P&G, in moving into services, can learn lessons from Disney

I read with interest the recent HBR Editors’ Blog posting speculating on the difficulties Procter & Gamble might run into in its effort to create a chain of car wash franchises, called Mr. Clean Performance Car Wash.

When I read the post, written by marketing professors Neeli Bendapudi, Randle D. Raggio and Tassu Shervani, we were in the midst of a vacation in Orlando, Florida, at the various Disney parks. So, the connection between what P&G is trying to do now and what Walt Disney kicked off some fifty years ago came to me instantly.

The upshot of the HBR post is that product and services businesses are dramatically different, in particular the need for a service business to deliver an experience over and over again, consistently and of high quality, despite the innate variability of people, locations and customers.

With this in mind I monitored my Disney experience for the rest of the week for lessons that could help P&G.

  1. Brand gets people to try your service; blocking and tackling gets them to return. The Disney properties flaunt the characters, movies and TV shows at every turn. Yet after an hour at the park, you notice that trash cans are always close by, so that if you have an empty cup or candy wrapper, you don’t end up holding it for more than a few seconds before finding a place to discard it. As a result, the park is exceptionally clean for a place holding tens of thousands of guests.
  2. No detail is too small. Kids are royalty at Disney (a significant differentiator compared to most places where they are seen as messy, noisy attention-seekers–which, of course, they are). The bag checkers, waitresses, salespeople–in short, every “cast member” we encountered–took special care of our kids.
  3. Consistency reduces stress. Each of the four Disney parks we visited had a similar parking scheme, shuttle bus protocal, and entry design. Which meant there was very little standing around head-scratching and wondering which gate to go through or which bus to board.
  4. Customer recognition builds loyalty. Everywhere in the parks I saw guests wearing buttons saying “My First Time!” or “It’s My Birthday Today!” These simple gestures to recognize guests made their experiences special, built warm memories, and encouraged them to return.

I’m rooting for P&G in their Mr. Clean car wash project. The above lessons are like much good advice–easy to understand, hard to implement. Whether P&G can execute, and the marketplace and the economy cooperate, only time will tell.

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