Taking the Mickey (Mouse) out of Queues

Ron Baker’s article on Earning his Mouse Ears Part I (you can read Part II and Part III here) gives a fascinating insight into his experiences of attending the Disney University. It is an excellent read that casts a light into the Disney mentality and includes a lot of great examples of how they differ (such as giving cast members 5 minutes per day to make random moments of magic, treating guests as “paying consultants” to learn about how to improve satisfaction and maintaining generally positive relationships with over 3 dozen trade unions where Mickey Mouse is actually a Teamster).


One question posed by the article was why people were willing to wait 30 minutes to get onto the Pirates of the Caribbean but would generally get irritated if waiting for more than a minute in the post office. Ron’s contention was that it was all about competition. If I experience something great, then my expectations are raised. If I then do the same task in a competing environment and the experience is not as great, I get irritated. One of the best examples is the traditional gripe of American tourists that visit Europe and experience bad restaurant service because the staff do not have the motivation of earning massive tips. Using this argument, experiencing the excitement of the Pirates ride at Disneyland after a 30 minute wait is just not the same as queuing at the post office and then speaking to the counter assistant about sending the package.


Although the point is correct, the argument about why people are willing to wait 30 minutes for Pirates is actually a lot more straight-forward. Disney lie!


At the very simplest level, Disney essentially over-estimate the queue time. If you hit a point in the queue that states 15 minutes, but then reach the amusement in 10, you feel good. It is brilliantly simple and yet so effective. In truth, there is more to it. Kim Button’s book “The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook” describes other Disney tools and techniques, such as the illusion of using characters and videos to suggest that the attraction starts with the queue, or breaking the line into smaller sections and providing partitions to hide the true length.


However, this does lead onto the question: what else can be done to improve the customer experience in queues?


A great example is Houston airport which faced a massive number of complaints from travellers who were queuing too long at baggage reclaim. Numerous trials such as increasing the number of baggage handlers improved the wait time but did not reduce complaints. Finally, an on-site analysis identified that passengers, on average, took 1 minute to walk from the arrival gate to baggage reclaim, and then 7 minutes to get their luggage. The answer – increase the time taken to get through arrivals. As a result of passengers walking six times longer to the reclaim area, complaints dropped to zero.


On a similar not, post World-War II, the boom in high-rises lead to many complaints about the time taken to wait for elevators. The solution – put mirrors outside the lift shafts so that people can occupy time by looking at themselves (or others).


Apple, by contrast, work on the basis that the best way to improve the customer experience in queues is by getting rid of them altogether. This is the rationale behind having staff at the entrance asking you how they can help, providing mobile tills with online receipts and even pre-identifying a sales rep prior to entering the store so you already know who to talk to (if you have the app).


This is not to say that Ron’s argument about the psychology of the expectation at the end of the queue is not also correct – the excitement of going onto the Pirates ride undoubtedly plays a part. It is just that a little bit of trickery and know-how can help businesses take a massive step towards providing far better customer experience in queues. Since Apple sells more per square foot than almost all other companies worldwide, such tricks may just be worth the effort.


Any other examples of taking the mickey out of queues, please let us know.

The Darth Vader Approach to Customer Needs

If you’ve ever felt like a company really ‘took advantage of you, knew what you needed and squeezed you for every penny’ then you might be interested to hear about this story I recently came across.  It highlights a strangely impressive (but totally awful) example of building up a business model based on customer needs insight that comes very much from the dark side.

In 2010, when BitTorrent was at its peak, people using the service started receiving litigation notes from companies that were claiming copyright infringement on content that had been illegally downloaded from the service.

Whilst there had been numerous high-profile cases globally of companies going after end users to sue them for illegally downloading content, this was somewhat different in that the companies filing the lawsuits were from the adult content industry. Essentially, they were identifying IP addresses of those downloading the content, referencing that against ISP subscriber data and then sending letters to those addresses stating that, as a result of illegal behaviour, the defendant was being sued for $150,000. Unless that was, they were willing to settle immediately for just £3,400.

