Disneyland: Why Waste Resources on Things Customers Can’t Recall


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A few years ago, I took a summer vacation to Disneyland Hong Kong with my extended family, a total of 13 people including my 15-year-old teenage son and my 86-year-old father-in-law (note 1).

There were many laughs and lots of effort expended during this vacation, but there was one defining moment. We all found it to be the most memorable and joyful – the photo opportunity at breakfast with all the Disney characters at the Disneyland Hotel restaurant. Let’s recall it now.

Our Remembered Experience is Great

Figure 1 – Defining Moment: A Kiss from the Adorable Daisy Duck (photo courtesy of Tse Chun)
Figure 1 – Defining Moment: A Kiss from the Adorable Daisy Duck (photo courtesy of Tse Chun)

The weather this morning is perfect. The breakfast is delicious; the buffet has so much variety. Then, the peak moment arrives – Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy appear.

Their gestures are lovely and they tease and play with each of us, young or old. They spend an extended period of time with us to take individual and group pictures.

The signature photo of the trip is the one with Daisy kissing my 25-year-old nephew. Even today, we still recall the smiling faces and big laughs during this breakfast. Our remembered experience is great.

Our Actual Experience is Unpleasant

Yet, the rest of the vacation is far from great. As in every other Disneyland around the world, there are long queues everywhere from restaurants to theaters to rides.

The food, other than breakfast, is only average. The play in the theater is neither fun nor exciting. The rides are boring. The hotel we stay in is dull, like any other local three-star hotel, lacking the genuine ‘Disney’ feel.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is small (note 2) with a flat landscape, their crowd control is terrible. We almost fight with a group of people who jump the queue while we line up for the ‘round the park’ train. Our actual experience is unpleasant.

Forget the Realities; Concentrate on Memories

Although there are numerous unpleasant moments during our actual experience, the whole family remembers only the most pleasurable moments – particularly the photos with the Disney characters during breakfast – and disregards all the unpleasant feelings.

By the end of it, everyone calls our Disneyland visit as “a great family vacation!” Whether we feel good or bad is not determined by the actual experience but our remembered experience.

To deliver a memorable and effective experience, we should forget the realities, and concentrate on memories – to focus resources on the critical few moments that customers recall. It lays the foundation for a resource revolution in customer experience management.

The Conventional Approach

Figure 2 – Emotion Curve: The Conventional Approach
Figure 2 – Emotion Curve: The Conventional Approach

The majority of business leaders have been brainwashed by the sacred beliefs of pursuing excellence, customer centricity and continuous improvement. They are determined to eliminate any pain points, efforts, frictions, imperfections and defects within an experience.

The red Emotion Curve (note 3) in figure 2 represents the conventional approach. Companies are working hard to raise the entire red curve higher and higher still.

Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman suggested that human beings only remember two moments of any experience – the peak and the end (note 4).

The red curve dilutes your limited resources on too many things with insignificant peak and end. Customers forget you and resources are wasted. It is an ineffective experience.

A Resource Revolution

Figure 3 – Emotion Curve: The Conventional Approach vs. A Resource Revolution
Figure 3 – Emotion Curve: The Conventional Approach vs. A Resource Revolution

Now, let’s take a paradigm shift and allocate the resource differently by focusing on a critical few and allowing customers to experience valleys. The blue curve in figure 3 represents a resource revolution.

By following the Peak-End Rule, the blue curve generates a higher peak and a higher end point than the red one – which the customers will recall in their memories.

Does it mean that we have to spend more resources? Yes, we do have to spend more on the peak and the end as shown by the areas shaded burgundy. At the same time, we can save an even greater amount of resources as represented by the areas shaded navy. This implies that we can deliver a more pleasurable experience to our customers with fewer resources.

The resource revolution is patently simple: Allow valleys to create peaks.

Allow Low to Create High

Figure 4 – Emotion Curve: The Retail Banking Experience at a European Bank
Figure 4 – Emotion Curve: The Retail Banking Experience at a European Bank

A European bank takes the resource revolution to their retail operations (note 5). This bank used to deliver the retail banking experience using the conventional approach. They achieved neither high customer satisfaction ratings nor positive business results. They just looked more and more like rival banks, as represented by the red Emotion Curve in figure 4.

