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

This Disney Queue Music Sets You Soarin'

Ted Topping benchmarks the queue for Soarin' Over California and finds a music loop that touches Guests' hearts, setting them up for the emotional experience of the attraction.




Soarin’ Over California is one of the most popular rides at Disney California Adventure Park. So popular, in fact, that a line-up is almost inevitable. But there’s good news: although Disney offers FASTPASS service on this attraction, Guests who work their way through the line will have a more-complete experience.

In terms of a queue, this is not one of Disney’s most elaborate. But it is an excellent example for participants in our Perfecting the Customer Experience program to study because people from most retail, hospitality, tourism and other consumer-facing businesses can learn important lessons here.

click an image to expand:


The outdoor portion comprises a series of switchbacks. Even on a hot summer day it feels like you are making progress.


The floor slopes gently down into the attraction, drawing the Guest's attention to the banners that hang from the ceiling.


A museum honoring the aviation industry in California: the first section pays tribute to planes through words and photos.


A Guest focused on other things will not be in the appropriate emotional space for what lies ahead on the attraction.


In the Hall of Fame, you can read about and view photos of Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Amelia Earhart (above).


The queue music touches your heart and sets you up for the emotional experience of Soarin' Over California.

Setting up the ride

The first (outdoor) portion of the queue comprises a series of switchbacks. My colleague Jeff Kober notes that switchback line-ups feel shorter than straight line-ups because they continuously give you something new to look at. So even on a hot summer day it feels like you are making progress.

As Guests move indoors – into the main Condor Flats hangar building – they enter a themed environment that sets up the Soarin’ Over California ride, which Disney describes as “an exhilarating simulated hang-glider flight over California’s famous natural and manmade wonders.”

The things that most Guests will notice immediately are that it is cool inside the building, and that they are entering a fairly long and narrow room. The concrete floor slopes gently down into the attraction, drawing the Guest’s attention higher, to the banners that hang from the ceiling.

Slowly it dawns on people that this is some sort of a museum honoring the aviation industry in California. Many people would recognize it as “edutainment” (education mixed with entertainment), which Disney does extremely well.

The first section, Wings of Fame, pays tribute through words and photographs to planes including the Spirit of St. Louis (which Charles Lindbergh flew non-stop from New York to Paris), the Lockheed Vega (which Amelia Earhart used to cross the Atlantic), the Spruce Goose (aka The Hughes H-4 Hercules, which Howard Hughes flew just once) and the Bell X-1 (in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier).

The second section, the Hall of Fame, honors the pilots and designers of those planes and others. Here you can read about and view photos of Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, Chuck Yeager and Amelia Earhart, plus other pioneers such as Jack Northrop (who championed the flying wing design in the 1940s as the future of flight) and Kelly Johnson (the first team leader of the famous Lockheed Skunk Works).


From the head to the heart

So what does the museum have to do with hang gliding? Not much. Mostly, it keeps you focused on something and helps you pass the time while waiting in the line.

Certainly not every Guest is interested in the museum. Some prefer to chat with friends or check their messages, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Except that Disney Imagineers understand that a Guest who is focused on those things will not be in the appropriate emotional space for what lies ahead on the attraction itself. The museum photos let you stay in your head. They convey information, facts and history, but they do not touch you emotionally.

The queue music that you have been hearing since you entered the building is what does that. It touches your heart and sets you up for the emotional experience of Soarin’ Over California.


Endlessly repeating “loop”

The queue music is an endlessly repeating “loop” of recordings approximately 30 minutes in length. Guests will not be in the building longer than that, so they will never hear the loop repeat.

Disney has carefully selected the music in the queue loop because it does three specific things:

  • It commands interest, contributes to the sense of reality and establishes expectations for the coming hang-gliding experience.
  • It creates an ever-changing auditory environment, a subtle cue that helps reassure Guests that the line-up is still moving forward.
  • In the same way as the music in a film score, the music in the Soarin’ Over California queue loop exerts control over Guests and encourages an emotional response.

For readers who want to sample some of the songs that are included in the Soarin’ Over California queue music loop, these links to CDs currently available on amazon.com each open in a new window:

The Blue Max Overture and The Generals Suite by Jerry Goldsmith from Goldsmith Conducts Goldsmith

The Trees by Jerry Goldsmith from Medicine Man

You’re On by James Newton Howard from Dave

The Last Starfighter (Main Title) by Craig Safan, performed by Erich Kunzel on the CD Fantastic Journey

It is important to note that Disney chose these songs based on their emotional impact, not on their titles. The fact that a particular recording was once used in a motion picture soundtrack is not relevant. The “soaring” feeling of the music is what matters.

Several websites play music from the Soarin’ Over California queue loop, and you can access a good one through Subsonic Radio. This site offers several “stations” of Disney music, including one called Soarin’ that endlessly repeats the queue loops from Soarin’ Over California in Anaheim and Soarin’ in Orlando (the two are similar but different), plus the music from the actual attraction.


Even more central

Once Guests reach the end of the museum, a Cast Member will direct them either left or right down one of two long, sloping ramps that evoke the feeling of a bare, underground corridor in a long-ago aircraft hangar. In this more basic environment, the queue music becomes even more central to the experience.

Then, as another Cast Member directs them into the Alpha, Bravo or Charlie gate for the pre-boarding safety video, Guests finally leave the queue area behind. But many of them will have noticed that from the moment they entered the building, music was a vital element of the theming.

When music is used effectively in a business, it can add greatly to the total experience. But when it is used ineffectively, it can destroy that experience by keeping people out of it emotionally.

Guests who visit the Disney parks quickly notice the extra care and detail that goes into almost everything that is there. This is what elevates Disney from an amusement park to an amazement park. And any business that follows their example in this regard can take a similar step forward.


Editor’s note: Ted Topping’s July 2011 article “Area Music Heightens the Experience” is available here.



For more information about Perfecting the Customer Experience, please contact Jeff Kober or Ted Topping. The next public programs are February 21 to 23 and September 25 to 27, 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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