Always Give a Good Show: How Disney's principles can shape the Patient Experience

Posted by
Aug 10, 2017 9:26:00 AM
Lauren Lovelady on Aug 10, 2017 9:26:00 AM
Lauren Lovelady

Learning from the master of magic, Walt Disney, to shape the ultimate patient experience.

Patient experience is consistently a hot topic in Lucro - on both the provider and vendor sides of the house. Summertime brings to mind many happy vacations, which in my family meant a trip to Walt Disney World - filled with magical meetings with princesses and soaring castles.

After clearing the pixie dust from my eyes, I realized (<insert headsmack here>) THIS IS ALL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. This is evident in everything that Disney does in their theme parks. Attendees are guests - named so that every employee is reminded to treat their customers as they would a guest in their own home. Employees are cast members, so they keep top of mind that their job is to play a role in their guests’ vacation story. There are no afterthoughts; everything is placed with intent and a spoonful of magic.

What might we learn from Disney to incorporate into the patient experience?

Marty Sklar, one of the original Imagineers (imagination + engineering= imagineering) created Mickey’s 10 Commandments. Not surprisingly, these principles extend far beyond the theme park industry and are a rubric for any customer-centered business that wants to create a little magic in their organization. Here are a few highlighted learnings from these commandments that you could incorporate to ensure your customers/patients are under your magic spell.

Mickey's 10 Commandments


Lessons for Imagineering your Operation:

Know your audience.

This means identifying your target guests before you begin designing the experience. If you don't faithfully serve your audience and their needs, you'll likely only see that patient once. Disney’s audience is the family that has fun together. They ensure there's a perfect balance of rides and experiences for the littlest tyke up to the parents and grandparents. 

Tips for defining your audience: look at patient statistics including age, gender, and geography to learn who they are. Then, spend time interviewing representative members from each group to examine what's important to them, where their needs are being met, and what is lacking. You can then use this data to create personas. This is a common Customer Experience practice that allows you to keep your patients’ wants, needs, and motivations top of mind as you craft improvements to your services. Bonus: You can also use this method to define your marketing and engagement as well!

Walk in the guests' shoes. 

"Wear your guests shoes every chance you get. We are so close to our business that it's easy to forget what it's like to experience our service as a new patient. The old adage is true: you never get a second chance at a first impression. Walt Disney required his Imagineers to attend the parks - to stand in line, shoulder to shoulder with their guests. What are they saying? What are they doing? This led to many breakthroughs for the Imagineers such as interactive queues to entertain and delight guests as they wait to board rides.

When was the last time you received care at your facility or used one of your own services? Was it what you expected? Did you hear anything in the waiting room that surprised you?

This can be a difficult test supremely important way to identify shortcomings - no external feedback required. Of course, this DOES NOT replace speaking to your patients, but do yourself (and them a favor). Be proactive. Find sticking points and fix them.

Organize the flow of info, people, and ideas.

Be sure there's a logic and sequence in your story and the way the guests experience it. Great experiences are organized in a way that leads guests seamlessly through their intended journey. In a well organized story, patients know where they are and where to go next.

Have you ever walked into a towering building and been completely bewildered by multiple elevators or similar sounding clinic and doctors’ names? Have you wandered through a puzzling labyrinth of hallways that all look the same, unclear where you are or where you've been? What about your patients? When patients don't have a clear path, they will likely not be successful, or if they are able to overcome the confusion, they'll be frustrated and late to their scheduled appointments.

Create a visual magnet. Walt Disney used visual magnets as one tool to give guests central landmarks to serve as their North Star, orienting users in the parks. Familiar Disney examples include Cinderella castle, the Tree of Life, and Spaceship Earth. Disney separates each park into “lands” to divide the larger parks into specific and unique areas. Each land also is given a landmark, and uses color relationships to establish identity - down to signage, trash cans, and cast member uniforms.

In healthcare, this is often a main intake area or an admissions atrium. It might also be as simple as elevators or a parking garage. Do you have a central space for your patients? Is it easy to find at all times or do your patients wander around trying to find their way?

Give patients all the info they need navigate easily. Interactive maps, optimized labeling in hallways and near elevators, and helpful, available staff can flip this common pain point into a delight!

Avoid overload - tell one story at a time.

Do not overload your guests with everything you know. The first task of any project is to learn everything you can about your subject - whether it be an advancement in healthcare or the next classic animated film.The second task is to edit. A familiar Disney example is Peter Pan’s Flight. A 4-minute ride distills a 2 hour movie while still feeling the emotion and adventure.

Good stories are clear, logical, and consistent. One useful tool is to define your patient’s path through the care continuum and create a storyboard. Disney invented the storyboard to ensure their movies keep true to the story, find holes in the narrative, correct where needed, and outline action - clearly and consistently. This is also used in customer experience to ensure the patient’s transition is smooth and seamless.

It is especially difficult when you're boiling down a huge problem into a simple and intuitive experience. Like, really difficult. And it can feel overwhelming at first as you start talking to your patients and getting their feedback. You've done dozens of user interviews and have pages of notes describing a real problem in excruciating detail.

For every ounce of treatment, give a TON of treat.

Educate without the label - immersive and sneaky learning. Walt Disney was very keen on flipping traditionally boring experiences into magical ones - whether it was teaching kids about our nation's history (Mr. Lincoln) or about different cultures (It’s a Small World).

A different example of how this method is used is also straight from Anaheim. One of the least pleasant theme park pastimes is waiting to board a ride. If you have small children, it can further complicate this experience. An example of how Disney “treats” this tricky situation is the new Dumbo queue. Guests are given pagers and then can play in the ‘big top’ until it's time to fly with the elephants.

How could you incorporate pre-appointment communication and signage/interactions to fill in the gaps of your patients’ experience? Could that solution engage and delight them while educating them about a condition or upcoming visit? Think outside the box.

Keep it up. Maintain it.

"Poor maintenance is poor show. It's not about us, it's about your family." This is the hardest one. You've planned, interviewed, and implemented changes to “wow” your patients and visitors. The real test is ensuring that the quality of service is maintained. Every day. In every interaction.

This is the Disney "Practical Magic." First meet, then exceed expectations. EVERY TIME.

Every cast member understands that they are part of the magic. Cast members are fully aware playing a role in that family's vacation. "If little 'wows' are delivered consistently and continuously, then they add up to a BIG wow."

Paying CLOSE attention to every aspect of a customer experience. "Everything speaks". It's an obsessive attention to infinitive detail. One crabby employee could break it all. Walt figured the exact distance people would hold onto trash before giving up and dropping it on the ground. That's how they sequenced the location of trash cans. Disney cast members of all levels are not to pass by any trash or any other “out of story” incident. Going back to the intent of “guest” moniker - would you let trash hang out on the floor or leave paper towels out because “it's someone else’s job” if it were your house? What about your cast of employees?

No matter what business you're in, you're a storyteller by design or by default. Every patient interaction becomes their story with your organization.


Are you creating magical moments with your patient experience? Share it below!

 Lauren Lovelady

Lauren Lovelady
Product Wizard, Lucro

Topics: Best Practices, User Experience, Customer Experience, UX, Design Thinking, Patient Experience, Disney, Process Improvement

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