Where’s the happiest place on Earth? I suppose this is a subjective question, but thanks to decades of stellar marketing, a lot of people likely would respond “Disney World.” Disney properties have become synonymous with happiness for generations of children and adults alike. Part of the reason: They have built a reputation for creating an outstanding customer experience (CX).

Walt Disney himself is quoted as saying, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” And based on Disney’s impressive 70 percent return rate of first-time guests, they seem to be achieving this goal.

Retirement communities, including continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or “life plan communities”), may be able to learn a thing or two from the customer experience successes of the Disney organization. CCRCs blend senior living with healthcare, but make no mistake: There is an important hospitality and customer service element involved in the success of these communities.

>> Related: How Do I Know If I’ll Be Happy Living in This CCRC?

Channeling Disney’s magic at a CCRC

A 2020 article in Forbes discusses ways in which Disney has perfected the customer experience, and I would propose there are a number of lessons CCRCs could take from these principles.

Create immersive experiences

An immersive experience appeals to all of the senses. If you’ve been to a Disney property, you know that Mickey Mouse and/or the Cinderella castle are emblazoned on nearly everything: signage, carpeting, napkins, even the manhole covers! It’s truly extraordinary branding, constantly reminding you of the magical place you’re visiting. The parks take the immersive experience to the next level with piped in ambient music and Disney’s proprietary “Smellitzer” machine, which pumps delectable scents into the park.

A CCRC can accomplish their own immersive experience in a number of ways. For instance, visually appealing decor with a consistent color palette throughout the community creates a branded feel. Things like a uniform design for all signage, ambient music in common areas, and fresh flowers on dining tables are additional simple ways to build a memorable experience for residents and guests alike.

Take out the trash

Tens of thousands of people visit a Disney property on any given day, and all those people generate a LOT of garbage! Yet rarely will you see trash on the ground because Disney has figured out the ideal placement for their colorful garbage receptacles (30 feet apart, based on research of how far people will walk to throw out trash), and they have perfected mass trash removal.

At a CCRC or other senior living community, a finely tuned trash collection and removal process is also important to CX. It is a simple way to not only keep their community clean and tidy but also manage unsavory odors, germs, and pests.

Involve every employee

An organization is only as good as its employees. Disney employees are empowered to solve problems creatively and produce magical experiences for guests. In fact, on day one of new employee training, new hires are taught that, whether they are selling souvenirs or dressed up like a princess, their number one goal is to create happiness.

Similarly, when each CCRC employee knows their role, feels valued and empowered, it makes for a well-run community. Happy, satisfied employees will inevitably do the right thing for the community and its residents, which in turn results in a positive customer experience.

Take personalization to the next level

Every guest at a Disney property is given the red-carpet experience. This is accomplished in part by employees going out of their way to interact with guests, understanding each visitor, and then creating a personalized experience for them. But the company also achieves this by collecting huge amounts of customer data and then applying that learning to current and future visitors.

CCRCs can take a similar approach with their residents. Some simple opportunities to personalize experiences would include finding special ways to celebrate milestones and special occasions — perhaps a bottle of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries delivered to residents’ doorstep on the morning of their anniversary — and tracking food preferences to ensure each meal is to a resident’s liking. Hold the mayo!

Leverage unobtrusive technology

Disney has created a number of tech-based tools to make guests’ visit enjoyable and easier, such as the scannable “MagicBand” bracelet each guest wears, which serves as ride ticket, hotel room key, charge card, etc. They also have free Wi-Fi throughout the properties to enable the use of their smartphone apps for booking time slots on rides, ordering food, and more.

Technology can create convenience, entertainment, as well as safety for CCRC residents. Smart technology tools are increasingly being used by CCRCs for everything from monitoring the safety of residents within their homes and preventing falls to creating virtual events and games for resident enjoyment, socialization, and stimulation.

>> Related: The CCRC of the Future: Technology

Creating a winning customer experience for CCRC residents

There are customer experience lessons to be learned from Disney for nearly every industry including senior living. And many of today’s CCRC prospects expect a higher level of customer service and personalization. Communities that want to set themselves above the competition need to explore new ways to create a positive customer experience, helping to ensure their community is one of the happiest places on Earth for their residents.


Photo credit: Alyssa Eakin on Unsplash

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