Small Business

How Disney Works to Win Repeat Customers


Owners of retail shops and service businesses can borrow Disney's "secondary-guest" strategy to convince customers to keep returning

At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., a 1% increase in repeat business translates into millions of dollars in revenue. How Disney (DIS) communicates its values to customers is critical to its success. To make sure each customer receives a positive experience, Disney has a strategy in place intended to woo "secondary guests;"—those who exert influence on the purchasing decision, but aren't considered the core customer. The secondary guest can stand in the way of repeat business. "If a mother comes to your retail store and an employee is rude to her children, she may not return. If a parent is test-driving a new car and the kids are bored and unhappy, the parent may become distracted and more likely to leave without making a purchase," says Bruce Jones, programming director for the Disney Institute, the entertainment giant's professional development and external training arm. Jones says the secondary customer experience is critical to differentiate your business from others that may offer the same or a similar product or service. It applies to businesses large and small. Here are five ways you can implement Disney's secondary-guest strategy to win fans and draw repeat customers this holiday season. Train employees to be respectful of all customers, including children. If employees are kind and engage a child, a parent may be more likely to stay in the store, says Jones. For example, a small business in Valparaiso, Ind.—Flanagin's Bulk Mail—uses coloring sheets to keep clients' children and grandchildren occupied while in the store. Each time a child comes in to her store, the owner, Donna Flanagin, asks the child to color a sheet so it can be displayed on the front door. When the child's birthday arrives, Flanagin sends the coloring sheet and a birthday card to the child. "It costs virtually nothing, yet reminds the parents and grandparents about her business and helps her makes a connection with her customers," says Jones. Make waiting in line an entertaining experience. Nobody likes to wait in line, even for a Disney attraction. But it's a fact of life. At Disney, employees are trained to strike up conversations with guests and to offer useful information about new attractions, fun facts, and upcoming show times. A small grain company in Kansas that learned this concept at the Disney Institute applied the idea to its plain waiting room. Since customers often brought children or grandchildren along, the grain company added magazines and toys and books for kids to its waiting room. The company also trained front-desk employees to let customers know the approximate waiting time and offer tips on less busy stretches of the day, in case customers preferred to return later. Be "show-ready." Your "stage" communicates a lot about who you are. Disney will not tolerate trash and trains all employees to pick it up so that the resorts remain "clean, friendly, and fun." If a leader were to walk by trash without picking it up, it would send the wrong message to staff. For a small business that might not even have a physical location, this concept can be as simple as making sure your Web site is professional and easy to navigate. According to Jones: "your Web site is your front door. If it's not show-ready, it can make or break your business." Keep the show on stage. Disney employees must always follow company guidelines for dress and customer service in guest areas. They can take a break and relax in areas unavailable to guests. As a small business owner, try walking the floor as a customer. Do you see or hear conversations that are best held amid the privacy of employee areas? Can your team members be easily seen by customers as they take a smoke break or talk on cell phones? If so, explain the difference between on-stage and off-stage. Encourage your team to be "assertively friendly." Disney encourages its employees to actively seek contact with guests. For example, they will approach a family that appears confused about its park map or has misplaced its car in one of the vast Disney parking lots. They will proactively offer assistance instead of waiting for people to ask. All these tips require leaders who understand the importance of communications and how to extend the conversation to secondary guests. The effort will pay off. Disney has discovered that if a customer appreciates your store or service and speaks highly of her experience, then her children and grandchildren are likely to become loyal customers, along with their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

Carmine Gallo is a communication skills coach for the world's most admired brands. He is also a popular speaker and the author of several books, including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. More of Gallo's columns are available in his ongoing series. .

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