Leading By the Nose
Leading by the Nose For now, the most visible manifestation of the new strategy is a 10 1/2-inch-tall stuffed doll called Pal Mickey. With a powerful infrared sensor in its nose, the doll acts as a virtual tour guide, providing tips on which rides have the shortest lines and information on events. How does it work? A zipper in its fur conceals a central processing unit, an internal clock, small speakers and a tiny infrared sensor. When the doll is carried into the park, the sensor receives a wireless data upload from one of the 500 infrared beacons concealed in park lampposts, rooftops and bushes, which transmit information from a Disney data center. The signals let Pal Mickey know that its time to "tell you a secret," says Bruce Vaughn, who led the Disney R&D team that developed the dolls prototype. When the doll receives a new piece of information from a nearby beacon, it giggles and vibrates to indicate that it has something new to say. Squeeze its hand or stomach and it will tell you about an upcoming parade, a shorter line at another ride, or trivia about the area of the park youre walking through. With more than 700 prerecorded message variations, Pal Mickey always has something to say, whether its telling a child a corny joke or keeping kids entertained with interactive games while they wait in line. The product was designed for kids, says Michael Colglazier, vice president of operations strategy and technology at Walt Disney World, but "when we tried it out on kids in test research, theyd hear Mickey, and then theyd put him up to their moms or dads ear." Vaughn says Pal Mickey also tested favorably on a majority of adults "because suddenly they felt some of the pressure being lifted of having to know everything [about the parks] and make sure they werent missing anything."
Technologists speak of Pal Mickey as an experiment in bridging the gap between static data about a customer and the customers dynamic behavioral preferences, which depend on the customers physical location and movements at any given time. In other words, its all about dynamically matching data with contexta new concept and the next big development in the evolution of CRM, in the view of futurist Paul Saffo, research director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., a technology think tank. C.K. Prahalad, the Harvey C. Fruehauf Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan Business School and coauthor of The Future of Competition (due out in January from Harvard Business School Press), agrees. "Disney is experimenting with a customer strategy that goes beyond todays CRM," he says, "using not just the data, but data in the context of individual customer behavior."