Then, they deployed a pilot project. They now allow their customers wait longer to be served than in an average bank. This generates a severe valley for their customers as shown in the blue emotion curve. By allowing the wait-time low, the bank creates a high point for their customers.

Without extra staffing but by reallocating their manpower, the bank concentrates resources on face-to-face consulting services and trains the staff with more comprehensive product knowledge and better listening skills and with the objective to spend more time with each customer to personalize solutions.

The resource revolution rewards. The overall customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Score (NPS) and conversion rate (percentage of customers who accepted the next consulting appointment for investment products) have increased. The bank utilizes resources more effectively than before and more effectively than any other banks, by “allowing valley.”

The foundation of the resource revolution is allowing valleys. Without valleys, we don’t have resources to spare for creating significant peaks. “No valley, no peak.” It is that simple. Like “No pain, no gain” this is common sense even a nine-year-old can understand.

Reactivate Your Independent Thinking

However, common sense is not always so common. Most of us are being indoctrinated to trust only data and the advises rendered by experts or authorities; our own thinking and judgments have long been uncalled for. Think of the last time you made a business decision based on common sense and your independent thinking – it’s time to reactivate them.

  • No Valley, No Peak. Now you might become more astute to focus your resources creating peaks. But without allowing valleys – when your resources are still being locked for maintaining a certain level of standard throughout the entire experience – you wouldn’t be able to spare a substantial amount of resource to generate notable peaks.
  • Your Rivals Will Do the Same Thing. The Peak-End Rule is easy to comprehend. You can focus your resources on the peak and end, and so too your rivals. Imagine when everyone is practicing it, you just play the catch-up game and become “me too”. The experience wouldn’t deviate much from the original flatten red curve and is forgotten.

  • All Companies have Limited Resources. To avoid “me too” and to breakthrough, you would ask for an extra considerable amount of resource to create significant peaks. Why do so many CX initiatives fail to get the support of CEOs? Because quite a number of customer experience professionals are so devoid of business sense to acknowledge the fact that every company has just limited resources.
  • Allow Valleys to Create Peaks. Focus resources on where customers would remember and save resources on where they wouldn’t recall. By doing so, you can deliver a more effective experience without extra resources. No CEO would stand in your way. Literally, when allowing valleys to create peaks, a dynamic blue curve appears.

Be Mediocre or Extraordinary?

Figure 5 – Emotion Curve: The Flat Red Line vs. A Dynamic Blue Curve
Figure 5 – Emotion Curve: The Flat Red Line vs. A Dynamic Blue Curve

Strategy is about resource allocation. The effectiveness of a strategy is judged largely by the effectiveness in resource allocation. “Allow Valleys to Create Peaks” is not just a fancy catchphrase, it’s an effective strategy in managing customer experience. It puts your limited resources to their best use, and creates an extraordinary and memorable experience to your customers.

Pursuing the flat red line – eliminating pain points, efforts, frictions, imperfections and defects – is safe and widely accepted, as almost every company in the commercial world is trying hard to achieve so, but it’s also the sure path to drive a mediocre and forgettable experience.

Striving for a dynamic blue curve is the road less traveled. You need to reactivate your common sense and independent thinking. It takes courage to start a resource revolution.

You also have to do the right things and do the things right – e.g. identify right peaks and right valleys, ensure the peaks not valleys are remembered, work out the most appropriate extent of the peaks and valleys, and derive the unacceptable levels of the valleys of your target customers. To be extraordinary is never easy or risk-free. (Note 6)

Choose the color which fits your vision.


1. I would like to add a disclaimer: the “Disneyland Hong Kong family vacation” was my personal experience and happened to me at a specific location. It is a simple example I use to clarify the concepts demonstrated in this article.

2. According to the official Walt Disney Company 2012 Fact Book, Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest in terms of size among all Disneyland parks and resorts around the world.

