From the moment your kids are born you start thinking about your first trip to Walt Disney World. Whether you want to or not you’ll find yourself there, usually before your kids hit their eighth birthday.

This year my twin girls will turn seven years old and my wife and I thought that this would be the best time to head to Orlando and take on Disney. We figure they’re old enough to have the stamina to make it through the long days of activity while still young enough to enjoy the magic of the experience.

I have to admit I was a bit excited myself. I’m just a big kid at heart and was as giddy as my kids to hit the Magic Kingdom and see that big mouse.

If you’ve been to Disney you know that this is no cheap trip – the cost was three times that of any vacation we’ve ever gone on (I had to sell some internal organs to make it happen – who needs a spleen anyway). So why did we, and millions of others, shell out all that cash when we could go to anywhere else for less.

The answer is simple. No one does it like Disney.

Although I promised myself I would unplug and not do any work during this trip, my entrepreneurial mind is always working in the background with no known off switch. So as I went spent my days and nights enjoying the Disney parks I couldn’t help but notice some of the super cool things Disney does to create such raving fans that come back year after year.

Disney is really operating at the highest level of customer satisfaction and if you look at what Disney does and model it your business can see similar results. If you embrace and implement one or more of the following lessons, I guarantee your customers will be happier, your brand will become stronger and your business will thrive.

1- Little details can make a big difference

By day two of my trip my family and I developed a golden rule of being in Disney: always look up. No matter where we were, on line for an attraction, in a gift shop, at a restaurant, you name it, there was always something cool in ever nook and cranny – especially the ceilings. Every corner of the Disney parks are intricately designed which really adds the the wow factor and the impression visitors take away with them.

Don’t overlook or undervalue the little details of your product or service. Often it’s those little, seemingly trivial details which will have your customers talking to their friends about your business.

2- People will happily pay for convince

Disney prides itself on their customer service and does everything it can to make your stay easy and enjoyable. We were staying at one of the Disney hotels which comes with some nice perks that make it well worth the cost.

One of the most annoying things about air travel is waiting for your luggage at the airport. Disney knows it’s no fun so they do it for you. Once you land you skip baggage claim and go right to the Disney bus they have waiting for you (with comfy chairs, a TV and a bathroom – another big plus) and they get your bags and put them in your room. And they check your bags in (and do your boarding passes) for your return trip. They even got us on a special expedited security line so we could get to our plane faster and easier (this was huge because the regular line to get through security was a mess).

These perks are things that are well worth any extra expense in my book and it was all included in our Disney package. If you find ways to make your customer’s lives easier and give them “VIP” treatment you’ll be able to charge a premium for your services.
3- Go all out (no matter what)

The day we went to Epcot Center it was kind of a slow day there. There wasn’t as many people as is normally there so the crowds were less and the lines were much shorter than usual. Great for us but not so great for Disney.

Every night they put on a huge water, fireworks and light show in the center of the small lake in the center of the park. It’s really an amazing show and there’s really no way I can describe it to do it justice. I can’t imagine how much money and man power the show must take to pull off each night. Did Disney cut it short or put less energy into it because the crowds were small? Hell no! They rocked it like the park was packed giving the people that were there an amazing show.

I don’t care how many customers you have, go all out every day and you’ll see those crowds build over time.

4- Offer commentary products and services

When you go to Disney there’s lots of other stuff that you need throughout your stay. Disney know’s this and instead of just letting you get it for yourself, they offer it all for you.

Knowing that the parks are huge and a day at any of the Disney properties require lots of walking (my wife wore a pedometer and we clocked in at 8 – 10 miles per day) Disney rents strollers for kids and motorized scooters for people with handicaps, for the elderly or those just plain lazy. They also sell food and drinks throughout each park.

Now you can get all those things yourself and bring them in but it’s easier to just let Disney take care of the arrangements. They make your life easier and they make more money off each customer – a win-win.

Look at your business and find some products or services that complement yours or are necessary for what you do and offer them to your customers for extra income streams.

5- Position upsells and downsells at exactly the right time

Disney is that master at this. The exits for all of their rides empty out into a gift shop that has items specific for that ride. You’re all excited about the ride, in the prime state for buying so Disney leads you right to the sale.

