finances, hiring and administrative tasks. We truly couldn’t have done it without her, and when we finally built her a team, it took about ten people to fill her shoes. We’re forever grateful to her for her role in bringing Enchant to life!
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
For us at Enchant, it’s all about delivering an exceptional guest experience, as we’re in the business of making memories and family traditions. The holidays are such a special time of year, and those memories are ones that people cherish for years to come. If the experience wasn’t there, we wouldn’t see guests return year after year with their family and friends. I think that goes for any business — if you want to create a long-lasting relationship with your guests, you have to offer a service or a product that goes above and beyond your competitors and your guests’ expectations.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
It’s so important to hire passionate and positive people who are behind your mission and the “why” of the brand, and then to train them well. At Enchant, we’re all about making magical memories and providing our guests with the best possible experience, and our front-line staff does just that. From the top-down, our guest experience is our first priority, and our teams are empowered to create magic at every turn.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Competition can be a great motivator, but I’m driven to be better than yesterday. At Enchant, we’re competing with ourselves to improve upon our offerings so that we’re wowing our customers year after year, with new, unparalleled experiences. During 2020 when we didn’t put on Enchant, we had the opportunity to really think critically about the experience we were delivering and figure out a way to make it more impactful and meaningful for our guests. That year pushed our creative boundaries and this year’s Enchant is bigger and better than ever, rolling two years’ worth of magic into one! We can’t wait for our guests to see what we’ve got up our sleeves.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
I like to think that in some way, we’re “wowing” every guest, but there is nothing like watching guests arrive at the viewing platform to look at the maze for the first time. It is common for people’s jaws to drop, and I have even seen many get emotional. That makes the whole year of preparation worth it!
Perhaps the biggest testament to the experience, however, is the number of proposals we’ve had at Enchant. Since our founding, we’ve had over 400 couples get engaged surrounded by our twinkling lights and even a few wedding ceremonies! The fact that people want to celebrate their love and this monumental moment in their life with us is amazing and tells us that we truly are creating magical moments for people of all ages.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
We’re so proud that Enchant has become an annual holiday tradition for many — that means the world to us. This ripple effect of creating one positive experience for someone who then shares with others translates into more and more magical moments, and we’re thrilled that Enchant can be part of people’s holidays.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Listen to your guest.
Your guest is your greatest source of information and real feedback. We pay extremely close attention to what our guests are saying, looking at feedback before we even check ticket sales, so that we can react quickly to improve the experience for the next guest. Giving our year-round team members the opportunity to be on the ground in a front-line role, walking through the experience to hear guests’ feedback in real-time is incredibly helpful in improving the experience year over year. At the end of the day, we’ve created Enchant for our guests and we want to make the experience as memorable as possible.
2. Go Big.
We are always trying to outdo ourselves, bringing a bigger and better experience every year. In 2020 when we didn’t host an Enchant, we took that time to reevaluate what we had been doing and looked for ways to improve. We wanted to make sure that when we were able to open our doors again, that the experience would be bigger and better than ever. The year was a blessing in disguise for us because we were able to create something that would be better than anything we had produced previously.
Similarly, innovation is key to ensuring an exceptional customer experience. It’s crucial to be able to pivot when necessary and to problem solve quickly when challenges arise. For example, our arrival windows system allows us to reduce overcrowding and wait times. We’ve also implemented virtual queuing so guests can join the line for Santa and other activities while they’re enjoying other parts of Enchant.
4. Its all about the details.
When it comes to creating an exceptional customer experience, every detail matters. From the advertisement a guest sees online, to the first glimpse of Enchant as they drive up, to the smiling, costumed staff at the entrance — it all contributes to the overall experience and the magic. We think about each individual element to ensure that it all feels genuine yet special and that every element is considered and magical.
5. Create a positive company culture.
A positive culture is critical when you are doing something that is challenging. Company culture has a trickle-down effect, and by creating a positive work environment for your team, they’ll be more likely to pass that positivity onto our guests. We have a set of core values that ground everything we do both internally and externally and they’re a great set of guidelines to come back to. At Enchant, we’re driven, sincere, courageous, and magical and we all do our best to live out those values daily, both for our peers and our guests.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
We highly encourage all of our customers and vendors to provide us with any and all feedback. This feedback is extremely valuable to us and to helping us refine and improve the experience. I personally read each review so that I can better understand what our guests want out of their visit to Enchant. When a customer has a truly Wow! experience, we of course not only encourage them to let us know, but we love when guests let their communities know through word of mouth or social media.
My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
While Enchant is all about an in-person experience, I think differentiation is key in any industry. By offering something one of a kind, businesses are able to stand out from the competition. For Enchant, that means offering an elevated holiday experience with unique elements that appeal to everyone, from families wanting to see Santa, to young couples looking for a festive date night. We’re committed to offering the best holiday experience around.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I were to start a movement, it would be to find a way to bring magic into everyday life for more people. The holidays are only one part of the year, but we should find joy in the everyday. I have seen the power of what we do at Enchant, and I’d love to bring that to more people year-round.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!