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Harry Potter and the Exceptional Customer Experience

It’s no secret in the office that I’m a Harry Potter fanatic. I’ve read all the books. I’ve seen all the movies. My Spotify is stacked with all seven soundtracks. Needless to say, it came as no surprise when I took a couple days off to head to Orlando and witness the magic for myself. What I came away with was more valuable than any ( over-priced ) souvenir I could’ve purchased.

As a User Experience/Customer Experience designer, I’m constantly analyzing day-to-day experiences, digital and non-digital, to translate the successes and avoid the failures within my own UX work. So, naturally, I approached the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWOHP) with the same mentality. It did not disappoint. To say that the park is wildly successful is an understatement. Since the opening of Hogsmede in 2012, park profits have more than doubled and the attendance has increased more than 30%. In a perfect world, all digital experiences would produce results of that stature. But how do they do it? And, more importantly, how can we do it?

In an NPR article regarding the projected success of the park, Duncan Dickson, professor of park management at University of Central Florida, insists that it’s all about “guestology” — studying what people want and giving it to them.

While user experience hopefully involves a little more strategy than simply giving people what they want, it’s not far off.

1. Create a silver-lining for your customers.

Every experience is going to have it’s buzz killers, whether is waiting in line for a ride or waiting for a page to load. Finding ways to turn these unpleasantries into unexpected enjoyments can go a long way in customer satisfaction. At WWOHP, with wait times up to an hour, lengthly lines in the Florida heat could be a scene of utter misery. However, twas not the case. Not only were industrial size fans and misters positioned in all outdoor waiting areas, but the lines often weaved through miscellaneous rooms each with interactive elements to keep the patient guests entertained. Before you know it, you’re on the ride and busting out of Gringotts by the skin of your muggle teeth.

Similarly, slow page load or download is sometimes an unavoidable annoyance. And let me tell you, website users are not going to wait anywhere close to an hour for content to load, no matter how magical the content may be. But those few seconds of loading boredom can be an opportunity for a little fun. Take 37Signals for example. During the download of their Highrise iOS app, users can play Tic Tac Toe against the computer. A thoughtful and effective way to leverage a typically dull point in a user’s experience.

2. Delightful e-commerce details make a world of difference.

Taking the time to get the details right is a huge factor in a successful experience. The Diagon Alley shop replicas look amazing, there’s no doubting that — but that’s not what the guests are buzzing about. You hear the big “Ooooh's" and “Aaaah's" when they notice that the Leaky Cauldron sign actually leaks or when you catch a glimpse of the house elf, Kreacher, peak out of the window when passing 12 Grimmauld Place. Alan Gilmore, the Art Director for both the Potter films and park, was quoted in an NPR article stating “I want people to walk in here and experience every level of detail… I want them to think, ‘My gosh, I’ve been transported to another time.’”

When designing a website, taking the time to go the extra mile and achieve that same level of detail can ignite a similar enthusiasm from users. For example, let’s take a look at Tiffany & Co. They’re obviously having no problem selling diamond jewelry. However, selling diamond rings for well over $10,000 online presents a different challenge. An impeccable reputation and a lovely, well-branded site can only get you so far. That’s where the details come in. In this instance, a diamond ring product page looks similar to what you would expect, upholding most UX best-practices. But the tid-bit that customers really appreciate is the ability to see the ring on a woman’s hand in various skin tones. It’s a small detail that allows the customer to get a realistic visual of what it might look like on their own hand. Touché, Tiff.

3. Bridge the gap between online and in-person.

When Universal Studios took on the challenge of bringing the WWOHP to life, there was one major obstacle: (spoiler alert) magic isn’t real. Sorry, David Blane. So how would they go about selling the magical experience and transform a bunch of muggles into wand-waving witches and wizards? Well, they did. Simply walk into any of the dozens of shops and you’ll see a stack of interactive wands waiting to choose their owners. At various marked locations, waving an interactive wand in a specified motion will initiate some sort of magical happening. That single feature turns guests from spectators into participants. No more pretending. No more “close your eyes and imagine”.

The same challenge faces UX designers every single day, particularly in the e-comm world. Selling products online requires UX strategists to create solutions that bridge the gap between just looking at a product on a screen and experiencing the product first hand. It’s crucial to offer as many avenues as possible for a customer to experience a product, whether that’s through product reviews, a wide variety of product imagery, detailed product descriptions, videos, etc. It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, goal of an e-comm site. The quality of digital experience directly influences the quantity of online sales.

A great example of an e-comm site that successfully conquers this obstacle is Anthropolgie. Not only does the site serve as a perfectly-aligned extension of their brand (hello, omnichannel!), but their product pages equip their customers with everything they need to eliminate skepticism. A wide variety of product imagery, both lifestyle and silhouetted, along with customer provided Instagram photos give the user both aspirational and realistic understanding of the product. To further that understanding, users can rely on the customer reviews which are easily accessible, not hidden behind a link, and include the author's age, height, and weight. This allows users to gauge and compare relate-ability between themselves and the review.

They say that you learn something new everyday. I believe that. Was I expecting to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and come away learning more about my own work? Nope. But when you take the time to open your eyes and look around, you can make some direct correlations than you’d never expect. Some of which, you can learn from. Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and arguably the best wiz of all time, once said “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy”. So when it comes to creating digital experiences, do what’s right. Go the extra mile to make it magical for your user. It might require more time, more money, and more effort, but it’s guaranteed to pay off in the long run — for everyone involved!