Customer Experience First, Content Marketing Next

Posted 7/8/2016 5:53 AM by Jeff Julian

It is so easy to get swept away in the day-to-day life of marketing and content creation.  Hell, I even wrote a book about how to make sure you have optimized your time down to the nth degree, giving you the ability to create the best content possible.  But in that rush for producing value, we have to slow down and look at the audience and find out if they have the expected experience we were hoping for or promised to provide.  In this article I will tell a story, give a few examples of areas you can monitor, and list a few ways to use software to help provide better customer experiences in your content marketing efforts.

My Emotional Rollercoaster

I don’t know if it is just me, but every few years I get this unique feeling of both joy and excitement paired with dread, anxiety, and despair.  All of these emotions join hands and build up until their big moment.  The moment you enter one of the Disney Theme Parks.

For my family, this feeling started at the end of May when we were entering the final days of planning our big American road trip in the RV we purchased back in the spring.  One of the primary jobs I had on the journey was to book the RV resorts and parks we were staying at.  First, with a few specific places and dates we had to cover, we nailed down our time in Florida on my daughter’s 8th birthday.  One of our gifts to her would be a trip to Disney World with two-days of passes to the theme park.  

When doing to pre-research, my wife Michelle discovered that Disney actually had an RV park on site.  Shocked and amazed at the size of the properties, we started to look around and couldn’t believe what we were finding.  You can actually stay at Disney with your RV and get the whole hotel experience.  Well, most of it anyway.  Room service and housekeeping are still your responsibility.

So why do I have all these emotions bundled together into this experience that sounds like a day at the dentist followed up with ice cream?  For me, Disney is one of the few places where you can expect something to be promised, and the promise will be delivered with a bad experience and a good one.  I doubt it is part of the plan, but if it is, dang they are good at what they do.

Strike One for the Mouse - Our Triumphant Entry into Fort Wilderness

Like most modern digital parents, we like to plan our Disney adventures in secret to surprise the kids.  Even though they are getting older, they still haven’t caught on to our schemes and fall for it each time.  Since my wife has a vow to never lie to the kids, the phrase we used when the kids asked where we were going is, “we are making our way to Cocoa Beach.”   Since our next stop after Disney was Cocoa to see some old friends, we were not actually lying, but we didn’t have to say Orlando for a few days.

When we were about 25 miles from our destination, Michelle pulls down the GPS from the dashboard and hands it to me, just in case our Garmin started to let the cat out of the bag and say, “Turn right on You Are Going to Disney Way in 10 miles.”  To get navigation under control for the remainder of the journey, we used code words for the exits.  “Was that 5 or 7? ” meant “Do I take exit 65 or 67 to get to the park?” 

To see the rest of this story, watch the video of my kid’s reaction as we enter the park.  Probably not a viral worthy response, but we did well.

Video Hosted by Brightcove

But Jeff, you said strike one of the mouse in the title of this section.  How did the experience go down from here?  Well, I am glad you asked.

With everyone excited, we drive up to Fort Wilderness Campground to check in and get our Magic Bands. What is a Magic Band?  Well, I will tell you about these little guys in a second.  For now, just think of them as the one tool you wish you had in your marketing tool belt. 

RVs are huge.  So as your drive up to check-in, there are 6 monster bays, like a toll booth, with numbers over the top.  All but one of the bays had a red light over them like an act waiting for the last judge to buzz them off of America’s Got Talent.  In the line with the one remaining green light was another guest in their motorhome starting their Disney experience.

Strike one for Disney on this trip happens on this pitch.  After a 30-minute wait for the one person in front of us, it was our turn to get the goods and be on our way.  We were met with a smile, which really does help, and the process looked as if it was going to go off without a hitch.  “I see you had your bands shipped here and you are staying with us for three nights.  We have your email address as jjulian2@gmail.com.”  Oh no, it happened again. 

If you are the owner of jjulian2@gmail.com, please accept my sincerest apology.  See early in our relationship, I picked out our Gmail accounts.  You know, the thing us early adopter couples do.  At the time, mjulian was not available, but jjulian was.  So I got jjulian, and I snagged mjulian2 for Michelle.  Before this point, I used jjulian2 as my username with my Mac.com account.  It gets worse because I have been an iTunes user since day one and Apple doesn’t let you change your username so jjulian2 is still in my life.  So since then, Michelle and I have both randomly listed my email address as jjulian2@gmail.com.

