A Customer Experience So Good, You Get Squatters

by Tabitha Dunn

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Recently, I went behind the scenes at the world famous San Diego Zoo and the experience was so much fun! I was in San Diego for the Next Generation Customer Experience conference and when we were offered the opportunity as part of the conference schedule, I jumped at it.

It all started with a bus tour, given by our smart and funny guide Brooke, and we learned fun facts as we looked at the exhibits. I always love to learn, and this tour was full of interesting information –

  • The “maned” wolf (not really a wolf) is a living fossil.
  • The zoo has a specific focus on geriatric care as well as conservation.
  • And the experience is so good; they get wild animals dropping in to share the living quarters. (If you look closely at the flamingo picture, you’ll catch sight of a number of squatters.)

Rebranding the San Diego Zoo experience

Rebranding for a better experience

The tour ended with a great talk given by their Chief Marketing Officer, Ted Molter. He shared a fascinating story of how they refocused and rebranded the Wild Animal Park into the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Their customer experience challenge started with developing a differentiated customer experience between the Zoo and the Park.

It’s a struggle many of us in customer experience have had to deal with before – how to set clear customer expectations and then deliver on them every day.

The Zoo is a world-renowned, leading edge Zoo – so why should customers choose to take the longer drive to the Park? What’s the draw when you have an amazing, conveniently placed Zoo near downtown San Diego?

The answer – it’s an adventure! That’s right – the rebrand and refocus shifted the customer experience to giving customers the opportunity to choose your safari adventure experience. That choice even makes the longer drive to the Safari Park a part of the customer’s expectation.

Empowerment makes all the difference.

As you can imagine, there were numerous fears and challenges to overcome – with employees and die hard fans. The team clearly worked hard at selling the need for change, and helping people take the journey with them.

Today, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park customer experience changeover has been declared a success with an increase in name recognition, customer satisfaction and growth. I would call that a win for everyone.

I have a lifelong love of animals, and I have enjoyed every one of my visits to the Zoo and the Park. It’s a customer experience that keeps getting better, and I feel good about their conservation work as well.

This experience taught me that even when you have a good customer experience, there is always more work you can do to make your customer experience a great one.

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Tabitha Dunn

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