Tell The New Delta That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Earlier this month, I wrote about “The New Delta”. They are running some interesting innovation tests intended to “change the experience”. They are also using employee-generated videos that feature exciting destinations in an attempt to put a human face on the airline and promised to open a customer forum to really engage customers in conversations. In my post, I applauded these moves.

Too bad Delta’s Marketing team didn’t tell the Operations team that they were going to “change the experience”. This week, passenger Robert McKee was stuck on the JFK tarmac for seven hours. After two hours, he started recording the experience and posted the final product on YouTube. His post has these comments:

“Delta Flight 6499 JFK to DFW on June 25 2007 experienced more than just a routine delay.. for seven hours, four children screamed, and we were told by crew that they couldn’t feed us because Delta simply wouldn’t allow it”

The video documents multiple problems and Delta’s failure to address any of them in a truthful way or with respect to their customers. Examples:

  • Passengers were told a new captain “is making his way through the terminal”, when in reality, he was coming in from Newark.
  • Delta told Mr. McKee’s wife that the plane was in the air. This was right after she spoke with him by cellphone and they were still on the ground.

Lots of bloggers are picking up this story this evening and I suspect more will over the coming days. Companies need to take note:

Talk is cheap. Telling customers that you are changing the experience when your actions say otherwise, is more damaging that not promising anything. Your customer’s have the power to create compelling stories about their experiences and social media makes it very easy to have those stories broadcast to a wide audience.

The Thinking Blogger Award: Who, Me?

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I began writing this blog a little over a year ago as an outlet for my passion for subjects like customer experience and innovation.  Like a parrot, I found people who spoke about these things and I attempted to do what they do, although typically without the same level of authority.  Through this experience, I have made friends with many of those people who I look up to and have had the opportunity to engage in some very rich, thoughtful and entertaining conversations, which after all, is the main reason for getting involved with social media, is it not.  I see myself as a student and many of them, my teachers.

This past weekend, I was honored to be given The Thinking Blogger Award by one of my favorite teachers, Becky Carroll.  Becky is a Customer Experience passionista with some serious credibility.  She also pens a fantastic blog on CX called Customers Rock.  It’s at the top of my blogroll and should be on yours as well. 

Back in February, 2007, Ilker Yoldas started the ball rolling by highlighting blogs that he felt were truly “meaty” with great content.  He started the Thinking Blogs Award to help publicize great blogs.  In keeping with the rules of the meme, I will now share five of my favorites with you.  Following the path back from Becky, I see that many of my favorites have already received the award, so I’m going to attempt to throw some new content into the mix.

Dominic Basulto – Endless Innovation: Dominic’s aptly named blog covers innovation on all fronts.  He brings stories of great innovation  to the conversation and consistently challenges readers to think about approaching innovation as an evolutionary process.

Michael Urlocker – On Disruption: Disruptive shifts within industries are frequently followed by a changing of the guard in terms of industry leaders.  Businesses that aren’t sensing and responding to disruptions that impact them will invariably find themselves struggling.  Michael’s blog is one of the best sources out there for analysis of the disruptions that are occurring right now.

Greg Verdino – Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog:  Greg has his finger on the pulse of new media channels and is a great source of information about their evolution.  He always shares his perspective and opinion on a story and consistently challenges readers do the same.

Katie Konrath – getFreshMinds:  I just met Katie (virtually) last week.  She visited NextUp after seeing Becky’s award to me in her feed reader.  I’m glad she did, because it allowed me to discover her blog about “Ideas so fresh….  they should be slapped”.  Really great stuff. 

Matt Haverkamp – The Digital Perm: Matt covers advertising and goes a great job of highlighting innovative campaigns and suggesting missed opportunities.  He’s also a bit obsessed with Roger Federer.

So there you go.  If you aren’t already familiar with these great blogs, do yourself a favor and check them out. 

How Will We Live in 30 Years?

Pieter Ardinois visited NextUp today and, as I always do, I went to his blog to check it out.   He has some really great posts about imagination, creativity and new media and I recommend that you read some of them.  He also pointed me to a short film that was made in 1967 by PhilCo-Ford simply entitled “1999 AD”.  It provided an imaginative view of how the “instant society of tomorrow” would live.  They got the basic concepts right: e-commerce, e-mail, e-banking; but some of the tools used are based on the way things were done at the time (letters were generally handwritten so no QWERTY keyboard, just knobs and a handwriting digitizer). Interesting that they did envision flat panel monitors and fast personal printers.  

What stikes me the most about this film is the realization that people in 1999 would be connected and that connectivity would be a major factor in how we would live our lives.  Pieter makes this great observation about the implications for today:

To understand where we’re heading to, it’s really important not to focus on the techniques. We can’t get past short term imagination. It’s important to abstract the possibilities and imagine the impact those possibilities could have on our lives. Imagine that people back in 1967 started to think what impact the global connectivity could have on their daily lives. Not the fact that they could pay bills online, not the fact that they could by a nice shirt, but the abstraction of that all: the fact that they could share knowledge.  When we’re trying to get a grip on the future, I think we need to abstract the habits from their material context and focus on the possibilities. When using those possibilities to design a solution instead of creating a product to a known solution, we’re creating the future.