At the midpoint of the check-in process, another gentleman joined the party and started to have a fun conversation with us about Kansas.  He was entertaining us, and the other greeter was finishing up the check-in process.  Then, in what I assumed was a training exercise, the first gentleman asked the other if he wanted to finish us up.  He accepted the challenge.  Then within a minute the first man dismissed himself and went upstairs leaving the new guys all alone. 

“I see you are staying with us three nights, and you have your bands,” he stated.

“No, the last guy said you have our bands and yes, three nights,” my wife replied.  Fear and anxiety, welcome to the party.  Why is he asking the questions again like he is starting all over, I asked myself?  Well, he did start all over and another 15 minutes goes by, and we are on our way.  We politely end our conversation about Kansas and things so we can get to the campfire event at the resort. 

Once we arrive at the site, the kids break out their scooters and head out while Michelle and I set up camp.  Hook up the power, water, and the nasty lines to the RV, letting out the slide outs for extra space and clean up from the day on the road.  We are officially at Disney.

Foul Ball for Mr. Mouse – The Initial Experience with The Disney Experience App

“My email is jjulian@gmail.com,” is what I have to tell the lady on the phone as I call Disney customer service the next morning on our way to breakfast.  Michelle turns and asks me why I was doing this right now.  I replied, “I want to get this corrected before we get to the park.” 

You see, I noticed when I went to check out the theme park maps online that they have an app.  I tried to log in using my Disney account, but no reservation was found.  Then I clicked the Attach Your Reservation button and entered my confirmation code.  Promptly I was told my reservation was attached to Jeffrey Julian’s account and could not be associated with my account.  Since I received the confirmation of our order at my Gmail account, I thought I would click the password retrieval link for the jjulian2 account to see if it would come to me, it didn’t.  My last bet was to make the phone call.

The call time was a total of 28 minutes, and most of that time was spent on hold.  Once the account was squared away, I logged out of the app and logged back in, and I could see our reservations.  Problem solved, our bad.  Thank you, Disney.

I call this a foul ball for Disney because this set into motion the rest of the experience.  Since the email entry was our fault, I expected the wait time so they could correct the problem.  If it would have been resolved, base hit and next batter.

Strike Two for Big Ears – Our Triumphant Entry to Epcot

With our bellies full of Shoney’s breakfast buffet, which is the most underrated restaurant in the south, we head to Epcot to get there as the park opened.  My goal was to go straight for the mice and Goofy to get autographs before the lines begin, then take our time and enjoy the rest of the attractions.  With Magic Bands on, we make our way to the security checkpoint.  “Place Mickey’s head to Mickey’s head,” the security lady tells my son and the lights starts spinning then flash blue.  

“Did you all check into the property you are staying at sir?,” I was asked.

“Yeah, last night.”

“Did you activate your bands, because I am not showing any tickets for you?”

“Oh yeah, we activated our bands, we spent forever being checked in.”

Another gentleman walks up with a tablet and scans my band.  After a quick glance, he says, “I am going to need to have you go to customer service for a moment.  There isn’t a line yet so it will go fast.”

Bewildered and disappointed as I walk away from the near empty Epcot with all the other families going Mickey-to-Mickey with green lights, I take my family over to customer service.   One of the windows was open so Michelle starts the process of repeating everything we told the folks at Fort Wilderness and on the phone.  I just stood for the first 15 minutes in disbelief and trying to fix the problem on my own with the app as all the people who used the second parking lot that was completely empty when we arrived started to make their way in.  Spinning white lights turning to green again and again.  Thousands of people making their way to Mickey for his autograph.  Well maybe not thousands, but I assumed everyone had the same goal as me.

Thirty minutes goes by in what seemed like an eternity for my family, myself, and the people standing behind us.  It ended up taking two people in person and, I assume several on the phone, working to get our account settled and our Magic Bands activated.  After we finish up, we make our way back to security, this time with a line.  White lights start to spin, then a flash of green, we are in!

Homerun for Mickey – The Text Stream Begins

I picked Epcot first for a reason, for me, it is the most boring of all the parks.  I assume this is not news to you and if you disagree, we can still be friends.  My idea in the park selection is to start slow and work your way up.  My thought was we can meet the characters at Epcot where there would be far fewer people and then head to Hollywood Studios for the evening shows, and the fun rides on day one, and then the Animal Kingdom to start the next day and end it with the Magic Kingdom. 

