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What Business Schools Can Learn from Disney to Optimize the Customer Experience

“What can I get you, super princess?”

It’s not the usual greeting you get from a bartender.

But this was Disney.

Last week, I attended the 2016 Carnegie Higher Education Conference at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort in Orlando.

After a full day of workshops on topics such as Google Analytics, Data Modeling, and SEO Improvements – as well as an opening session from the legendary Rand Fishkin of Moz – it was time for a dinner reception at Epcot.

The first thing I observed as I entered the Liberty Inn at American Adventure was a line of waiters and waitresses welcoming us with trays of wine and beer.

Suddenly the fact that it was pouring with rain didn’t seem to matter so much.

But what I noticed most of all was how they had anticipated our needs.

This level of the customer experience became more personal with the bartender’s question.

And I have to admit that it prompted a big smile.

You see, I have a milestone birthday coming up this year and my kids like to “tease” me endlessly about how old I’m getting.

So, it made me feel like Cinderella – or Belle, or Jasmine.

In other words, it made me feel special.

And it also got me thinking about the customer experience in business schools.

As it happens, the conference was held the same week as the 2016 Financial Times Global MBA ranking was published.

In a world where prospective students pay so much attention to media rankings, business schools are challenged with the time and energy needed to fully analyze and promote the results. Given the continuous onslaught, it’s more dizzying than a ride on the Mad Tea Party in Magic Kingdom.

So, here’s an idea.

What if we carved out some of that time to focus on creating a better customer experience for candidates?

On the bus ride back from dinner, I sat next to the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Nova Southeastern University.

She told me that there is a “Director of First Impressions” on her team.

So here are two questions.

  1. Who is your Director of First Impressions?
  2. What are you doing to create a memorable customer experience for candidates?

Yes, budgets are always tight but there are cost-effective ways to exceed expectations and provide a pleasant surprise.

Maybe it’s as simple as asking a current student or alumni to meet a coveted candidate at the airport so he or she doesn’t have to take a taxi to your school.

It could be having your dean provide welcoming remarks at an information session.

There will always be times when rankings positions outweigh customer experience in the eyes of candidates.

But if you don’t think it matters, think again.

At the conference, I spoke with Pablo Mejia who led a workshop on “Video & YouTube: From Creative to Campaign.”

As it happens, Pablo is a recent Fuqua alumnus from Colombia, South America who kindly indulged me in a one-on-one impromptu focus group on the business school selection and decision process.

Pablo looked at many business schools in the United States for his MBA – first online and then in person.

Why did he ultimately choose Duke?

He said it was the friendliest of the three leading business schools he considered. Also, he said that the quality of alumni such as Melinda Gates and Tim Cook “wowed” him.

Today Pablo is working for Google.

So there you go. The importance of the customer experience.

It’s not just Disney where dreams come true.