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Waiting is a ubiquitous activity in many services, forming an unresolved issue in most organizations, while being an inevitable result of the business model in others. Customers wait for busses, people wait in line at the supermarket, people wait at airports, and so forth. To make matters worse, customers dislike waiting. Because of psychological factors such as delay gratification and consciousness of time, people become impatient, bored, anxious and even angry while waiting. In fact, some customers dislike waiting so much, they hire people to wait in line for them. Managing perceived time investment is therefore an important service marketing challenge. A vast amount of scholars have studied the mathematical theory of time, waiting and queuing. However, as services are experienced rather than consumed, a stronger emphasis is put on perceived time. Perceived time refers to the experienced time, which is measured by an individual’s perception of the duration of an event. The Walt Disney Company is doing an excellent job in managing these time perceptions.

The Walt Disney Company

Founded in 1923, The Walt Disney Company owns multiple theme parks located all over the world, often referred to with the comprehensive brand name, Disneyland. These theme parks include Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resorts, but also the luxurious Disney Cruise Line, involving four Disney themed cruise ships. Visitors of all ages and walks of life in the United States, Europe and the world have embraced the Walt Disney theme parks, by “creating compelling stories, endearing characters and memorable experiences for all guests”.

The Walt Disney theme parks are gigantic. Disneyland Paris alone employs nearly 15,000 cast members, drew over 275 million visits since 1992, and ranks as Europe’s number one tourist destination. Consequently, waiting lines at Walt Disney theme parks are no exception. By carefully managing the perceptions of time, The Walt Disney Company minimizes the negative impact on customer satisfaction, while in some cases even being able to turn waiting into a satisfactory experience.

Waiting line structure

The structure of waiting lines refers to its spatial layout. Spatial layout is defined as the way in which objects are situated in an environment. Spatial layout of waiting lines is influenced by carefully placing furniture, equipment and doors. Waiting lines in a service environment designed to provide feedback on progress are associated with more positive affect and lower customer perception of waiting time than waiting lines designed to not provide feedback in terms of waiting line progress. By providing feedback on queue progress, customer frustration and time distortion are decreased, positive influencing customer satisfaction.

The Walt Disney Company is well aware of the impacts of waiting line structure on customer satisfaction. Features designed to alleviate stress in Walt Disney theme park waiting lines were incorporated as early in the 1970s. At Walt Disney theme parks, waiting lines are designed to continuously provide feedback of customer progress. Furthermore, the shape of the waiting line, its visibility and rapidity of movement also influence the consumer’s perception of waiting time. Consequently, waiting lines in Walt Disney theme parks curve to let them appear shorter. Moreover, these curves often hide parts of the line ahead.

For most attractions, estimated waiting times are displayed in the beginning of a waiting line. Often, these displayed waiting times are slightly higher than the actual waiting time. Consequently, customers are pleasantly surprised by a waiting time slightly lower than what they initially expected.

Waiting line experience

At Walt Disney theme parks, the wait is often part of the experience. For many attractions, while waiting, visitors are provided with an intriguing background story concerning the attraction, often surrounded by a carefully designed environment, fully suitable to the atmosphere, style and ambiance of the attraction. By doing so, visitors are being kept occupied, while setting expectations for the actual ride. Whenever waiting can’t be integrated into the attraction experience, for example when waiting for a retail cash register to open up, Walt Disney stores use retail environment distracters to entertain customers while they are waiting in line.

Music at Walt Disney theme parks are everywhere. For example, unsuspecting visitors to Disney’s imitation town near Orlando, Celebration, “encounter piped music scattered among the fake foliage of the immaculately pruned town square”. Ambient sounds increases customers’ time spent in a store because of the distortion in their sense of time. Furthermore, perceived time is lower for listeners exposed to less pleasant music. Apparently, more distasteful music will make the queue appear to move more quickly. Walt Disney theme parks chose to fit the music to the ambience of the attraction. For example, it would be weird to let the Peter Pan attraction be accompanied by dark, tasteless, heavy metal music. Although perceived time might be reduced, questions arise concerning its impact on the customer total attraction experience and satisfaction.

Fastpass

Nowadays, customers are time sensitive. As the value of time rises, customers are eager to pay additional fees to avoid wasting time in line. The entertainment industry needed to develop products and service that meet these needs. Consequently, The Walt Disney Company has developed Fastpass, “an in-park reservation system for popular rides to reduce the inconvenience of long lines”.

Fastpass allows visitors to shorten the wait for an attraction free of charge. To receive a Fastpass, visitors insert their entrance ticket into one of the Fastpass machines. Each entrance ticket can extract one Fastpass. The Fastpass is valid for one visitor. The Fastpass displays a time window in which the visitor has access to a special shortened waiting line for an attraction. Until that time, visitors can enjoy other attractions, have lunch, and relax. When the time window displayed on the Fastpass has passed, visitors do not have access to the shortened waiting line anymore, and will have to validate a new Fastpass in order to gain access.

By introducing the Fastpass, The Walt Disney Company adds an extra dimension to the waiting line experience. People enjoy new concepts such as Fastpass, as it provides clear communication concerning waiting time, accurate expectations are set, while stimulating favourable emotions of customers who are able to legitimately ‘skip’ the regular waiting line. However, the fairness of Fastpass is questionable. Even though every customer can shorten their wait by extracting a Fastpass for free, customers perceive waiting time as unfair when others can join a shorter queue, irrespective of the context.

‘My Disney Experience’ App

Recently, The Walt Disney Company launched the ‘My Disney Experience’ app offering wait times for attractions, show times for fireworks and parades, and diner reservations. The app allows customers to explore Walt Disney theme parks on the interactive, GPS-enabled map, theme park tickets can be bought on the go, character greeting locations and times can be searched for, and plans can be shared with friends and family. Furthermore, the second wave of next generation Fastpass experiences are linked to the app, allowing customers to check and modify their return times on their mobile devices while using Disney’s in-park free Wi-Fi.

The My Disney Experience app decreases customer perceived time investment and increases customer satisfaction in a number of ways. Because of its excellent communication regarding waiting times and park layout, customers can plan their trip to the amusement park beforehand, setting out a route throughout the park, fully able to spend as much time in attractions as possible. Furthermore, customers are being kept occupied. Nowadays, apps on mobile devices are often used as distraction or entertainment. Lastly, the introduction of the My Disney Experience app increases the fairness of the wait. Customers can look up the estimated waiting time beforehand, consciously deciding whether the attraction is worth the wait.

Conclusion

The Walt Disney Company is doing an excellent job in managing customer perceived time investment, despite the enormous amounts of visitors it has to handle. As they focus on delivering experiences of a life time for all ages, The Walt Disney Company strongly focuses on managing the emotions of customers, reducing the customer perceived time investment. Furthermore, unambiguous communications regarding waiting times are provided through various channels, while keeping customers occupied during the wait. Concluding, The Walt Disney Company superbly manages the expectations of both the wait and attraction.