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When it comes to the Mouse, how much customer information is too much customer information?

Jim Hill

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When it comes to the Mouse, how much customer information is too much customer information?

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Okay. By now, you've probably seen that TV commercial that features those dogs with all the luggage at Orlando International Airport. You know, the ad that heralds the May 5th start date of "Disney's Magical Express"? That new complimentary airport transportation and luggage delivery service that Mouse is soon going to make available to guests staying in on-property resorts.

And maybe you've already heard about Disney's PhotoPass. The new program that debuted in all four WDW theme parks back in December which allows guests to view, share and order their vacation photos online via DisneyPhotoPass.com.

And perhaps you know about the pending launch of Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom, the free online multiplayer game that will allow players to visit virtual versions of Disney's eleven theme parks. Not to mention earning points that will eventually be redeemable for actual merchandise at a really-for-real Disney theme park.

Yeah, Disney is embracing technology in a really big way in order to lure you back down to Orlando and/or make sure that your next WDW vacation is that much more enjoyable. But -- given all the innovations that the Mouse unveiled over the past few months -- do you ever find yourself wondering what else Mickey has up his sleeve?

Well, if so, then remember these initials: CRM. As in Disney's new "Customer Relations Management" system.

This is the program that the Mouse has been trying to get up the nerve to launch for over three years. The system that would -- in theory -- make use of every bit of information that the Walt Disney Company has on file about its best guests' spending habits, their vacation history, even their food preferences ... All in an effort to bring about (I'm quoting from Disney's own literature here) a "deeper two-way relationship with our biggest fans."

"So how would Disney's CRM system work?," you ask. Actually, back at the 2002 shareholders meeting in Hartford, CT., Disney President Bob Iger used a series of comical slides (which showed the Snow White family making a return trip to Walt Disney World) to walk stockholders through how the CRM system might be used to help enhance a guest's WDW vacation experience.

Iger explained:

"During the [Charming Family]'s stay, preferred reservations are made at their favorite restaurants; advance FASTPASS tickets are provided for their favorite rides, and -- one morning -- a cupcake with a candle is brought to their room in honor of their daughter's 8th birthday."

Okay. So far, Disney's "Customer Relations Management" system sounds fairly benign. Maybe even kind of fun. Just wait. It gets better. Or creepier, depending on how you feel about privacy issues.

Iger continued:

"When the Charmings leave the resort, they indicate in their guest surveys that they particularly enjoyed the 'Peter Pan Flight' attraction. Shortly after arriving home, they receive a note thanking them for coming to Walt Disney World and offering them discount coupons for the video of "Peter Pan" and for the film "Return to Neverland," playing at their local theater. Later in the year, they receive promotional materials offering them a family package on the Disney Cruise Line, mentioning that Captain Hook will be on board. And, at Halloween, they are sent discounts for Peter Pan and Tinker Bell costumes at the Disney Store. When they return to Disney World, they are notified of a character breakfast that features the Peter Pan cast."

Oh, sure. I'm certain that some of you JHM readers (particularly you hardcore Disneyana fans out there) are no doubt delighted to hear that Disney has this new program in the works. Where the Mouse will attempt to cater to your every whim.

But how about the rest of us? The people who just go to WDW to have fun with our friends & relatives? Who are kind of uneasy at the idea of Disney paying such close attention to our likes and dislikes, our comings and our goings, etc.

To be fair, I guess I should point out that Disney CEO Michael Eisner did tell everyone who was gathered in the Hartford Civic Center that morning that the CRM program would be "completely voluntary and guests are welcome to decline to participate." So it's not like we're talking about the Mouse House setting up its very own version of the Department of Homeland Security ... or something like that.

"So why hasn't Mickey officially rolled out this customer relation management system yet?," you query. Well, a couple of key components of CRM haven't quite worked out as well as Disney had hoped they would. (I mean, who knew that FastPass was going to prove to be such a bust? At least when it came to the positive effect that Disney's virtual queuing system was supposed to have on guests' in-park spending habits?)

Anyway ... Now that "Disney's Magical Express," WDW's PhotoPass as well as the Virtual Magic Kingdom have been successfully launched and/or are waiting in the wings, ready to be launched ... I'm told that the Walt Disney Company may finally be getting ready to roll out CRM. Perhaps as a way to lure visitors back to their favorite Disney resort in 2007 and beyond, once all the worldwide hubbub from "Disney's Golden Celebration" has finally subsided.

The only problem is that -- as part of this new program -- the Walt Disney Company really does want to make use of all the data that the corporation has been gathering on our likes and dislikes, our shopping habits, etc. for the past 10-15 years now. And some core customers -- no matter how loyal they may be to the Mouse -- are going to be more than a bit spooked when they learn how closely Mickey has been monitoring what they've been up to.

So now the question becomes how much information is too much information? Or -- rather -- how much information can Disney actually make use of without making its core customer group concerned about privacy issues?

Whatever happens here, it looks we like we're all in for some very interesting Disney vacation experiences over the next five years or so. With our baggage delivered directly to our hotel rooms and/or souvenirs being purchased at really-for-real Disney theme parks by making use of points that we've accumulated by visiting virtual Disney theme parks.

Me personally? CRM still kind of concerns me. I mean, I can clearly see the advantages of this customer relations management system. You could -- in theory, thanks to CRM -- wind up having the ultimate personalized WDW vacation experience.

But -- at the same time -- the very idea that Mickey has kind of been keeping tabs on me, watching where I go & what I spend, for the past 15 years sort of disturbs me.

Why for? Because the way I see it, Disney stories are always supposed to end with the phrase: "... and they lived happily ever after." Not "Orwell's that ends well."

Sorry about the awful "1984" -related pun there, folks. But what do you want from me? I live in a state where the license plates actually feature the motto: "Live Free or Die." So we New Hampshirites tend to get a bit obsessive when it comes to privacy.

But what do you think of Disney's CRM program? Would this be something that you'd greet with open arms? Or would you -- instead -- be a little cagey about the whole idea?

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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