3. An Emotion Curve is mapped by linking all the satisfaction levels of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes that are encountered or perceived by customers and affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience (total customer experience). I created the Emotion Curve in 2006. See Sampson Lee, One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks (Customerthink.com, 4 June 2006).

4. Daniel Kahneman (born 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory. The Peak-End Rule is a psychological heuristic by which people judge experiences largely based on how they felt at their peak and at their end. This heuristic was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman and others. Originally, the Peak-End Rule was applied to the evaluation of pain, see Donald A. Redelmeier and Daniel Kahneman, Patient’s Memories of Painful Medical Treatments: Real and Retrospective Evaluations of Two Minimally Invasive Procedures (Pain 66, 1996), 3-8. Later studies supported the idea that the effects found in retrospective evaluations of pain are applicable to evaluating pleasure, see, for example, Amy M. Do, Alexander V. Rupert, and George Wolford, Evaluations of Pleasurable Experiences: The Peak-End Rule (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2008, 15 (1)), 96-98.

5. The European bank is one of my clients who had attended the Global CEM Certification Program. For reasons of client confidentiality, they will remain anonymous.

6. For how to “Allow Valleys to Create Peaks”, see Sampson Lee, PIG Strategy: Make Customer Centricity Obsolete and Start a Resource Revolution (iMatchPoint, 2014).


  1. Interesting take, but I do not agree that in order to have “peaks” you have to have deep valleys…otherwise cable and telecomm companies would be on top of the CX heap. What you may be seeing as evidence of the virtue of having “valleys” may be just consumer dissonance reduction. I do agree with your point that we should concentrate resources on those peak areas (the picture with Goofy) and not sweat the details as much on the $6 hotdog. That being said, great CX companies create a consistent great experiences. If Disney got rid of all the bad stuff (what little there is) it would be that much better of an experience…mostly because you are comparing it to past experiences or competitors. Allowing unpleasant experiences to exist or “sweat” customers to heighten the “highs” of a pleasant experience is experiential sadism. I can’t think of one disruptor who followed the formula of purposely keeping the bad in and suceeding. Let your competitors be the valleys, stay on the high ground…and find a few memorable peaks to guide your customers to…

  2. Sampson, your main point seems to be to concentrate resources on those things that really impact customer loyalty. Isn’t this what loyalty driver analysis is about?

    Agree with you that companies shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. Just mindlessly improving every touchpoint regardless of impact on customer loyalty doesn’t make financial sense (who has the budget for that?) and could lead as you point out to looking just like your competitors.

    I would love to see some research supporting this statement:
    The majority of business leaders have been brainwashed by the sacred beliefs of pursuing excellence, customer centricity and continuous improvement. They are determined to eliminate any pain points, efforts, frictions, imperfections and defects within an experience.

    My take: I think the majority of businesses try to fix some of the more obvious pain points. Then look around and wonder why they aren’t getting a competitive advantage because their competitors are doing much the same.

    So, yes, companies that want to stand out should focus their resources on providing a more distinctive/unique experience. But I’m not sure the modern consumer has much tolerance for a “valley” that is truly painful.

  3. Hi David, Bob,

    Thanks for your comments. They trigger me to think of the following:

    1. The ‘wait-time’ at Disneyland has long been a severe valley for customers, and Disney Institute is teaching business executives to deliver excellent service experiences. Why do they allow the valley for decades?

    2. Despite of the severe valley – ‘wait-time’ – customers are still coming back. Quite a number of them are fans and advocates of Disneyland. Why?

    3. Disneyland is now trying to eliminate standing in line with ‘Virtual Line’. Besides its merits, would it have any drawbacks?

