Vote of the week: Is theme park customer service getting better or worse?
As theme park fans, we love great rides and shows. Many of us phone and email early to get a table at favorite themed restaurants. We queue to meet beloved characters.
But there's one more, very important, factor that affects how well we enjoy our theme park vacations. It's the customer service we get (or don't) from our favorite parks' cast or team members.
Talk to anyone who's built a career in the theme park business, and chances are the inherent conflict between creative and operations will come up in the conversation at some point. The ride designers and entertainment directors thrive on creativity while operations demand command and control. No one wants a creative roller coaster operator -- we want someone who will follow the procedure to get the trains loaded and dispatched safely and swiftly.
But the best operators aren't automatons. They know how to read a guest's needs and how either to find a solution, or, better yet, to head off a problem before it happens. Great work in theme parks isn't simply about moving ride vehicles, ringing up sales or keeping the streets clean. All those tasks are important, of course, but a great theme park operation requires providing great customer service, above all.
So who's doing a good job of that? And who's not? And, more importantly, how is that situation changing? Is the staff at your favorite theme park getting better or worse at customer service over the past few years?
That's our vote of the week.
Please share your best — or worst — recent example of theme park customer service, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading, and for being a part of the Theme Park Insider community. Have a great weekend!
Update: Yeah, I'm pushing the leaners by not offering a "It's the same" option. How about this, then? If you think the service at your favorite park is consistently good, please vote "better." If you think the service has been consistent, and bad, please vote "worse." And if you think service has been getting better at some parks and worse at others, vote on the basis of the direction it's heading at your favorite park, the one you care about most.
I think this depends on where you're going. At Disneyland and Universal Studios I have gotten the sense that, by and large, it has improved. But at Knott's and (particularly) the two Six Flags parks I have been to this year (Magic Mountain and Fiesta Texas) the service was awful.
Too bad you don't offer a "stays the same" option, but your explanation is alright.
When asked where was the best place to eat at Six Flags Magic Mountain, one of their employees recently told us:
It's getting worse in Orlando. I find customer service at Disneyland and Universal Hollywood to be much better.
Of the parks I've been to this year, most have all been good overall. The only exception to that was May the 4th at Hollywood studios.
I am likewise unable to vote because I find that customer service has remained more or less the same rather than having gotten better or worse. As to recent examples of good and bad customer service, I'm not certain as to how Robert is defining "recent." Certainly the best customer service I've ever gotten was at Lake Compounce last month but that doesn't really count for the purpose of this discussion because I went there to do a story and had alerted the park to this in advance, so will restrict my comments to parks I visited without having a specific agenda.
My dad actually had a cast member at WDW yell at him last November.
At the start of the summer I visited Disneyland but had to leave right after the fireworks. I usually avoid leaving at this time but, on this evening, had no choice. I joined the stampede down Main Street en route to the Mickey & Friends Tram loading area. Trams were few and far between so I had to wait for about 6 trams to load in front of me before I could get on one. During the 40 minutes I was at this loading "station" there was a blond Cast Member (can't remember her name) who just repeatedly yelled and berated the guests for having their toes go over the yellow line. Even when there were no trams in sight (which was very often), she was still RUNNING up and down the length of the loading station barking at guests in a very loud, obnoxious tone. At first people just kind of laughed at the spectacle she was presenting but the humor wore thin when she yelled at a guest "Don't you know what the color yellow looks like? And told him to pull a foot back behind the painted yellow line on the ground. Then she started yelling at guests for sitting on the railing around the perimeters of the planters separating the individual car queue loading zones. She was a raving tyrant with the guests and was obviously at her wits end. People started talking about how they hoped she didn't have any kids...or pets. When I was about one tram away from actually getting on, someone came and spoke with her and escorted her away...as guests applauded! The tram remained in place for a few minutes until a replacement for her was put in place. I have never seen such behavior from a Disneyland Cast Member and I doubt if she still is one.
Universal Orlando's service has improved since Harry Potter opened, Disney World's service has been declining since then, Busch Gardens Tampa has improved, and Dollywood has the best customer service at any theme park. Period.
We just came back from a trip to Disney World and Universal Orlando. We stayed at the Hard Rock hotel and the staff at that hotel and all the employees in the parks couldn't have nicer or more helpful. The staff at Disney were just ok. We had a few of them yelling at us.
I am a frequent attendee of Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure and I love all three parks dearly. Overall, the customer service at both parks is exceptional, better than you would find in most situations i.e. retail, restaurants, etc. That being said, in my opinion, one of the above mentioned parks stands heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to customer service.
Visited Disneyland Paris this year. Wow, it genuinely surprised us how rude the staff was.
Holiday World employees really go out of their way to be friendly and helpful. I think it's hit and miss with most other parks, especially those that have mostly teenage workers. The more mature people at Disney and Universal are almost always friendly. And I like that Disney employees have their "passion" noted on their name tags as conversation starters.
I've just returned from a fabulous two weeks in Florida and agree that largely customer service is getting better, especially in Universal Parks.
I voted worse, but was very much so less inclined to do so than most who probably voted. Reason being that most people in today's culture have developed demanding attitudes that it is tiresome to constantly have to put on a smile and try to satisfy everyone. Thus, I don't blame employees for bad service, I blame patrons who make it hard on everybody in order to get their way.
