I’ve always loved visiting California. There’s something about palm trees, the ocean, and gorgeous weather that just makes my heart smile. As someone who loves nature, I’ve always enjoyed venturing to places where I can experience wildlife. Eighteen years ago, on one of my annual trips from Washington, DC to the Sunshine State, I visited the San Diego Zoo. I’ve been to a number of zoos around the world, but there was something special about the San Diego Zoo. I couldn’t really put my finger on it then, but on my second visit to the zoo this summer with my daughter and a friend, I made it a point to pay closer attention to what made this experience so different and memorable. Here are some of the best lessons on how to build a great brand by creating an unforgettable customer experience. (Take notes: the San Diego Zoo is one of the most well-funded in the world—to the tune of $575 million in assets—and was recently named the best zoo in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler):
1. Clean. Organized. Open. One of the first things you’ll notice about the zoo is how clean, open and organized it is. The entire time we walked around, I didn’t see so much as a candy wrapper on the ground on this 100-acre property. That’s quite a feat for a place that hosts more than 3.2 million visitors annually. I’m a stickler for cleanliness and often judge an establishment by how clean its bathrooms are (I really do), so this one is a big one for me. I also loved the fact that even with more than 700,000 plants and 6500 species of animal, the layout was organized and open enough for us to easily get to all the attractions we were most interested in.