Volume 41, Issue 4 - April 2006
No one corporation understands the psyche of the average U.S. citizen better than Disney. In fact, the corporate power has built its $32-billion empire by successfully figuring out what Americans want—and giving it to them. No single U.S. company merchandises its product better than the house that Walt built either. Just about everywhere you go on a Disney property offers an opportunity to purchase more from the Mouse.
Disney evokes passionate emotion. For every Henson family out there (believing Disney to be the only corporation to prove worthy as caretaker for father Jim’s beloved Muppets), there’s a Milne family (as in A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, who engaged in a protracted litigation battle over rights to the tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff—and lost.) So it should come as no surprise that many innovations first seen at Disney parks have become part of mainstream culture.
Just as Disney knows what people want, it also knows what irks people. When the number-one complaint among theme park visitors was the length of the wait to get on certain rides, it came up with the Speedpass, the “pre-show” and the “interactive wait,” to name a few. More than a decade ago, it revamped its waiting lines for rides to tell people approximately how long the wait was going to be from particular spots on that line. Disney found that the anxiety level of guests went way down when they knew what to expect and how to plan for it. This idea has been adapted many times over as companies, from banks to food check-outs, now tell you just how long your wait time is. Even call centers have followed suit. Just last week, Continental Airlines told me I’d be waiting 14 minutes for an agent. Did I hang up? No, because I knew how long I’d be waiting—and I wanted a ticket. I venture to guess that a study comparing the anxiety levels of one group of people waiting a short time, but not knowing how long they’d be waiting, versus another group, waiting a long time but knowing how long that wait would be, would show the second group much less stressed.
This, I fear, is the problem with the fuel surcharges. No one issue in recent memory has ignited such a vehement outcry as the fuel surcharges have. A quick reading of this issue and you’ll learn the views of both Dez Farnady and Lyle Hill. You will also get an idea of what’s to come in energy costs by reading “Paying the Price."
Hill and Farnady aren’t the only ones. Why are so many so angry? It’s not because the surcharges increase the overall price of glass; most in the industry know increased prices are not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not that any one company feels singled out. No, the problem with the surcharge surely would be solved by an understanding of Disney. The problem is the anxiety of not knowing what to expect and when to expect it. You can’t plan for it or around it. Every company that has instituted a surcharge can change it on a moment’s notice. Some are tied to independent ratios; others are tied to internal ratios. Some offer no explanation as to how they come up with their charges. The fuel surcharge is a mechanism that will commoditize, in real time, an industry that has sworn off commoditization.
Surcharges can change at any time. Just like being lined up in the cue for the Haunted Mansion, they keep people waiting in the dark. And once you are in the line, you can’t really get out until you have been scared half to death.
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