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Episode 13: Best customer ever

In 2012, Air Force veteran Jeff Reitz made it his mission to visit Disneyland every day. Two thousand consecutive visits later, and he isn't planning on stopping anytime soon. We spend an afternoon in the park with Reitz to find out what makes this place worth visiting over and over (and over) again. You'll hear about some of the relationships he's made over his four-plus years of daily visits and gain some perspective on some serious customer loyalty.

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Transcript

TAMARA STANNERS: Let's say you've got a favorite bar or a favorite radio station. Well, for our purposes today, let's say it's a favorite coffee shop. You go in once, and you order an Americano and it's great, but not only that, they treat you really well. So, you decide you're going to go in before work a couple of days a week, and before you know it, it's every day before work, and then it's on weekends, too. I'd say that makes you a huge coffee fan, and also an incredibly loyal customer, but even that kind of loyalty pales in comparison to the brand "super fan". Now, that's a kind of customer who takes loyalty to the extreme, and that's what's happening today on Relate. I'm Tamara Stanners, and this is Relate by Zendesk. On the podcast we've talked about all kinds of different relationships, but today it's about a pretty extreme version of customer loyalty, and producer Andy Sheppard is here to set it up.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, so everyone who runs a business or who works in customer service, they want to build good relationships with their clients, right?

TAMARA STANNERS: Yeah.

ANDY SHEPPARD: And they hope that their customers will stay with them. Well, I want to tell you about one customer who is so enamored with a business that he goes every day.

TAMARA STANNERS: Well, you know what? That's not that surprising.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, but there's more to it.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay.

ANDY SHEPPARD: But, first, let me introduce you to Jeff.

JEFF REITZ: All right, my name's Jeff Reitz, R-E-I-T-Z, and I had a protein drink and pop tart for breakfast.

TAMARA STANNERS: Yeah.

ANDY SHEPPARD: So, Jeff is talking here with our freelancer, Devon Schwartz.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: All right, tell me where we are.

JEFF REITZ: We are at Disneyland in California.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: How many visits has this been for you?

JEFF REITZ: Today marks 2,013 consecutive visits. Every day since 2011.

TAMARA STANNERS: I'm sorry, what?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, so this guy has been to Disneyland every single day for years. Now, this interview was back in July, so he’s probably at around 2,075 consecutive visits at this point.

TAMARA STANNERS: That is unbelievable.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Was the park closed any of those days or anything like that?

JEFF REITZ: No. Disneyland’s only been closed for two days out of the entire history: the day JFK was shot and on 9/11.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Let’s go for a walk around.

DISNEYLAND EMPLOYEE: ... the new dawn. Let us observe the ...

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Yeah, what’s the first thing you usually look for when you get into the park?

JEFF REITZ: Usually, I just will look around just to see what’s going on. We got the flag retreat going on. I’m an Air Force veteran myself, so a lot of times I’ll go over and participate, standing up at the flagpole for the retreat.

TAMARA STANNERS: That is so not the image I was expecting. A middle-aged Air Force vet who goes to Disneyland every day for years. Doesn’t he get bored?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, I mean, you’d think so, but no, that’s the thing.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Is that where we are right now?

JEFF REITZ: We're coming up Main Street right now. We're coming up to the hub of Disneyland.

DISNEYLAND CIRCUS TRAIN: All aboard. Let’s go.

JEFF REITZ: Right there. Casey Junior’s circus train. I’m always looking around. My heads on a swivel basically when I’m here to see what’s going on. You know, do I see a character I want to go say hi to? We walked past Goofy, and then Mickey and Minnie. Sometimes-

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, so what’s this guy’s story?

JEFF REITZ: I don’t know—

TAMARA STANNERS: Why does he feel the need to go every day?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, I think part of it was back to his childhood. He’s got these vivid memories of coming to this place with his parents, and I think it holds a lot of meaning for him.