One thing had to happen for my plan to work, we needed to be at Epcot with the doors opened.  Since we were held up for the thirty minutes waiting for our bands to work, the line for Mickey was already around the building and to the door.  To the right was Joy and Sadness from Inside Out, a match made in heaven for my Disney experience, and Baymax from Big Hero 6. 

“Do you guys want to see Baymax first, then we can come back and see Mickey?” 

“Sure..,” replied my kids as the conceded. 

After a 20 minute wait to meet Baymax, the handler told my kids Baymax couldn’t sign their books and to place them on the ground along with anything else so we didn’t pop him. 

Seriously?!?  Not even a stamp?  The handler couldn’t write his name for him?  Come on, you can write Baymax in my kids’ books somehow so we have a name to go with the picture. 

Frustrated and exhausted, we decide to skip the 30-minute wait to see Joy and Sadness and head to Nemo.  My cell phone starts to vibrate. 

“Great, someone is messaging me on my PTO at the office,” goes through my head. 

The following thread starts:

Hello Mr. Julian.  I am from the Walt Disney World Guest Experience Center.  May I text you at this number regarding your visit?  Please text back YES or with a preferred number.  Thank you! – Barbara
Yes
Perfect!  I wanted to reach out to you because our systems alerted us that your party may have had challenges entering Epcot today using your MagicBands.  Was everyone able to enter the part successfully? – Barbara
Yes, slowed us down by 30 minutes but we are in
Great!  I am glad you are in the park, Mr. Julian.  I am not sure if the Cast Member informed you why you had a delay to enter the park. You had two My Disney Experience accounts under different e-mails.  We have fixed that for you and your My Disney Experience account is under the e-mail: jjulian@gmail.com. – Barbara
I called and spent 30 minutes on the phone this morning before we arrived fixing that.  So we arrived on time and missed the short Mickey signing line.  Now I have autograph books with nothing in them cause it was an hour wait by the time we got through customer service. 
And we got everything squared away last night when we checked in at the Disney resort where we picked up the bands.
I am extremely sorry about the delay, Mrs. Julian! This is not how I would like your morning to start!  We definitely need to make sure the autograph book has a lot of autographs. The Guest Relations issued your party an special FastPass+ for Epcot, which you can use to meet Mickey Mouse and Pals at the Epcot Character Spot.  I will be glad to issue another special FastPass+ for you to meet other characters some other day! – Barbara
The only other parks that have FastPass+ to meet and greet characters are Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Magic Kingdom.  Maybe Addison does want to meet some princess in Magic Kingdom? - Barbara

 

This is the point that I absolutely love about my job.  At this very moment, I have just experienced an emotional response that is positive and an 180-degree turn from the direction it was once facing.  I also had an asset in my possession, the photos with the princesses to give to my daughter to fill her autograph book with. 

The two of these paired together is exactly what we are looking to deliver when creating experience-based marketing efforts for our clients and our audience.  We typically want to solve a problem of theirs, our fault or the fault of something else and provide an asset for them to take with them on their journey.

Addison and Disney Princesses 

I will admit it, I had the feeling for tears welling up inside when I got this email.  I could tell the kids were exhausted already.  It was hot, and we had two days to go.  Michelle and I wanted this to be a very special event for our children, they are getting older, and I don’t know how many more of these we will have like this.  The gift of an experience for me to share with my family is the exact solution I needed for the challenges I was facing.  

What Can We Take Away as Marketers from This Story?

When my career was primarily spent as a software developer, moments like this would just go by with little reflection and discovery.  I mean seriously, how would this change the algorithms I was creating at the time for a robotics system or large data synchronization engine?  But as a marketer, these stories and moments of my life show me so much about the human experiences we have, and how we can work together better as a group of people trying to drive better customer relationships. 

