Perfecting the Customer Experience is a unique, three day benchmarking program held twice a year in Anaheim California. The workshop provides open enrollment participants serious business lessons in a fun, immersive environment.

Your facilitators, Jeff Kober and Ted Topping are your hosts in this intense, small group program that allows participants to see the business behind the wonder of Disney.

Participants walk away with new ideas for taking their organization, whether in the public, private, or non-profit sector, to new heights.

Jeff Kober views business from a Disney background. Ted Topping views Disney from a business background. Together they will help you experience both from the crucial perspective of your customer.

Formerly a leader with the Disney Institute, Jeff Kober, president of Performance Journeys, has authored several books and apps on building strong brands and developing high performing cultures.

Ted Topping is president of Creative Insights, a service-design consulting firm in Vancouver. Known globally for his work in retail, he is author of the best-selling book Start and Run a Retail Business and numerous magazine articles.

As authors, speakers, and consultants, both Jeff and Ted work with organizations to create sustained results in a consumer-facing business.

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FROM: Perfecting the Customer Experience A Disney Dispatch Feature

We Became Disney Customers Long Before Purchasing

An amazing customer experience at the departure of Disney Wonder's end-of-season sailing made Ted Topping a Disney Cruise Line customer without him even buying a ticket.



With the cruise ship season wrapping up in Vancouver, British Columbia, my partner and I made one final visit to Port Metro Vancouver to witness the September 20, 2011 departure of the Disney Wonder.

Our personal experience – coupled with the amazing emotional experience that we shared with literally hundreds of other people on the pier that afternoon – made us Disney Cruise Line customers long before we had consciously thought seriously of purchasing a ticket.

There are lessons here for any business that wants to sell something more than an undifferentiated commodity.

South for the season

We had marked on our calendars well in advance. The Disney Wonder would depart at 5:00 pm for a five-night repositioning cruise that would take it from Vancouver to Los Angeles, with stops in Victoria, British Columbia and Ensenada, Mexico.

This marked the end of Disney’s first Alaska cruise ship season, but you would never know it from the appearance of the vessel. The Wonder literally sparkled in the sun after a week-long refit in Victoria that included work on the underwater hull, painting and maintenance on the ship’s stabilizers and propellers, plus testing and maintenance of the ship’s lifesaving equipment.

Even as we arrived at the cruise ship terminal, Disney Cruise Ship cast members were spray-washing windows and metal surfaces at the bow, and touching up any imperfections in the white paint. We noted with interest that even while working in their yellow coveralls, these Disney cast members were wearing name tags.

click an image to expand:


At Port Metro Vancouver, the Disney Wonder stands ready for its repositioning cruise from Vancouver to L.A.


Within an hour of departure, Disney Cruise Ship cast members were spray-washing windows at the bow.


Something more for Guests to discover: the scroll on the starboard side includes a wonderfully Hidden Mickey.


The willingness of an adult to come out and play is an important part of the Disney customer experience.


Visible enthusiasm: Guests on the outer deck as the Disney Wonder leaves Vancouver on September 20, 2011.


Disney Cruise Line cast members and associates gathered near the stern to sing a version of Jamaica Farewell.


Cast members caught the spirit and waved back with a growing enthusiasm, some rushing for their cameras.


The team that protected Disney's Guests all season with huge letters forming the message: Thanks, Disney.


An emotional experience: The Disney Wonder will be back in Vancouver next year, but just not as often.


Floating theme park

In many ways, the Disney Wonder reminds us of a Disney theme park. It is a self-contained environment where essentially everything except the weather is directed toward a Guest’s fun, happiness and satisfaction.

At a basic level, this plays out in the design elements of the ship. The bow includes an elaborate metal scroll that features Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie, the first Disney cartoon with a post-produced soundtrack. And, because Disney always leaves something more for Guests to discover, the scroll on the starboard side also includes Pluto, Mickey and Minnie on a Sea-Doo, and a wonderfully Hidden Mickey.

Guests do not see these details while they are on the ship, but they certainly do as they go ashore and later return to the Wonder at every port of call.

We noticed a second Hidden Mickey on this visit, too. It sits right beneath the ship’s bell, fully visible from both the Bridge and the Guest Fitness Center one deck above.

Family-friendly experience

Just by waking the length of the ship, we were able to get a sense for the kinds of people who were making this voyage: couples both young and old, and families with children.

This mix of generations also reminds us of a Disney theme park, which means that the brand is consistent across its various offerings.

Always ready to play when Mickey is around, we made a wordless connection with an onboard family that included two youngsters – both of whom were wearing appropriate Disney ear hats. Noticing our enthusiastic efforts to photograph the group, the parents helped their children to climb a little higher so that they could wave to us above the protective railing.

The best part, however, was when the mother went into the cabin for a moment and returned wearing her own ear hat. That willingness of an adult to come out and play with complete strangers – with whom they will never even speak – is an important part of the Disney customer experience. We just knew that this family would be having fun together on the coming voyage.

And while we were enjoying our ship-to-shore wave, we overhead a conversation between two burly out-of-town convention delegates: “Just look at those spoiled brats,” said the first electrical worker to his associate, with a twinkle in his eye. “What are they doing on that cruise ship? They should be at school and we should be on it!”

Sad to say you’re on your way

This sailing of the Disney Wonder carried a certain overtone of sadness for people who were in the know.

Even before starting this season of Alaska cruises with Vancouver as the home port, Disney announced that the Wonder would be sailing next summer from Seattle, Washington. The rumoured reasons behind this decision range from higher operating costs in Canada to higher airfares for U.S. passengers wanting to take the cruise.
Whatever the reason, Disney’s decision to at least partially leave Vancouver behind in 2012 dulled the enthusiasm of some locals for this season – but you would not know that from what we witnessed on the pier as the ship sailed.

First, there was the visible enthusiasm of the Guests on the outer deck.

But this was matched by the enthusiasm of perhaps 50 Disney Cruise Line cast members and associates who gathered near the stern. As the lines were cast off for the final time and the ship’s whistle sounded the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon a Star, the group started to sing an altered version of Jamaica Farewell: “Sad to say you’re on your way. Won’t be back for many a day...”

Cast members on board the ship caught the spirit and waved back with a growing enthusiasm, some rushing for their cameras to capture the moment. Even Donald Duck appeared at the railing to join in the farewell.

While the emotional reaction of the cast was impressive, the reaction of the security team was actually quite touching.

At the end of the pier, three red Canadian K9 Detection trucks were parked in salute. Their owners and the trouble-sniffing dogs that had protected Disney’s Guests all season stood in front of them. They had brought huge individual letters that formed the message: “Thanks, Disney.”

When we, too, found ourselves sad to see the Disney Wonder leave, we understood that we had emotionally just become Disney Cruise Line customers without ever purchasing a ticket. The ship will be back in Vancouver next year, but just not as often. We will no doubt stop by to renew the friendship.


Editor’s note: Ted Topping’s May 2011 article “Disney Wonder Brings Magic to Vancouver” is available here.


For more information about Perfecting the Customer Experience, please contact Jeff Kober or Ted Topping. The next public program is February 21 to 23, 2012. Companies may prefer a private, tailored experience. Neither the program nor its facilitators are associated in any way with The Walt Disney Company.

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