JEFF REITZ: I’ve loved Disneyland since I was a kid. I grew up here in Huntington Beach. The youngest I remember is my mom talking about when I was two years old going on Matterhorn with her back when they had the cuddle seats, and I’d have my blankey, and we’d go for a sled ride. I’ve always loved Matterhorn since then. I remember growing up, and my family would come up. Even if we didn’t come into the park, we would go over to the hotel, and watch the fireworks on a Friday night, or watch the old dancing water show they used to have, and walk around the lagoon area they had. What keeps me coming back is the whole magic of Disney and what they’ve built here.

TAMARA STANNERS: I mean, it is really impressive, and you know we’ve all heard it's the happiest place on earth, but it’s got to get super expensive.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, I thought so too, but Jeff has this all figured out, and it makes a lot of sense.

JEFF REITZ: At this point, my current annual pass is good until January 2018, so I’ve got the rest of the year paid for. With me coming every day, yeah, my pass, if you were to buy one today, cost you $1049, but as often as I’ve come, eight days of paying one day you would pay off what you’ve paid for a pass. So, by me coming for an entire year, I've brought the cost down around $1.80 or $2.80 a day, so it’s less than people going to Starbucks or somewhere to pick up coffee every day. In that sense, even if you have an obsession for coffee, and I have my obsession for Disney, mine's costing me less than yours. A lot of people will get off work, and they’ll head to a bar or somewhere like that, or a movie theater for happy hour with coworkers and such. I’ve got everything right here. You know, if I want a drink I can go to downtown. If I just want a Coke or something-

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Right?

JEFF REITZ: Thank you.

DISNEYLAND GUEST: You’re that guy.

TAMARA STANNERS: Wait, did he just get recognized?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, he’s now something of a legend in the park.

JEFF REITZ: Nowadays, I have stuff like that when I get recognized by other guests and get that high five, a fist bump, other people to share the magic of the park and the fun.

TAMARA STANNERS: Truly amazing, and it turns out that it’s cost-effective too, but even if it’s not that much money, it’s a huge commitment and exhausting. Why every day? Was he trying to set a record?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, he says he didn’t set out trying. He was coming every day, he’d lost his job, and he was sort of looking for a place to kind of forget his worries, and he’d come to the park and he’d hang out, and he’d feel better at the end of it. It kind of turned into this thing, like a serious habit, he’d come every day, and it’s turned into this thing that now he’s now actually kind of famous for it.

JEFF REITZ: Some people think of it as an obsession. I also think of it as my gym or a getaway because I can, I can come here and you can kind of shut out -- the bad things happen on the outside -- and start over. Right now, I’ve got a smile on my face because it still has that feeling for me, and that’s the reason ... I never did this to make a world record or anything like that. That’s just something that’s come with it. I’ve just done this because it’s fun. That’s the only reason I’m still coming is because I enjoy myself here.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Part of that enjoyment comes from the people that he meets, and Jeff crosses paths with all sorts of people in the park, but also some celebrities too, and this is something he says wouldn't really happen to him in the quote unquote “real world.”

JEFF REITZ: Even here in the park, I mean, I’ve walked by and wished Vince Vaughn happy Father’s Day, or saying, "Hi," to Kobe Bryant, or Drake Bell has been a Disney friend that we would meet up and we’d hit rides here in the park like regular guests together. That’s just something that’s been special that’s been able to happen here that outside wouldn’t be a general thing that would happen to me.

TAMARA STANNERS: It is adorable. Like, it’s really sweet, but what about his family and his friends? How do they fit into his daily routine?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, I think because of where Disneyland is located -- so, Anaheim’s only about 20 miles from Huntington Beach which is where Jeff lives -- so it’s not like he has to go too far out of his way, and it means he can do his daily routine, he can go to work, and not have to disconnect with his family and his community. Get this: he happens to have a girlfriend who ... she not only entertains this hobby, if you can call it that, but she joins in.

