A lesson from Disney in RFID tagging

Graeme Wright
By , - InnovationEnergy & Utilities

So, it is vacation time!   But that doesn’t mean you stop learning about how other industries are transforming – and that was my recent experience.

After 5 years I have just taken the children back to Disney World and what a difference.   No, it’s still the same themes and yes, the weather was still as hot and humid as you expect in Florida.

But whilst some rides are new or updated, the real difference was how the customer experience has been transformed by their approach to digital.

Firstly, the experience starts long before you arrive, with the use of apps to build up your plan of what you want to do, where you want to eat and making sure you have the all-important ‘MagicBand’ that you can customise to your personality.

What is this MagicBand? At one level it is a simple RFID tag that is supplied to guests, but the really significant thing is how Disney manage to get all guests to use them and how it radically changes the customer experience.

Let me give you a few examples. Firstly the MagicBand is your room key (one for every member of the family) which is nothing earth shattering but that simple idea does drive adoption.

Secondly, whilst chip & pin payment is not used in the US, the band is Disney’s equivalent giving contactless payment with PIN authentication. But much more than this, it is your park ticket, your entry to queue busting as it connects you to your booked fast passes on to attractions.

Finally, the MagicBand is your key to collecting all those photos, on rides or taken by the hundreds of professional photographers who will capture memories around the parks on to a single online area for you to take away.

The outcome for the guest is that, as with all great digital solutions, it makes life easy – no need to carry money, no need to carry tickets, or even big expensive cameras.

With Wi-Fi, everywhere all you needed was your band and a smartphone to be in complete control of your experience. As a family, we could even automatically upload all of our photos to the cloud.  The combination of smartphone (With data roaming turned off!) and smart tag made for a far richer experience.

Disney’s use of RFID doesn’t stop there. Tags are embedded in paper cups to enable and monitor endless refills of soda on a daily basis, for example.  I’m sure I didn’t see every use, and that is part of the brilliance – it is almost invisible.

However, my mind, as a technologist, goes to the data.  Once you have every customer individually tagged, identified, and tracked – the business insight and the operational optimisations you can make can be immense.

So whilst delivering a great consumer experience I can see that behand the scenes Disney will be quietly optimising is operations, taking costs out, and delivering greater returns for their shareholders

Clearly, as a guest, I didn’t see how the data is being used first hand, or the teams of data analysts that will be needed to deliver the insights – I can only imagine what is happening based on my experience.

However, I don’t think they have finished in improving the customer experience yet. I did notice that the hotel cleaning rostering was clearly not linked – if you know where the guests are, you can plan the best time to gain access to the rooms to clean.

So, what did I learn?

A few things. Firstly, if it is possible to tag customers and gain what seemed like a 100% adoption – then tagging assets or even employees, where there is greater control, must be possible; as long as you make it easy to use and ensure there are benefits for all.

Secondly, RFID is sometimes dismissed as just “clever barcodes”; this so undersells the technology.  Whilst it may seem like a simple version of IoT, which I would argue against, it is no less powerful that the latest network enabled sensor or actuator.

Ultimately RFID may seem a bit Mickey Mouse, but do not under estimate the ability to enable a transformational change to the customer and employee experience, and deliver significant improvements to operational performance.

Featured image credit Chris Harrison on Flickr.

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