How will we live in 30 years?? Given my age, I only hope to be living comfortably and healthy with my mind still sharp.  But what about my daughter and her children?  In a world of rapidly accelerating, discontinuous change, we are so busy trying to keep up that we can hardly image what things will be like in 30 years.  How will we live, work, get from place to place, be entertained, conduct commerce, communicate?  How will “local” be defined (actually, thats a good question for today). 

What are your abstract ideas on what the future will look like in 30 years???

Bonus trivia question: do you know who is playing the part of the dad??

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 3

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I’ll be picking up my wife and daughter at the airport this evening.  They wrapped up their marathon 9-day Disney vacation today and I’m sure they will have lots of stories to tell about all the things I missed.  Some I’ve already heard about, like the characters in the latest Castle Court show have mouths and eyes that move.  My daughter said it was “a little freaky”, but to me, adding animation to the typically static character costumes, makes them seem more expressive, more real, especially to the younger guests.   People like to talk about their experiences, both good and bad.  It’s the sharing of these experiences that can make or break a brand over time.  If people tend to talk negatively about their experience with you, you better listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly.  Disney Guests generally have very positive things to say and that reflects the fact that they are externally focused on the customer and their experience.

In this third and final note on my recent Disney experience is going to be a bit of a meandering catch-all, but hopefully you will like it.  The first topic on the agenda is:

Make It Easy For Me

disney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgThere is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney.  You are on the go from the minute you wake up (early if you going to that character breakfast at another resort), to the minute you crash following Extra Magic Hours.  Disney has been quite innovative at designing and implementing programs that make it easier for me to get the most out of my experience and gives Disney more opportunities to generate more revenue.  I already mentioned the Magical Express program which, when it works well, makes it really easy to get to and from Orlando airport and saves me lots of cash.  My 40 minutes on the bus each way also gives Disney the chance to market the cruise line or the vaction club to me (in an entertaining way, of course).   

fastpass2.jpgfastpass1.jpgDisney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever seen in an themepark.  If you aren’t familiar with , it is a system introduced in 1999, that allows guests to avoid long lines at Disney theme parks. At an attraction featuring FASTPASS, guests can use their park admission ticket to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (essentially a reservation) with a return time later that day (an hour-long window) printed on it. If the guest comes back to the attraction during the specified return times, the guest can wait in a special line called “FASTPASS Return” and be able to ride on the attraction with a much shorter wait time than normal queue.  This is a “win-win” for both you and Disney.  A guest standing in line is a guest not spending money in the giftshops or restaurants.  By giving me a reservation. I can go do other things, which Disney hopes will involve spending money.

The third Make It Easy For Me innovation is called PhotoPass.  If you’ve been to virtually any big theme park, you know about the gauntlet of park photographers that you have to get past to get into the park.  Disney wasn’t any different until a couple of years ago, as described by Deb Wills on her excellent AllEarsNet website:

Prior to December 2004, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn’t “magical.” Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait.

Theme Park Photo Pass MachineWith Disney’s PhotoPass system a Disney photographer gives you a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card — they’ll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go.  When you’re ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home.

These guys are really good and will often get you in creative poses.  While I enjoy taking my own pictures, we hardly ever get shots of the whole family.  PhotoPass makes it easy to get great family pictures.  The cost per print is a little high for me, but there is no obligation to buy any of them. 

I should point out that Disney has been listening to their customers and has made several significant improvements to the program over the last 2 years including integrating the system into the several major attractions like TestTrack.

No Negative Surprises

We experienced two of these on this trip.  First, we went to MGM Studios of Father’s Day because I am totally addicted to Rockin Rollercoaster.  I have been known to ride it back to back for hours on a slow day.  We came through security, ran our passes through the scanner and entered the park.  Once we were inside there was a sign posted saying that Rockin Rollercoaster would be closed all day…….  on Father’s Day……. when dads should be able to do what they want like ride Rockin Rollercoaster!  I later found out why it was closed, but they really picked the wrong day for it.  What’s worse is that they didn’t have the notice posted outside of the park.  I’m sure there were people who used up a day on their pass only to be disappointed.  The reason it was closed was that they were adding a single rider line.  I came back the next day and was able to ride it 6 times in an hour – w00t.

Second, Disney notified us the night before we left that they would not be able to honor our reservations for the second half of the week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Althought the reservations were made months ago, the construction of the new Vacation Club villas has closed parts of the resort.  Disney offered to put us in villa accomodations in the Downtown Disney area, but having a kitchen is not the same experience as having giraffes outside your balcony.  They eventually upgraded us to a better room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we didn’t have this resolved until the day we were supposed to move.

Be True To Your Brand

I was in the Magic Kingdom and had just watched a stage show at the castle.  All of these shows follow a similar formula:  The good guys vs. the bad guys with Mickey saving the day plus a princess or two thrown in for good measure.  Like the show format, the musical style for these productions hasn’t changed much from what was typical when Disneyland opened in 1955.  While there have been a number of attractions replaced or updated through the years, the feel is still the same.  Disney has built some pretty intense attractions in the other Disney World parks, but not in the Magic Kingdom.  Traditionally, the Disney brand begins to fall off for boys at about 9 or 10 years old and girls a bit older. This is a hole in Disney’s guest demographics that they would love to fill.   I was Twittering pretty much through the trip and posed the question:

Would putting a hyper-coaster in the magic kingdom make it more attractive for teens or would it be inconsistent with the park’s brand?