Here are some of my takeaways from this experience:

  • Customer Experiences Are Important – If you feel your customers have bad experiences with your company and the promises you make are not being executed entirely, say something.  Heck, pound your fist on a table and make something happen.  If you have the ability to make a positive change in a customer or audience members life, do it. 
  • Stop Trying to Get Done and Start Doing Your Best – When you measure the effort it takes to complete something, don’t just provide the minimum.  Give yourself some time to look at the problem or goal of the persona you are creating content for and consider what would make this asset valuable to them at the moment they are consuming it. 
  • This is Not New – My son and I sat through a video on Walt Disney’s life and the passion we have for providing amazing experiences in marketing were the blood that flowed in his veins.  Take a moment this summer and look at the characteristics of someone who loved making people happy and learn from their stories.
  • Leverage Your Data – Whether it is collected in a database or analytics system or in someone’s head who just worked with a client, put systems in place to monitor the experiences of your audience and your customers.  You will need to get out of your “boxed software” bubble to do this and think of a solution tailored to your business. 
  • Find Your Customers Triggers – What events will happen in your customer or audience interactions that should be monitored?  Deploying your product or services, particular life events, or points in their career are great places to get started; better yet, sit down with a few target personas and ask them questions. 
  • Don’t Rely on Auto-Generated Survey Requests or the Whitepapers of Others – If their time is valuable and the responses are valuable to you, there will be a cost associated with collecting the data.  Invest the time yourself if you expect someone else to.  I have received two emails since our trip to Disney last week requesting me to fill out a survey.  Personally, I will not fill out those surveys and provide my information to them in that form, but I will write a very long post about it. 
  • Try, Try, and Try Again – Don’t just use one tool for the job, but try different things.  Disney found that text messaging their customers directly was the best way for them to provide a better experience.  I had the app, I had access to their website, and I even interacted with several of their Cast Members that day. However, the best option was to allow me to vent via text as we roamed the park and work through the problems I was facing directly.  What are the interaction points your personas have and what is the appropriate content for the situation? 

How Can I Monitor My Digital Customer Experience?

To get started, here are some of my favorite tools you can use to monitor your customers’ experience.  If you like them, fold them into your content strategy and let others on your team know their importance.  Assign monitoring responsibilities and work towards developing a notification system to alert you to problems or points where you should be interacting.

  • Lucky OrangeLucky Orange is a SaaS solution that I describe as a DVR for your website.  You can live monitor or review recorded sessions of people interacting with your browser-based systems that you use to provide value.  There are several tools within like heat maps, click points, and tagging to give you the ability to provide insight to the experiences you are offering.
  • Intercom.io – One of my favorite web chat solutions, Intercom.io provides a slick interface for mobile and desktop interactions with visitors on your digital properties.  With both live and offline interactions, you can actually develop some quick wins by interacting with your guests directly. 
  • Google Analytics – You have it, and you use it all the time, but did you know it is a great tool for determining if the experiences you are providing are valuable?  Do mobile users bounce more often than desktop?  Which pieces of content are providing the positive customer engagement?  Andy Crestodina is one of the masters at using GA so use whatever tools you use to follow him and get his content.
  • SurveyGizmo – Wait, you said you won’t fill out the survey, and now you are suggesting a survey tool?  Absolutely!  Tools like SurveyGizmo are just that, tools.  They allow us to capture data, but it is the approach we use to obtain data that is critical.  If Disney were to offer something for my time, discount or access to 5 of my favorite photos from the trip, I would absolutely fill that survey out.  Saying “your time is valuable to us” to your customer, but not paying for it is just like asking your favorite coffee house for a free cup.  Either invest the time into the personal collection of the data, where you are giving up your valuable time for their valuable time, or offer something in the form of payment for the data.

Final Thoughts

I will remember this trip and the interactions I had with the Disney team for a long time.  I will likely buy more Disney stuff, tell more people about Disney, and return to the theme park next year because of the experiences they gave me on this one.  For Disney, that is exactly what they were hoping for and were betting on.

So take some time today or this week to consider the experiences your customers are having and determine one thing you can do to make them better.  Also, find one customer you can interact with and make their experience delightful. 

Barbara from Disney could lock her workstation at the end of the day and know she had some wins and made Disney a better company in the eyes of their customers.  I know that feeling would make all the other emotions and baggage that is collected during the day seem smaller and less significant.  Two kiddos were giving Mickey Mouse a big hug with a huge smile on their face because of a simple action, a system behind the monitoring interactions, and a staff that cared about providing amazing experiences.  Thank you Barbara and all the folks at Disney who made it possible.