  4. Tend to agree with David Fish. Per Nobel laureate (for behavioral economics) Daniel Kahneman’s Peak-End Rule (http://customerthink.com/other-than-that-mrs-lincoln-how-was-the-play/), an individual’s principal and emotionally-based memories of vendor interaction are based on peaks in the experience. There don’t, necessarily, have to be deep valleys – – just experience components that were neutral, passive and benign, perhaps even somewhat negative, or just less than memorable

  5. Thanks for posting, Sampson. Nice thought starter,

    4 broad points, if you’ll forgive my long-windedness:

    First, isn’t it sad that we in the industry always trot out the same companies as case studies, when we should be able to draw on millions of examples of companies that take care of customers and generate loyalty? In my monthly newsletter to clients, I often struggle to think of just one small thing that delighted me as a customer that month.

    Second, I believe that it is the collection of many positive experiences in the long term that creates loyalty – and forgiveness when things go wrong. I once ended up on a long-haul flight from London to Johannesburg on a Virgin Atlantic flight on which dozens of elated but completely drunk rugby fans insisted on continuing their party. When other passengers complained – and suggested that the crew stop serving drinks, the purser said that they sell themselves as an airline where one can have a lot of fun. While it didn’t make me feel any better, (especially since I was working the next morning,) it is also true that they were authentic to their values. Once my initial irritation was over, I forgave them and moved on, because I know that other airlines are far worse, and I feel secure that by far the majority of my experiences will be good.

    Third, I have recently become a fan of the work of Colin Shaw on the power of emotions in customer experience, and he uses the work about the peak-end concepts. But he divides emotions that drive loyal customers into three sub-groups. The first is the group of emotions that elicit the attention of customers because they are exciting, interesting, stimulating and energetic by their nature. They work very well in attracting customers to things like movies, shows, new businesses, and so on, but they also apply to that once-in-a-lifetime visit to a theme park. Unfortunately they only drive short term value and loyalty. Businesses like Disney are great at doing this, but them also have to live with customers who didn’t find it as stimulating second time round, and, because their expectations are high, disappointment of the type you experienced is very likely.

    (The other two levels he discusses are the comfortable “recommendation cluster” of emotions, which work better in the longer term, but aren’t exciting enough to ensure active “do-yourself-a-favour-whatever-happens-don’t-miss-this” reactions, and the “advocacy cluster” which is long-term and active promotion that comes from customers that have had consistently good and happy experiences.)

    Finally, on the topic of where to invest, logically I agree that with limited resources companies have to choose, and a good criterion is the peak-end rule. But, as pointed out by Kim and Mauborgne in their book “Blue Ocean Shift”, there are other, better ways of creating value for customers that lead to loyalty. And the best news? Most of these are free or extremely cost effective, but need a new, innovative mind-set.

    Sometimes being kissed by Daisy is just simply not enough.

    Thanks for a great post!

  6. Hi Aki, Michael,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Aki, I entirely agree with you that “Sometimes being kissed by Daisy is just simply not enough.” It takes imperfections to achieve perfection; one of them is the long lines.

    As Aki mentioned Colin Shaw, who is also Michael’s colleague, it drives me to recall his post about eliminating lines at theme parks: http://customerthink.com/new-technology-dramatically-helps-cx/

    In this post, Bob Thompson commented that, “For many years I spent a week each summer traveling to amusement parks with my son. I loved going, and so did he…. We avoided multi-hour lines, but it wasn’t uncommon for a popular ride to have waits of 30 minutes to an hour. How did we spend that time? Talking, people watching, looking at the monitors which built anticipation of what’s to come….”

    The valley – wait time – did provide precious moments for a father-and-son talk. Doesn’t it make the experience more complete with it than without?

    I’d consider standing in lines for 30 minutes to an hour is a deep valley to most people. Michael and David, do you agree?

  7. Hmmm. not sure if father-and-son talk time would qualify as a valley. What Bob did was make lemonade out of lemons. I guarantee ANY retailer would love to eliminate wait time. Walmart, Kroger and the ilk aren’t sitting around saying “hmmm…how can we make check out more difficult for people so we can create valleys for our customers”. Quite the reverse, they are working out ways where people can self check out..quickly!. How about Amazon One Touch shopping…certainly eliminates a big valley. The only valley that improves the CX are those that we enjoy being subjected to…the rude french waiter…the ridiculous line outside of the movie theater for the opening of the new Star Wars movie….these are aspects of the experience people like…not because they are annoying, but because they create a event. They create a social opportunity…in much the same way that line at Disney did for Bob and his kid.