I got a couple of responses with opinions on both sides, but in general, the feeling was that it would fundamentally change the park and that would not be a good thing (can you say “New Coke”).  As Tim Siedell pointed out, “Universal caters to that age and crowd (thrill coasters) and the Magic Kingdom pounds them in attendance.” 

So a couple of takaways from this final post on Disney World:

  1. Look for opportunities to make it easier for your customers to enjoy their experience.  Don’t assume these will add costs to you operation.  As Disney has shown, “Make It Easy” innovations can be win-wins.
  2. While Surprise and Delight is good, Negative Surprises are not.  Be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential negative surprises before the customer encounters them and when they do happen, have alternatives and solutions ready that will meet or exceed the customers needs.
  3. Be careful about introducing changes that fundamentally change your brand.  You may be able to attract some new customers, but you may also lose some of what makes your experience special in the first place.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Walt Disney World is a great case study for people passionate about customer experience design.  I’d love to hear your thought on Disney World.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 1

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I’ve been computer-free for the last week spending time with the family at Walt Disney World, hence the absence of new posts. I was Twittering throughout the trip, much to the dismay of my wife and daughter, and even raised the ire of our waitress at the Prime Time Cafe (more on that later). You can go to my Twitter page (see link in the sidebar) if you want to relive my vacation tweet by tweet.

Disney is one of the world’s greatest marketers and their parks and resorts make great case studies in a number of areas including engagement and customer experience design, marketing and new media. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to discuss some of my recent experiences, both good and bad.

Surprise & Delight

Every year, Disney selects a theme and aligns all of their park and resort operations around it. This year, is”The Year of A Million Dreams” and to help “make your dreams come true”, Disney is having their cast members randomly give out over a million “dreams” including chances to spend the night in Cinderella’s castle, “Dream Fastpass” badges which gives you unlimited access to all major attractions bypassing the waiting line and a Grand Marshall Tour of Disney parks around the world.

There are no contests to enter, or disclosing of contact information. Someone just walks up to you and makes you a winner. You just need to be in the right place at the right time and even the cast members don’t know the when, where or what of the giveaway until just before it happens. I met several people who were given dream Fastpass badges and they were ecstatic about it. The really enjoyed telling their stories to anyone who would listen. And consider how much fun it is for the cast members to be able to execute the giveaways. That has to help with cast member engagement. Surprising & Delighting your customers is an important ingredient in the creating great experiences that your customers will tell others about.

Make Individuals Feel Special

Speaking of engagement, Disney cast members are almost universally programmed to react to badges that special guests wear, My daughter had her 13th birthday while we were there and so we went to the City hall in the Magic Kingdom to get a birthday badge. From that moment on, virtually every cast member that we encountered made it a point to wish her a happy birthday. Every table service restaurant that we went to, brought out a birthday cupcake without us having to ask. Of course, my daughter loved the attention so much that she continued to wear the badge long after her birthday. This is a great example of how to make a customer feel special without having to spend a lot of financial capital.

Reward Me For My Patronage

At Disney, different levels of commitment come with different perks. For example, purchasing an annual pass (which is roughly the cost of 8 days in the parks), gets you some serious discounts on Disney Resort hotels. Staying at Disney resort hotels comes with their own set of rewards, not the least of which is convenience. A couple of years ago, Disney started offering Extra Magic Hours at the parks for guests staying at Disney hotels. The program gets you into the parks an hour earlier and allows you to stay up to 2 hours after closing. Disney gets 3 additional hours of access to your wallet and you get a couple of extra rides on your favorite attraction. To the uninitiated, this is a pretty good reason to stay on Disney property. If you are a regular guest like I am, you know the real secret is to stay away from the park that has early entry because that’s where the crowds are going to be. With this program, Disney rewards their Resort guests with a tangible benefit.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into some other topics like how Disney is involving the customer in co-creating the experience. In the meantime, think about the experiences you create for your customers. Do you Surprise & Delight? Do you make your customers feel special? Do you reward them for their patronage? If you do, great. If you don’t, perhaps you should take a trip to Disney World and learn a few lessons from Walt and Mickey.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Check Out BrandingWire

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Ironically, I have not had as much time to blog now that I am back in the job market. I do; however, have time to refer you to a great new collaborative blog called BrandingWire.   The team that writes BrandingWire is made up of 12 marketing experts with a wide variety of branding, marketing, PR and communications skills. The pundits of BrandingWire not only maintain individual content-loaded blogs, but also have banded together to collaboratively offer perspectives and commentary on a variety of branding themes. Several of their personal blogs are listed in my blogroll.

Each month, they will focus their creative bandwidth on a particular branding challenge or topic, and collectively give their perspectives on how they would apply best branding practices.

Check them out!