JEFF REITZ: Our first date was here on day 660. It was a Monday night during one of Mickey’s Halloween parties. We came here through the park and then went across the street. I still remember, in fact, because since I like to post pictures every day, I have a picture of stormtroopers and a couple of guests dressed as stormtroopers, and then I have a picture of a gentleman dressed as the big bad wolf over by Astro Orbiter. So, it’s some of those funny things to look back on and, “Oh yeah, that’s what happened that day.”

TAMARA STANNERS: Only like in Disney they lived happily ever after at least to this point, and it’s adorable.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, I mean they’re lucky they found each other. As I mentioned before, Jeff’s made a bunch of good friends inside the park too because he’s there so often.

FEME: My name is Feme. I’m attraction host at Matterhorn Bobsleds and pretty much majority of Fantasyland itself. Seeing Jeff, that’s always like usually going to be a bright day every time. So, if I’m having a bad day, if I see Jeff, I’m always like, “Oh. Hey, it’s Jeff,” and then he comes over, and we're just like, “Hey, how’s it going?” He’s always like ... He’s a bright ray of sunshine all the time. Jeff, I’ve known you for how long? I want to say four of-

JEFF REITZ: Pretty close. I think it was just after you started here we met.

FEME: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve known each other like six years itself.

DEVON SCHWARTZ: Cool, and how often do you see him on the Matterhorn?

FEME: I want to say at least 5 to 6 days a week, roughly.

TAMARA STANNERS: What does Jeff think is the secret to how Disney actually gets him coming back for more every single day?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, he has this insight that I think is telling, and it’s about how the whole park is kind of like a play.

JEFF REITZ: Walt doesn’t call his workers employees, but cast members, because they are members of the cast that create ... I mean, right now we are where they consider this on stage. So, when you’re on stage you act a certain way like an actor would, and all of us guests are extras that are participating in the play of the day.

TAMARA STANNERS: Wow, so he’s found a real place to connect with other people, and enjoy and be part of something bigger than himself, and he gets to meet people and go on rides.

ANDY SHEPPARD: And eat cotton candy.

TAMARA STANNERS: Yeah.

JEFF REITZ: It doesn’t matter if you’re two years old and you’re here for your first time, or if you're 60 years old here for your first time -- it still is a magical place to explore. We're going right through the heart of Sleeping Beauty Castle, right through the entryway tunnel, as we enter into Fantasyland. As you walk through, you could hear the music change. More of the cartoon—

TAMARA STANNERS: Thanks to Devon Schwartz for bringing us that interview with Jeff Reitz from inside Disneyland in California.

JEFF REITZ: Keep your eyes out because you always have her evil, little stepmother looking down on us. You know, peeking through the window.

TAMARA STANNERS: Disneyland has obviously spent a lot of time and a lot of money figuring out how to keep their customers coming back, and a big part of that is how they treat those customers as they walk through the gates of the park. There’s a great article over on the Relate online magazine called “The Value of Hospitality no Matter What Industry You’re In.” It’s got tips on ways to make your customers feel at home and to keep them coming back.

That’s it for Relate this week. Next week we’ve got a really special episode. It’s about one man’s relationship with his daughter, and his own mortality. The compelling story of a former pilot at the end of his life, and his desire to manage his own death with as much dignity as he can muster. It’s an amazing story of courage and family, and it’s coming up next week on Relate.

Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and we'll serve up that episode along with more great stories that we’ve got in the works. Also, Zendesk has a big conference coming up in New York City: Relate Live New York. It happens October 23-25 with a raft of amazing speakers like Jon Ronson, Martin Talks, and Daymond John. They’re going to help you take your customer service to the next level. For listeners of the podcast, you can sign up at relate.zendesk.com/live. Use the promo code “podcast” and receive a $200 discount on your conference registration. Again, that’s relate.zendesk.com/live. I’m Tamara Stanners, talk to you soon.

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