  8. I don’t know how many Lexuses (Lexi?) the slogan ‘The relentless pursuit of perfection’ helped to sell. But tellingly, I remembered the tagline many years after Lexus stopped using it. Overall, I agree with your sense of caution that seeking perfection in customer experience might not be worth the investment.

    And experiential valleys can make postives even sweeter. As most Grateful Dead fans (I am one) can tell you, the experience of waiting interminably in line to score tickets back in the ’80’s made the concert experience even sweeter. But the difference between that and what I think you are advocating is that the aggravation of waiting in queues was not a contrivance. Absent online ticket sales, this was what concert goers endured to attend popular shows.

    To me, contriving experiential valleys (or negative experiences) as a way to make other CX components shine brightly to consumers is a sort of Russian Roulette for marketers. The negative contrivance that becomes a powerful deal breaker compares to the hammer landing on the chamber containing the round. Would any marketer want to risk his or her reputation that way? Here, a confession: I would not be the person making any recommendations about what to make cruddy. Instead, I’d quite happily pass that decision to the person sitting next to me.

    Many of my clients have conducted rigorous research to understand what prevents customers from buying again. To your point: if you are selling tickets to an outdoor event and your customers don’t seem to care much if porta-potties aren’t clean, by all means, don’t invest a ton of money into making them spic and span.

    But not everything companies do CX-wise need to have a ‘memorable outcome’ to be valuable or desirable. Is it problematic for customers to summarize their product impression without reciting any specific stand-out feature or anecdote, other than saying, ‘I had a good time, and I’ll be back . . .’?

  9. David, I love your examples of the rude French waiter and the ridiculous line for the new Star Wars movie!

    As wait-time might not be a valley to certain customers – like Bob and his kid – who ride on it to enjoy, say, their father-and-son talks. Let’s assume you were Disneyland’s CX consultant. Which of the following approach you’d recommend to address the issue of standing-in-line:

    1. Maintain the Status Quo – although the number of customer complaints, in particularly through social media, is increasing, it doesn’t affect the ticket sales (just an assumption).

    2. Reduce the Wait Time – up to an extent that….

    3, Try to eliminate the Wait Time – e.g. adopt the “Virtual Line”.

  10. Andy, thanks for continuing the discussion.

    In my opinion, there are four types of valley (customer pain point):

    1. Inspirational Pain: By solving it, you can create innovative solution, product or business model.

    2. Unnecessary Pain: There is little or no value generated to customers; customers suffer for nothing.

    3. Good Pain: By allowing it, your Branded Pleasure can be further enhanced.

    4. Bad Pain: When the Good Pain falls into the unacceptable level of your target customers, it becomes a Bad Pain.

    When companies evaluate customer pain points with a more objective perspective and act appropriately, I believe, we can adopt this approach for all business situations. It will be a win-win to both customers and your brand.

  11. To some extent I agree with you but on some issues have got diverse opinion. In the modern era that we are in ,the customers will be swept away by the disruption at the time your allowing to reach at the bottom(in the name of saving some resources).However what is more important for organisations is to look for a gap however small it may be and create a competitive advantage that will make them be differentiated with competitors.
    No pain no gain, yes but risks should be calculatively taken not just by intuitives but backed by both data and gut feelings (a proper strategy).

  12. Hi Kennedy, thanks for your feedback.

    I agree with you that “… what is important for organisations is to look for a gap however small it may be and create a competitive advantage that will make them be differentiated with competitors.”

    Even the great brands like Starbucks and IKEA, they didn’t start with a large Pleasure-Pain Gap at the beginning of their business. They let customers experience some mild peaks (Branded Pleasures) before they can tolerate some moderate valleys (Good Pains), then gradually enlarge their Pleasure-Pain Gap.

    Roman wasn’t built in a day.


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