In Animal Kingdom we went on a ride called the Kali River Rapids, where you sit in a raft and jet down some simulated rapids. The sign outside the rides says, “On this ride you will get wet and you might get soaked.” So you would think people would be prepared to come of the ride drenched. Not so much.

After coming off the ride dripping wet we came out to a small gift shop selling shoes, towels and clothing. My wife bought a towel and sun dress so she didn’t have to be wet and uncomfortable (I sucked it up wet, marveling at Disney’s genius).

If you position your additional offerings at just the right time, in just the right place, the sale is inevitable.

6- Do things so good, so different or so big that you have no competition

Although there are other amusement parks like Busch Gardens and Sea World out there they can’t even begin to compare to everything that Disney has to offer. All those other place don’t have the quality and size of what Disney has.

People don’t come back year after year to go to those places and none of the other parks have the brand recognition that Disney does. Disney is one of a kind and that’s a really great position to be in as a business. The only real competition Disney has is themselves (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach, etc) – not bad at all.

If you can do things so good, or so different or so big no one will ever be able to compete with you. Disney does all three.

7- Create an experience worth talking about

Talk to someone coming home from a Disney vacation and you won’t hear things like, “it was pretty good,” or “I liked it.” No, you’ll hear things like, “It was amazing!” and “The best vacation of my life,” and “You have to go there!”

You don’t want satisfied customers – that’s the fastest way to mediocrity (and that sucks). You want to create raving fans that will be telling everyone they bump into about your business. To do that you need to give them an experience that’s worth talking about. Something special that separates you from the rest and leaves them with a big, fat smile on their face. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, it just has to be memorable.

8- Always keep improving and innovating

Walt Disney World opened in October of 1971 and has been a monstrous success pretty much ever since that first day. So with a successful product you would think that Disney would just keep everything as is. Why mess with a proven winner?

Disney understands that to have long lasting success you need to constantly strive to make things better. Every single year Disney rolls out new rides and makes improvements and innovations to all of their parks. Although some of their popular attractions have been left pretty much as is, the parks are always evolving.

Even if you have a successful product and service think about how you can make it better. How can you improve all the things you do each and every year? Strive to keep everything you do current with the times and utilize the latest technology where appropriate.

9- Pay attention to what your customers do

When we purchased our Disney vacation package we each got our very own MagicBand, which is a bracelet that acts as our room key, entry into the parks and contains all of our package details, credit card info and identification. At first I thought this was just a cool convenience but then realized that it’s an amazing tool for Disney to do valuable market research.

We wore the bands everyday, everywhere and used them at to get on each ride, to pay for things in the gift shops, for any food and to access our hotel room. Because of this Disney knows exactly where I went and what I purchased, and can use this information to send me specific offers in the future based on what they know I like and to see what’s popular with different demographics.

Make sure you pay attention to what your customers do, what they buy and how they buy it from you. Then, tailor your messages, sales offers and customer services to the specific behavior of each customer. This will really make your customer feel connected to you and help you know what you need to focus on for future customers.

10- Forming partnerships will help you expand your reach

In Hollywood Studios you’ll find The Rock ‘n Roll Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Unfortunately my kids are still a bit too small to go on this high octane roller coaster but I was still impressed with what Disney did here. By partnering up with a popular rock band they are bringing in a whole host of fans that might never be interested in coming to check out the park.

Aerosmith fans will want to be a part of anything the band is involved with and will want to check out the ride and in turn Hollywood Studios, exposing the park to customers they might not have been able to reach on their own. I’m sure Aerosmith also did some promoting of it when it first opened giving Disney free publicity.

Find some businesses that have an audience you want to reach and identify a business to partner with and you’ll get a whole new audience and spread your brand farther. Just make sure that the partnership is beneficial for both parties so it’s easy decision and a win-win for everyone involved.

11 – Dream Big

Walt Disney said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

He definitely had no idea that sketching out a simple cartoon mouse would grow into one of the biggest businesses in the world, but that’s how it all began. Walt first conceived of Mickey Mouse on a long train ride at a time when his business was failing.

Even though at the time it looked like Walt’s business was headed for disaster he had a vision and a belief that big things were ahead. He never stopped thinking big and after every setback he took a new (seemingly small) step forward again.

Set big goals, dream big and don’t let obstacles stop you. Just find a new direction to go in or a new action to take and remember these words from the late, great Walt Disney, “All your dreams can come true, if you have the courage to pursue them.”