This column, which was written in November 2000, was one of the first I ever penned for SALON TODAY, but its lesson is just as relevant today. Of course, in reading this today, three things strike me. 1) Four one-day tickets to Disney World were $140 in 2000, and I found that expensive. Today, a one-day pass runs from $104 t0 $189. 2) The Salon Association really packed some amazing speakers. And, 3) The little princess featured in this column married her real-life Prince Charming last month.

In a single magical moment a miserable day at an amusement park turns into a favorite family...

In a single magical moment a miserable day at an amusement park turns into a favorite family memory. 

Last August, my husband, two children and I made the requisite trip to Disney World. After paying $140 in admission, we spent the next two hours battling the Florida heat and humidity, standing in a mile-long line for a double stroller, and spending a ludicrous amount of money on sun block and bottled water.

By this time, the kids were whining and my husband had donned a Grumpy T-shirt to match his mood, so I suggested we head back to the hotel pool. Instead, we took sanctuary in the restaurant in Cinderella’s castle—more for the air conditioning than its menu.

While we waited for Cinderella’s costumed lady-in-waiting to call our name, the kids took turns sitting on the Prince’s throne and taking pictures with a full suit of armor. Our daughter, Rachel, was invited to sound the chines as the lady announced, “Lords and Ladies of the Castle, we are pleased to present the House of Soble to the Royal Chamber!”

She escorted us up the circular staircase into a room of stone walls and stained glass windows where a lord presented each child with a crown and led us to our table. With a look of excitement and awe, Rachel exclaimed, “Mommy, everyone keeps calling me Princess!”

There it was. That one priceless moment. That magical Disney experience that was worth all the expense, heat and suffering.

A Lesson from the Mouse

We all know that Walt Disney was a master in creating experiences. In The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre and Every Business a Stage, authors B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore suggest that all business leaders take a cue from his masterpieces to create and market their own experiences. In the following formula, they illustrate that a successfully designed experience includes an element of surprise.

Customer surprise=What the customer gets to perceive—What the customer expects to get

My daughter’s surprise and delight at becoming a Princess turned a miserable day at an amusement part into a wonderful family memory.

That princess today with her real-life Prince Charming.

That princess today with her real-life Prince Charming.

Staging Surprises

What surprises await your clients when they walk through your door? Every client, old or new, already has an expectation of what will happen when she arrives for that haircut, color treatment or facial. By staging a surprise, such as a complimentary scalp treatment, an engaging retail display, or unexpected personalized attention, you’ve captured that client’s attention and engaged them in an experience. And, pleasurable experience has the power to transform an everyday customer into a client for life.

Using theatrical terms, Gilmore will show you how to start creating customer experiences--first in our feature, "Beyond the Brand," and then in January as a featured speaker at TSA Symposium in Las Vegas. His insight will help you set your stage, develop your script and audition your cast. Your salon's client roster, ticket sales and critic reviews will tell you when you've scored a Broadway hit. 

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