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CX Lessons From Disneyland

I was about five years old when I first experienced the magic of Disneyland. It’s hard to overstate the excitement and wonder I felt, evidenced by the fact that the magical feeling is still with me all these years later. This past weekend, I was able to take my family — most notably my three- and five-year-old girls — to the park for the first time and it did NOT disappoint. As expected, there were plenty of wide-eyed and jaw-dropping moments as they met their beloved characters and rode all the rides. What I wasn’t expecting though, was to have my own personal magical experience again as a full-grown adult. I’m sure part of it was seeing things vicariously through my children’s eyes, but I also think it was more than that.

As I view our visit through a Customer Experience (CX) lens, I can begin to see just how Disney continues to pull off the magic for kids of all ages. I believe there are some lessons that we in the mortgage industry can glean from this. Our question this month: “What can ‘Disney magic’ teach us about curating unforgettable experiences for our mortgage borrowers?”

What Does It Take to Delight Borrowers at a “Disneyland” Level?

Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955 with aspirations that it would be “the happiest place on earth.” Although he sadly only lived another 11 years after it opened, many today would argue that he has successfully achieved that goal by a wide margin. So, how did he and his team make it happen? I would suggest that it’s more than the memorable characters or the high-flying rollercoasters. It’s culture. And creating and maintaining a compelling culture takes a lot of intention and follow-through.

If you live in Los Angeles like I do, you likely know someone who has at some point worked in the world of Disney — they employ 20,000+ people after all. I happen to know the character actors who played Mary Poppins and Bert for many years. They shared some interesting employee rules they were asked to follow, like:

All employees are required to pick up trash whenever they see it but must not bend over to do so!

When hugging a child, the actors must never be the one to end the hug — the child must let go first.

If they need to point to something, it must be with at least two fingers, never just one.

All of this may seem a little out of the ordinary, but it’s oddities like this that create culture.

In a high-rate-mortgage environment, a unique company culture is a way to stand out from the crowd. However, simply being nice to your borrowers will not set you apart. You need to be different — unexpectedly and delightfully different. This kind of mindset is often achieved by a few exceptional loan officers and fulfilment staff but is rarely pervasive throughout the organization.

By contrast, companies like Disney make sure their unique culture permeates every level of their organization. To promote inclusivity and ownership, they call every theme park employee a “cast member” regardless of their role. They also require the same rule-following and etiquette of everyone (e.g., even princesses must pick up trash, albeit discreetly). Whether in the world of Disney or the world of mortgage, culture is set at the highest levels within an organization and often must be enforced if it is to take hold.


I want to share three particularly memorable moments from my Disneyland visit and the corresponding mortgage lesson we can take away from each one.

1. Patience from the Tram Workers: We were very excited to enter the park as we started boarding the tram. I was visibly struggling to collapse our sizable, double stroller while an announcement chirped, “We are no longer boarding. Please stand behind the yellow line and wait for the next tram.” Seeing a cast member walk up to me, I was expecting to be asked to move back and wait, but instead, he assured me that I needn’t rush, then he radioed the driver and asked them to wait. It was a small act of humanity but made a huge impact on me.

Mortgage Lesson: The refinance boom of 2020-21 turned a lot of loan officers into order takers. Even worse, their knee-jerk reaction to someone’s request to apply became sending out an application link and saying, “Call me once you’ve filled it out and submitted it.” According to recent findings from STRATMOR’s Secret Shopping program, most loan officers are still in this habit. Sure, taking an application over the phone takes extra time and patience, but it allows a deeper relationship and greater trust to be forged with the borrower. Human connection is the first step toward referral business — don’t skip it.

2. Exceeding Wait-Time Expectations: It was well past lunchtime, and the kids were getting hangry, but we had to meet Mickey. They were taking groups of 10 to 15 people at a time, and we had just missed the cutoff. Then suddenly, the cast member stopped, did an about-face turn, and gave us a nod. That 10 minutes of wait time saved was a life-saver — and delightful precisely because it was unexpected.

Mortgage Lesson: Regardless of whether it’s a hot or cold market, expectations around loan process timeframes continue to be a major pain point for borrowers because loan officers and fulfilment staff (not to mention real estate agents) have a bad habit of over-promising and under-delivering. In fact, the drop in Net Promoter Score (NPS) when a loan fails to close in the expected timeframe is 42 points. We need to flip the script to make sure our team members are under-promising and over-delivering.

3. Technology That Works: When I moved to California in 2009, navigating a day at Disneyland took serious map skills, planning, and the inevitable waiting in long lines. Today, Disneyland’s mobile app lets you see wait times, order food, view your pictures from park photographers, and even reserve rides. It was intuitive, useful and — the mark of any great app — it just worked.

Mortgage Lesson: Mortgage Point of Sale (POS) tools have come a long way in the past 10 to 15 years in easing the pain of the application event, but the rest of the process, from lender/rate shopping to providing documentation to receiving progress updates, all have a long way to go. As lenders begin to get their heads above water in this higher-for-longer environment, leadership would be wise to look to technology not just for cost efficiencies, but for providing a smooth and even delightful borrower experience. With the advances sure to come from creative AI applications, we are entering a think-ahead-or-fall-behind era.


Here are three ideas you can start using immediately to begin creating a Disney-level culture:

1. Empower Resourcefulness: Did you know that Disney employees are not allowed to say, “I don’t know.”? They must either find an answer or find someone else who can help. They are not permitted to leave someone hanging. Why not make this the norm in our mortgage company environments?

2. Connect Emotionally: The elderly piano player at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe (a place that has two entrée choices: chicken tenders and corn dogs) shared that he was playing his last show ever before retiring. He got a rousing standing ovation. People spend a lot of headspace in their own worlds, but when we share personally and invite them in, we’ll find that they’re surprisingly interested and caring. Encourage LOs and processors to make a personal, emotional connection with their borrowers.

3. Use a Catch Phrase: At Disneyland, employees are encouraged to say, “Have a magical day!” Maybe, instead of signing your emails with a “Best” or a “Thanks,” you might consider something with a bit more flourish like “Make it a great day!” or “Have a wonderful day!” Happiness and excitement are contagious and can brighten someone’s day — make it your standard.

If you’d like to discuss STRATMOR’s MortgageCX program in more detail, find time on my calendar to set up a free consultation.

MortgageCX is now integrated with Encompass®!

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