The legal / moral issues associated with copyright of adult content culminated in a court case where one of the defendants successfully counter-argued that copyright law only was only permissible in cases where the content promotes the progress of science and the useful arts. Since adult content is not classified as “useful”, the US Court of Appeal threw out the case. More interestingly, a class action suit was recently raised against one of the adult content providers after a whistle-blower accused the company of proactively uploading content onto BitTorrent in order to set-up a honey-trap.

If proven, this is an amazing, but equally terrible, example of understanding both basic human nature and, more importantly, human needs. In terms of human nature, the song from the stage show “Avenue Q” summed up perfectly that the “Internet is for porn” because humans, by their nature, just love it.

In terms of human needs, I would argue that these companies were very intelligently (in a twisted way) reacting to a key user requirement of their “porn watching” audience – i.e. the need for anonymity. The mere fact of sending letters to a home (never mind the idea of threatening to put a litigation on your record for illegally downloading porn) was an enormous incentive to extort money on a mass market scale. And extortion it was. The pain and embarrassment, as well as family arguments caused cannot be underestimated.

Using the concepts of user needs analysis to build customer experiences is unfortunately equally valid for sinister reasons as they are for good. Let’s just hope that whenever a Death Star is finally designed, it will not be based on CX best practice.

RyanAir: What happens when you just don’t care…

Michael O’Leary announced a couple of weeks back that he wanted to turn around the ‘abruptness of RyanAir’s culture‘.

So those of you who have heard me speak over the last few years will know that I use RyanAir as a great example of Customer Experience Management done well. Whilst this was initially shocking to many (a few years ago) most people have more recently cottoned on to why and audiences are now beginning to quote RyanAir back to me when I’m looking for examples of CX management.

However the vote as to whether people would invest in them has always been split into two camps.

  1. Just look at their results – they are a successful business, they are profitable and you said it yourself Martin – they have managed their CX very well – we know what to expect when we travel with them and there is a market for their product. So yes I’ll invest – I think they will continue to provide a good return
  2. They treat people like [insert your preferred strong words] – of course I wouldn’t give them my money

Personally I believe it really is as simple as Camp Two ultimately being the right answer however the problem is that Camp One were also ‘right’ – at least on the face of it.  From a short term investment point of view it was easy to see why money should be put into RyanAir.  The reason I believe Camp One have some faulty thinking is explained in my blog post earlier this year on where the money really comes from and why that model is not sustainable in the long-run.

RyanAir have issued a profit warning and are receiving a lot of bad press for their poor customer service.   I believe that this is the beginning of the end for RyanAir being a business that makes a profit out of consistently managing their ‘below benchmark’ CX.  Their business model is cracking (rising fuel prices, regulatory challenges to their revenues and competitive pressure on price) and their customers have no reason to stay other than for price.  We’re not going to see them go bankrupt anytime soon but I think that we will enter an era of discussion of RyanAir as a struggling airline in the face of tougher competition on both price AND service.  It is the latter that RyanAir just has no idea how to respond to.

It’s interesting to watch this unfold because it is, for once, shareholder pressure that is forcing Michael O’Leary to address his poor customer experience and also because I believe that despite his declarations he still doesn’t get it.

O’Leary has said that he wants to stop ‘pissing customers off’ and that this also shouldn’t cost any money.  From anyone else I’d take that as a simple statement of good practice.   From him I can’t help but feel that if it HAD cost any money he wouldn’t have bothered.  I simply don’t believe he cares.

Fundamentally he has a company built on his own personal set of values which show no regard for his customers or employees.  Changing that culture and turning around RyanAir, is going to require that he leaves or has some kind of personal revelation.

Now this HAS happened before with smaller companies but typically with the big ones the CEO moves on and a new culture comes in.  If you want to hear about what a big difference culture CAN make I’d encourage you to watch the video testimonial from Roma Mouldings who attended a 3-Day bootcamp with Zappos Insights – who know a thing or two about Culture’s impact on performance!

