Pay Attention to the Details your Competition Overlooks
Updated: Jul 28
After watching the MLS' first games at ESPN Wide World of Sports, I asked Mike Millay, the sports complex's longest tenured executive in it's 25 year history, "what stood out most to you?" His response... "how big the trees were."
It's that attention to detail that sets Disney apart. Coming from a sports background before joining Disney to start Wide World of Sports, Mike fought the Disney Imagineers tooth and nail on the trees. "Why are we spending money on trees and shrubs when we could be spending that on facilities?!"
Years later, after the tree saplings had grown, Mike understood. The trees made the sports complex more than just a series of fields. The trees made the grounds beautiful and gave the complex character. The trees created shade for onlooking parents and offered shelter from the beating Florida sun. But most of all, they told a story of longevity, maturity, and made the grounds stand apart from every other sports complex in the country.
By paying attention to the little details that others overlook, you can stand out from your competition. Whether it’s Chewy, Chick-Fil-A, CD Baby, or Disney, companies known for great customer experience understand the importance of paying attention to the details.
Chick-Fil-A's After Dinner Mints
Chick-Fil-A’s spicy chicken sandwich. Their Oreo shake. Their frozen lemonade. And their Chick-Fil-A sauce that apparently I can buy in stores now…
It’s hard to argue Chick-Fil-A’s quality product. But as Popeye’s proved, Chick-Fil-A isn't the only fast food chain who can make a good chicken sandwich. Despite the fact that Chick-Fil-A is always trying to improve their product, they truly differentiate themselves through their exceptional customer experience and attention to detail.
When it comes to Chick-Fil-A, there’s no shortage of positive customer experience examples. From the infamous “my pleasure”, never getting an order wrong, to the hilarious memes exaggerating how far a Chick-Fil-A employee will go to make things right.
When it comes to attention to detail, nothing beats the “after dinner mint.”
I remember eating at Chick-Fil-A near my office in Celebration, FL while working for Disney Institute. As we were wrapping up our lunch, the general manager approached our table and asked “would you like an after dinner mint to complement your meal?” I was so taken aback. This was a fast-food restaurant, and it was lunch time. An "after dinner mint" like I’m at a five-star restaurant?!
Thinking back on that day, I don’t even remember who I was with or what I ordered. But I remember exactly what the general manager was wearing, and I remember the way I felt when he offered me that mint… “These guys think of EVERYTHING.”
That after-dinner mint was a tipping point that changed my mindset and view of the company. Yes, they have a drive-thru, and yes, the food comes out fast. But this was clearly not a fast-food restaurant. Because fast-food restaurant GM's approach you offering after-dinner mints. And since it's not a fast-food restaurant, I don't mind paying higher prices than I would normally for fast-food.
Chewy's Handwritten Cards
When we conduct customer service training with clients, there’s an exercise we facilitate where Chewy.com always is brought up by participants. The first time it happened, I had never heard of Chewy. But now that I have a cat of my own, I swear by them.
Chewy is a online pet-supply store, and one of the few online businesses Amazon hasn’t been able to overtake. Chewy was acquired by PetSmart in 2018 for $3.5billion, one of the largest e-commerce acquisitions of all time. How’d they beat out Amazon and go from $0 to $3.5 billion in seven years? By an intense focus on the details. Founder Ryan Cohen said in an interview last year,
"It was really just the team and the focus--the obsession--over delighting customers. It could've been any product."
Chewy first focused on key metrics that other companies ignored. Early on, the company earned loyal supporters for their speed of human response, driven by a 24-hour customer service line promises to answer any call within six seconds.
While little details like that drive consistency, other details grab the headlines and tempt customers to try out the online store. One of those shareable details Chewy has become known for is their handwritten cards. Loyal Chewy customers regularly receive holiday cards from Chewy employees. In turn, the surprised and delighted customers post pictures of the cards to social media, creating free marketing for the company.
But perhaps the biggest example of attention to detail is picking up on subtle customer cues. Cues like a customer returning unused pet food. Where an average company might begrudgingly accept the return, and a good company cheerfully accepts the return, a great company looks to understand the deeper meaning behind the return.
Returned food that has been purchased many times before usually means a pet may have passed. So in addition to lending a listening ear, stories abound of Chewy customers receiving all sorts of sympathy gifts. From hand written condolences to flower bouquets, or even custom commissioned paintings, Chewy’s attention to detail when it matters most creates loyal customers for life.