Disneyland in Anaheim has always been a family favorite, Our family goes 3 / 4 times a years, being from Northern Cali, it has to be a planned trip. We have had Great experiences as well as bad. I really believe customer service has gotten worse because the customer has gotten worse. Disney needs to get back to being more selective on who is allowed to enter the park, this has ALWAYS been a family and child venue, and some behavior and dress of late does not show that. If you dress and act like an ass you certainly should be treated as one. Customers do not have the RIGHT to treat cast members with disrespect , and it should not be tolerated, this ruins the experience for everyone. In the same respect, cast members should be respectful of everyone...
In general, I think customer service is declining, both because the average visitor is getting harder to please and because parks are focusing more on how much money they can make and less on how good of time visitors have. It is not just one or two parks either, but rather all of them. At my local parks in Southern California, I have experienced poor service at SFMM (although that's par for the course there nowadays), Knott's, USH, and even the Disneyland Resort in the past couple of years. While not necessarily unpleasant encounters with employees (which I still find rare) I have run into an increasing number of employees who are not willing to go out of their way to assist you and, especially at Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks, unreasonably slow employees (it should not take three minutes to dispatch an 18 person train with only lap-bars or five minutes to serve a customer at a counter service restaurant when everything is sitting right there). Of the big chains, I've found that SeaWorld/Busch Gardens tends to be the best in customer service, but even they aren't outstanding.
As a theme park worker, if you are an ignorant, rude, and slothful guest, you deserve to be told as such.
As a family that has visited Disney World for 33 years now, we have watched how the service at these parks has steadily deteriorated over those decades. In fact, the service this past summer of 2013 was the worst ever.
Eric G, perhaps I should make myself clear. I too notice when inadequate training/expectations of what constitutes as proper customer service is applied and will call out companies for allowing themselves to slide. However, as Mr. Hummel mentioned, guests are becoming harder to please. I agree. People like you and me are the exception as the average Joe will arrive late, complain about the wait times and make it clear that they paid a lot of money and deserve their worth. It is the people like those who make it hard on employees. If guests like these were the exception, then I'd expect more patience from customer service. However, it is becoming the norm and as such, it gets hard to please everyone to the point that a previously satisfactory solution can no longer be feasible.
I have never, ever had a cast member at the DLR forget to ask me if I was AP in the last two years or so (at least where it would have applied). This is true even if I am in the process of handing it to them so it's gotta be pretty ingrained.
Not sure if its gotten worse or as I get older I've gotten more cynical or more aware of the flaws in the system.
I always wanted to spend one year of my life working at Busch Gardens Tampa, SeaWorld, each of the WDW parks and both of Universal's - just to do it. It would be an interesting eight years
I agree with the point the commenters made about the crowds not being the problem, but I must agree that the average Joe is getting so, so much more, and that is adding to the problem. Our family plans on crowds. We factor that in, get up early, use tools such as fast pass systems, and the like. We have planned out when and where we will eat before the last minute. Accordingly, at the big parks like Disney, the service has been amazing. We go to Six Flags once a year, and the service is always terrible. If I had to rank the service (and I have been to Universal the least), I would rank them as WDW, Disneyland, Universal, Sea World, then a huge gap followed by Six Flags. Some of the service at Magic Kingdom has been mind boggling good. That being said, you have customers that think if they yell, curse, and throw tantrums, they will get stuff for free. Once at Disneyland, I was behind a customer that ordered a coke. They gave her a coke, and she yelled at them saying she ordered a diet coke. The clerk politely said, "I am sorry, but I thought you ordered a coke." I then said, "You did order a coke." The customer was still rude, and they politely replaced it. At WDW they would have replaced it with no question, which is the best way to do it, but occasionally the punks are going to get to you. People are getting much worse. Going to the movies used to be easy. Now it is filled with people bringing young children and toddlers to R rated movies, texting, checking facebook, and talking on the phone during the movie. People now do not expect good customer service. They expect a lot of product for very little money. Seen a full service gas station lately?
I can't speak for Disney as it has been years since we visited, but I think Universal definitely has their act together when it comes to employees, particularly at the on-site hotels.
During spring break I was able to attend Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott's. Universal was the worst experience in a theme park I had in a while. Disneyland was excellent and far better than what I remember from Walt Disney World the previous summer. Knott's employees were the average bunch I've experienced for years at Cedar Point and Michigan's Adventure (my regional parks). My experiences at Six Flag's Great America have always been below par and left an uninviting feeling for the rest of the parks in the chain.
Six Flags generally has extremely underpaid employees, yet we are also paying insanely much for food and those "flash passes" that are not nearly as efficient as disney/ universal fastpasses.
I would have said the same, but I was leaning towards going to the better. We had a fantastic time down in Disney World and Universal Orlando. Also, SFGA has not been too bad this year.
I voted worse, but I wouldn't say it's substantially worse. The problem is that the parks are more often crowded, and the staffing is thus frequently spread too thin to give you much individual service. That's the fault of management, not the front liners.
My wife and I continue to enjoy our experiences at the SeaWorld parks over any of the other big parks. We live closest to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA, but have recently been to Orlando's SeaWorld, Tampa Bay's Busch Gardens, and even Sesame Place in PA. And in all cases, we noted how you just "know" you are in a SeaWorld park because of not only how well the places are kept, but how nice and fun the employees are. And when you're trooping around 4 kids, its a pleasure to have someone interact with your kids pleasantly, even when they aren't being the best behaved. Excellent all the way around.
I've been to almost every theme park and I found Dollywood and Busch Garden in Willamsburg VA to have the best service. I was surprised how clean Busch Garden was.
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