As I sit in the flight back from my family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida, I find myself in awe of what I can only describe as the most ingenious business innovation since the independent subcontractor – the Fast Pass. If you haven't been to WDW in a while, Fast Passes are basically attraction reservations and they work just like restaurant reservations. This may seem like a pretty simple concept and not that innovative, but let's take a look at two real-world case studies from my last week in Orlando and note how the Fast Passes proved invaluable to WDW.
WDW is currently in a state of being "re-imaged", the jargon the "imagineers" over at Disney use when they are modifying the WDW attractions. One of the parks that is slated to undergoe and is currently undergoing a good deal of re-imagining is EPCOT, in particular the "World Showcase". One of the most notable changes the "World Showcase" has undergone is the addition of a ride themed after the popular children's film Frozen. As one of the newest attractions and being themed after a smash hit with kids of all ages, the ride has some monster wait lines where you can see dozens of eager little girls dressed up as one of the film's leads, Anna or Elsa. Even my coal black heart wouldn't dare deny these princesses their shot to "experience Frozen" if but for a few minutes. Still, mom and dad don't want to stand in line for an hour and there are meal reservations to be kept as well as other (perhaps more adult appealing) attractions to see. What does a savvy Disney-goer do? You open the My Disney Experience app possibly weeks before you even get to Orlando and book a Fast Pass for a date and time that is convenient with the rest of your schedule for each Frozen fan in your party. That's it. You've just taken a wait that could have been well over an hour and gotten it down to something like ten minutes. This is great for the park-goer and also great for Disney, as it mitigates one of the primary pain points of going to WDW, the lines.
Mistakes happen even in the Magic Kingdom. Systems can fail or employees can just plain screw up. There's a lot of complicated RFID tech being used at any given time at WDW and I saw on more than one occasion in the last week where the Magic Bands simply wouldn't work for some reason. This happened to my family as we entered the Magic Kingdom theme park — for some unknown reason my band worked fine but my wife's failed; ironically, she is an annual pass holder and I am not. We knew her pass was still good but were admittedly a little frustrated after having been asked to step aside at the entry point while the staff could verify that Lara's pass was indeed valid. After a few minutes of waiting, the staffer got back to us with a sincere sounding apology and a couple of Fast Passes to any attraction we like as an apology for the system's glitch. Our frowns were turned upside-down. The beauty of using the Fast Passes like this is that they don't cost Disney anything at all and in this case they still got to do the somewhat awkward pass verification that they wanted, but instead of having an offended guest Lara remains ever the happy Disney princess. They key to this is that there is a difference in the monetary value (read cost) of the Fast Pass to Disney (i.e. $0) and the practical value to the guest.
Many of us struggle in our small businesses in trying to find a way to give something of value to the customer in cases of an error or just as a way to build a better relationship. Unfortunately, very few of us have managed to get up to the level of sophistication as Disney has in terms of having such a wide delta between the monetary cost to our firms and the perceived value by the customer. All too often, we find ourselves doing work effectively for free due to scope issues or eating opportunity costs by going into unpaid "account service" meetings. I wish I had some solution that I could stand on a soapbox and extol, but I don't. Still, I think maybe it's time to take a cue from the house of mouse and re-imagine how we run our agencies.