CD Baby's Customer Email
Derek Sivers created CD Baby back in 1998. As an independent musician, he created a website to sell his own music. His friends from other independent bands liked the ability to distribute their music directly to customers, and they asked if they could sell their CD’s on his website. Before long, CD Baby had become one of the largest online distributors of independent music. For more on CD Baby’s story, Derek joined Tim Ferriss for one of my favorite podcast episodes ever.
One detail CD Baby focused on that other companies ignored- the confirmation email. Thousands of companies since have tried to make their own version that original CD Baby letter. Here’s the letter in it’s entirety:
It took Derek 20 minutes to write the letter. It was fun and quirky and didn't take much effort. More importantly, it was a small piece of the customer journey that all his competitors had overlooked.
At the time eCommerce was just beginning as an industry. From the customer’s point of view, that email let the customer know CD Baby had real humans on the other side of the transaction. And it made the customer feel like CD Baby was truly grateful for the order, no matter how big or small.
As Derek described it in his interview with Tim, “Well people would get it, and reply back. Like, who ever replies back to an automated shipping email, right? Like, who ever replies back to Amazon, saying, wow, guys, thank you so much... customers would often reply back, saying, you guys are hilarious! That was the weirdest thing ever! Awesome! But, more importantly, people started sharing it.”
Not everyone will notice your attention to the small details. But the ones who do will appreciate it even more. The little details people aren’t expecting are usually the things people talk about.
As Derek said, “sometimes, it’s just these cute little funny things, that you do, that set you apart from the rest, that make you remarkable, that make people remark on you, about you. So, yeah, I think thousands of people heard about CDBaby, because of that one little silly email.”
Disney’s Music and Dance Lessons
While I worked at Disney, friends frequently asked “does seeing behind the scenes ruin the magic?” It was quite the opposite. Understanding the time, effort and resources that went into the smallest of details gave me an even greater appreciation of the magic onstage.
The Walt Disney Company pays more attention to detail than any other company on the planet. Let’s look at one small part of The Walt Disney Company, Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL. Now let’s go even deeper and just look at Main Street USA, the iconic entry into the rest of the park. On that street alone, the attention to detail is astonishing.
For starters, the street is in forced perspective. A tactic derived from photography and film, the pathway was designed to make the walk leading to Cinderella’s Castle look longer than it really is. You're entering the park, you're excited for the day, you're looking forward at all the things to do. When you’re leaving the park, walking away from Cinderella’s castle, that same walkway looks much shorter than it really is. Because at the end of a long day at Magic Kingdom, you're ready to get off your feet.
Another prime example of this attention to detail is the height of windows of the Emporium, Magic Kingdom's largest retail shop. Windows for the toy shop are significantly lower than windows on the other side of the street. Why? So that kids can get a better view of the toys, prompting their parents to take them inside.
Now let’s look up, specifically at the windows above the shops and stores lining the streets. Disney has made those windows look like real offices, and they’ve designed logos and fictional business names. But those aren’t just a study in creativity, they’re actually Disney's highest form of employee recognition.
There’s the Seven Summits Expeditions window for Frank G. Wells. Frank was the President of The Walt Disney Company from 1984-1994. He died during a tragic helicopter accident ending his life and Disney career far too soon. During his life, he was an avid mountain climber.
Then there’s the Main Street Diary window, recognizing Lee Cockerell. During his time as a Disney executive, Lee created a weekly newsletter called the Main Street Diary where he recognized Cast Members for great service and reinforced the Disney culture.
Most guests who walk down Main Street don't know the stories behind all those windows. And even fewer still notice this notice detail.
As you walk down Main Street towards Cinderella’s castle, on your right is a small, side street. At the end of the street, you’ll find a pair of windows that say “Music & Dance Lessons.” The windows are slightly cracked as if to let a breeze in for the aspiring musical artists and dancers. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear piano music or an aspiring singer practicing her voice.
The number of people who ever encounter that little detail is so minimal. Less than 5% of visitors will ever see those windows, and even less than that will hear the music coming from the open windows. So why take the effort to go into that painstaking detail? Because someone will notice. And that someone will feel like an insider. She’ll feel special, because she knows you went through all that trouble for her.
One of our Senior Partners has a saying, “In the jungle, it’s not the tiger that will kill you; it’s the mosquitoes.” Chick-Fil-A, Chewy, CD Baby, Disney, and other leaders in CX know this to be true. A “going the extra mile” moment is nice to have every once in a while. But it’s not sustainable. “Going the extra inch,” meanwhile, can be repeated day-in, day-out, and applied to every aspect of your customer experience.
Rather than putting all your efforts behind one giant “WOW” moment, focus on creating little moments that make your customers smile throughout their entire journey. Pay attention to the details your competitors overlook, and you can begin to truly differentiate your customer experience.