NetFlix : a bumpy ride to understanding their customers

I’ve always thought NetFlix was an interesting company.   At one point we were lauding them for the transformation they brought to the home-movie-watching market and the amazing insights they could generate about their customers.  They had a DVD and Streaming service that were much loved by their customers.

However roughly two years ago their stock was worth $70-80 having crashed from $300 following a series of poorly judged communications with customers.  A combination of the CEO’s arrogance (his words) and a focus on explaining to shareholders (as opposed to customers) why they were making major changes in their company strategy led to an almighty back-lash from customers.  It has taken them a good 2 years to fully recover.

But recover they have and I can’t help feel that they have learnt something from the debacle.

You will see this awesome Customer Service exchange around over the next couple of days but do pause to ask yourself – is this just a bunch of really great people at the front-line who have been given some latitude to be themselves or has the organisation itself, the management, the CEO fundamentally changed to the extent that this is a natural result of their strategic direction.

It’s hard to tell, we can only guess, however I would argue that long-tenured CEOs have more of a chance to develop, learn and transform an organisation into a truly customer-led business than short-tenured stock-market focussed CEOs – precisely because they get the chance to learn from their mistakes and/or invest in their ideas.  There is so much more strategically to NetFlix’s recovery to a $300 share price but I hope that being more connected to their customers at a human level will help them avoid repeating mistakes of the past in responding to the ever-shifting landscape ahead of them.

Awesome Customer Service from NetFlix

This  exchange between a NetFlix CSR and a customer over web-chat (found on Reddit and gone ballistic on US sites in the last 24 hours) is a great example of plain and simple human interaction – something USAA, SWA and Zappos know all about in terms of maintaining great customer loyalty.

Our CSR – Mike – engages our customer Norm in a bit of geeky banter while they look to solve Norm’s problem – read as our customer fully enters into the spirit of it.  I love how this screenshot ends with one simple question “were you satisfied with your Netflix experience today” – I think it was missing the ‘Hell Yeah’ button!

I’ve included the screenshot of the full exchange below and it has been verified by NetFlix as real. This kind of interaction is a long way from where NetFlix were perceived to be at just two years ago – you can read my thoughts on that here  but enjoy this Geek-out in the meantime and ask yourself what would it be like to let my CSRs truly be themselves?



RyanAir delivers consistent CX but would you invest?

Another cracking post from Comotion Associate Ian Golding – the RyanAir and Customer Experience debate is one I’m all too familiar with and use in many of my conference speeches.  During these talks and the questions that inevitably follow we debate whether RyanAir are any good at Customer Experience, invariably the audience are split 60% saying No and they, like Ian would never fly with them.  40% say yes – because, as Ian says, they do exactly what they promise – they consistently meet expectations (that have been set very low).

ryanair plane

So clearly RyanAir are competing mostly on Price and to some degree destination.  RyanAir would argue that there is a big enough demand for this combination of Service and Price.  So, my final question to the audience (and to you today) is always

 Would I invest in RyanAir?

to which I would have to answer a resounding no. 

Their business model is not sustainable

  1. A great majority of their revenue is dependent on airport/government based subsidies for bringing volumes of passengers through airports.  This is under regulatory review and extremely volatile income.  The plane rides themselves are not proftiable.
  2. It is too easy to replicate and better their service offer


RyanAir – Cattle Class

It is so important to understand the business model behind a company because there must be a sustainable strategy in order to continue to exist.  You need permission from customers to make profits and ultimately RyanAir bribes passengers to fly on their buses so they can make money out of the towns they fly to – If RyanAir could fly cattle on their planes instead – they would their business model does not care at all about the passengers except for the revenue they make elsewhere from them.

If another low-cost airline can exceed those same expectations customers will leave in droves. Because this is a business that only knows how to ‘meet’ expectations it will not be able to respond to that competition.  But most importantly – even if it tried – because this is a business that does not appear to care about it’s employees and customers – who would care if they did try?