Is Disney's Customer Satisfaction Better Than Pre-Pandemic?

Is Disney's Customer Satisfaction Better Than Pre-Pandemic?

We welcome you to this Disney at Work podcast where we share best in business ideas from the Happiest Places on Earth. Disney CEO Bob Chapek, in a recent Bloomberg interview, shared the following:

“Our guest satisfaction scores since we have re-opened across the world have shown that indeed, our guests are more satisfied than they were even before the pandemic.”

Is this so? Is Disney’s customer satisfaction better than prior to the pandemic? How could it be when COVID has slowed everything down, when guests are having to make a reservation, wear masks, and stay socially distant? How could you have better customer satisfaction when there are no parades, no character meet ‘n’ greets, when many shows attractions are not available and no fireworks mark the conclusion of a park day? We’ll look at how this is not only possible, but what implications there are in your organization and how you should consider the possibilities of improving customer satisfaction, even under difficult times.

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1. Disney’s Most Loyal Are Entering

It really helps that the ones who are visiting are ones who really want to come and will agree with the compliance requirements that Disney sets in place. They are the ones who marked “highly satisfied” when they came to the parks before. Highly satisfied guests are the most loyal, and typically they show that loyalty by being advocates to the park, by visiting more often, and by spending more when they visit. In this instance, as loyal guests to the park, their ability to tolerate Disney’s shortcomings during this pandemic is much greater because they truly believe that Disney is doing all it can to mitigate the situation. They subscribe to Disney’s positive intent to what they are trying to do to manage the parks during this time of COVID.

Bob Chapek in the interview said there is “Tremendous trust in the brand. Guests know that Disney’s going to do it right.”

2. Anticipation is Pent Up

When you have had to wait longer than ever before to come, you are going to be in a more favorable place to receive the experience. People derive value from anticipation. It’s almost Pavlovian.

In fact, Jason Martuscello, a business strategist referred to the work of Loewenstein when he noted that “whether we are salivating about our dinner plans for this evening or excited about an upcoming Disney vacation – anticipating future events is a direct source of value.” (Loewenstein, G. (1987). Anticipation and the valuation of delayed consumption. The Economic Journal)

In other words, the longer we have to wait for something, the greater the value we put on the experience ahead of us. We know that to be true. Anything consumed constantly has a lesser value than something we get to enjoy as a once-in-a-while treat. Disney fans have waited longer for the chance to return. Thus, their excitement, energy and appreciation for what lies ahead will be greater.

3. Guest Expectations are Less

Even given the anticipation there is another corollary involved here. Guests are coming in with lesser expectations as it relates to social distancing, wearing a mask, and even missing some of their favorite moments like a parade or fireworks.

Disney has known this because for years, their guest satisfaction scores have generally been better during peak holidays seasons like Spring Break or Christmas. Why? Because guests are already know that crowds will be significant and that what they can do on New Year’s Eve in terms of visiting a given number of attractions will be less on some days like this.

“Momma said there would be days like this, there’d be days like this, momma said.”

Knowing that it won’t be the same creates a lower expectation, even though you still have high anticipation. Then when something special happens in the park, like a character cavalcade, expectations are more easily exceeded. Exceeding expectation is at the heart of creating greater customer satisfaction.

4. No FastPass

The biggest guest frustration in the parks are lines. The parks are not currently utilizing FastPass. Furthermore, the one queue being essentially used is much longer with social distancing. The initial impression is daunting. But once in the queue, one finds the experience to go quickly. At times, guests are even able to practically walk the entire time, rather than take a few steps, and then pause for a minute or two. This is creating a sense that the queue is much more reasonable than one initially thought. Psychologically, it does to the mind what longer stated wait times does to the mind when the wait is actually shorter than the stated time.

Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

5. Disney is Getting Better and Better

Bob Chapek shared the following:

“We’ve learned some things. We’ve learned to operate under constraints all the time by delivering this great Disney magic you expect…But we’ve been in a fortunate situation where we have had a lot of demand in the past in many cases that has exceeded what we can actually supply in terms of how many people we can put in a park…But we’ve gotten even better and better at it. And I think we’re going to create a re-emergent scenario where magic is going to be even greater when we open back up our parks.”

I think that all the assumptions of what works at Disney has been re-examined, and in many ways it is becoming better. I saw that at Starbucks on Main Street, where since the pandemic began they have introduced microphones and speakers to better communicate through facial coverings and acrylic shields.

Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Likewise, they have created a new expectation of guests waiting for their drink to stand on a dot so as to stay socially separated during the latter part of that experience.

Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Bob Chapek speaks to this in the interview. And in many ways I believe it to be true.

“In addition to all the health guidelines that we’ve been following across the world…we’re also going to be introducing a new reservation system that’s going to enable our guests to have a great time no matter when they choose to come to Disney. Our teams have been hard at work making sure that when we re-emerge, that we’re going do so in a way that’s actually going to improve the guest experience, even versus a pre-pandemic situation.”


When one considers all the above, then it’s quick to surmise that it’s a comparison of apples and oranges. Indeed, it is. But in truth, customer service is never a static thing. There are always holidays and peak times, hurricanes that plow through, popular attractions that go down, and so forth. A Disney park is not an isolated variable in a lab, but a constantly changing, dynamic experience. And yet, you still have to satisfy customers no matter what. The trick is to be an organization that is agile and can pivot to meet those changing circumstances and needs. I think this experience has helped Disney think more out of the box in what they could do, and what could be done for the guest experience–even after the pandemic is over.

Souvenirs for Your Organization

Consider the following as it relates to your organization.

  • How do you create loyal customers that will support you even in the toughest of times?
  • How can difficult times give you the permission needed to re-think your assumptions and paradigms about what works and what could be better.
  • Do your customers anticipate doing business with you? How does that anticipation enhance their value of working with you?
  • How can you exceed expectations when those expectations are lowered by surrounding circumstances?
  • How can you use tough times as a stepping off point to move out of the box and implement new ways to improve?
  • How can your organization be more agile, more flexible, more capable of pivoting, whether in good times or bad?

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J. Jeff Kober