I spent a long weekend at Walt Disney World recently. Disney has a system called Fast Passes that allow guests to preregister to ride some of its more popular rides. At the predetermined time, the guests show up and go into an expedited line that gets them on the ride in a fraction of the time that the normal line would take.

At Epcot Center, the ride in greatest demand right now is called Soarin’, and it’s not unusual for the regular line to have a wait time in excess of 90 minutes. So a Fast Pass to Soarin’ is worth its weight in gold since it reduces the wait time to about 15 minutes.

Being a regular Disney visitor, I’d secured Fast Passes for the ride. We were in the next group to ride when one of the cast members announced that everyone needed to leave the building immediately. When pressed, one of the cast members said there had been a fire alert triggered, and although they were sure there was no fire, better safe than sorry. 

As we dig into this case study, keep in mind:
• They evacuated everyone in line, both Fast Pass holders and the people who had been patiently waiting for over an hour.
• For most people, a trip to Disney World is a once-in-a-lifetime event. They’ve saved for years and have planned out their days to maximize every moment.
• Most Disney guests only budget one day for each of the major parks, which means if they don’t get to see something that day, they won’t see it at all.
• The people holding the Fast Passes had already used them. They’re only good once, so the effort they expended to secure them was wasted.

When someone asked if they could reuse their Fast Pass, another cast member told them to visit the information desk outside the attraction and they’d probably be able to help.

Within the three minutes of the evacuation announcement, cast members were lined up every 10 feet (we left the building through an emergency exit that took us into space where guests are not normally allowed) to guide the guests back to Epcot’s public space. So clearly they’d rehearsed the evacuation process. Everything was orderly and safe.  

But it had no Disney magic. Here’s what they missed:

No one apologized for the disappointment or inconvenience: When you mess up, more than anything else, your customers want to know that you’re genuinely sorry and understand their disappointment and frustration.

They didn’t proactively tell everyone how to get a make-good: Customers know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. They’re willing to go with the flow, but they want to know how you’re going to make it up to them and that you’ve thought about it before they ask.

The cast members were not well informed: The very people who had to deal with the customer knew the least. Don’t leave your team in the dark if they have to deliver some bad news to your customers. Make sure they have the answers.

If customer magic-maker Disney can mess up, then we’re at risk too. 

Take some time to identify the danger zones where you could potentially disappoint a customer. Figure out where you’re vulnerable and outline how you’d like to handle both fixing the problem and resolving your customer’s frustrations that it happened.  

Meet with your entire team to review your “oops” plan. Then, get it in writing and review it regularly with your team so that when a mistake happens, you all are ready.