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Should theme park employees talk about the competition?

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Published: July 10, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Should theme park employees talk about their park's competition?

A Twitter follower raised that question this week in asking if Disney World cast members were barred from talking about Universal Orlando's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. Plenty of theme park fans responded that they had talked about Diagon Alley with Disney cast members, and we've not seen any evidence of a formal statement by Disney to its cast members on what they can or cannot say about Universal. (If you are a Disney cast member and have seen any such memo, please email us a copy! Anonymity assured, as always.)

Obviously, with tens of thousands of cast members working at the Walt Disney World Resort, a visitor likely will find some Disney employees who won't talk about Diagon Alley when asked, either because they feel uncomfortable talking about the competition or they simply don't have anything to say. But as many other visitors have found, plenty of Disney cast members are happy to answer — to the best of their abilities — whatever question a guest has to ask. That's just good customer service.

The Magic Kingdom

Let's flip this question, then. Instead of asking if theme park employees should talk about their park's competition, let's ask if theme park employees should try to answer their guests' questions. The response to that should be a pretty clear "yes," shouldn't it?

As we've written before, neither Disney nor any other business has any responsibility to promote its competition. So no one should expect any Disney cast member to start a conversation about Diagon Alley or anything else at a competing park. But answering guests' questions is a different matter.

When I worked at the Walt Disney World Resort, our training from Disney University was simple: Don't tell guests "no." If a guest has a question, find the answer, even if that question doesn't involve Disney. If a guest wants to know what time the Shamu show is, or what's available in Diagon Alley, it's just good customer service to find out and tell that guest.

With so many guests carrying smartphones, it's simple enough for cast members to refer guests to the relevant App Store to download the apps for those competing parks, where they can find all that information at their convenience — and to remind them to download Disney's app while they're at it, too! It's also fair to remind guests that those competing parks are, in fact, competing parks, and that their Disney World tickets will not get them admission there. (Some guests don't know, and just assume that any theme park in Orlando is "Disney.") Providing answers to unasked questions can be great customer service, too.

Guests won't think less of Disney if its cast members answer questions about Universal. Quite the opposite: it reflects well on Disney when its cast members answer questions even when Disney doesn't stand to make buck from the response. Great customer service is work that creates value for a guest. If you're working only to create value for your company, you're not providing great customer service. But smart business managers know that if they and their employees provide great customer service, their business often ends up making more money in the long run than companies that put themselves ahead of their customers.

So if you work at a theme park, or manage people who do, don't be afraid to answer questions about the competition. Welcome that; embrace great customer service, and eventually, it'll be your competition that's answering more questions about you.

Readers' Opinions

From Rob McCullough on July 10, 2014 at 11:04 AM
I completely agree Robert. The only thing to be gained by a theme park, or any employee, by refusing to answer, or acting unaware of the competitor’s products is bad will from the person asking. It’s completely appropriate to respond with, “Well, I’m not an expert/fully trained on that, but from what I understand…..” then try to give the best information possible.

During my time at Universal Orlando, the most often asked question about Disney was for directions to specific attractions. This was most common at USF from people looking for Tower of Terror. First timers frequently didn’t understand that there are two parks in Orlando with movie making themes. I expect the same thing happens to the cast at DHS with people looking for The Mummy or now, Diagon Alley. Even when I worked at Six Flags in Atlanta, we’d get requests for directions to Thunder Mountain. No doubt they were actually looking for Thunder River, but it was always fun to point out in a tong-in-cheek way the errors of their request.

From 76.110.167.223 on July 10, 2014 at 11:03 AM
When I worked for Universal I would have at least one person ask me about a ride at Disney wondering where it is at universal. Sometimes I would play the part and mention that we don't have pirates here... But other times I would engage in conversation about disney. I worked at Shrek so there was at least ten minutes between pre-shows.
From Robert Niles on July 10, 2014 at 11:15 AM
One more comment about tone: I expect earnest customer service from Disney and from SeaWorld, but sarcasm is part of Universal's schtick, so I don't get upset when Universal employees make a crack about Disney when responding.

Disney typically doesn't do sarcasm well. (See "The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.") So I cringe whenever cast members try it. (One of the reasons why I hate Whispering Canyon Cafe so much, I guess. I hear that they're offered "opt out" cards for table there, now, if you want to avoid that act.)

But guests still should expect good information, regardless of the style in which it's presented. So even if I expect Universal team members to crack a joke, I still want my questions answered.

From Anon Mouse on July 10, 2014 at 11:34 AM
I don't believe front-line employees are barred from speaking about the theme parks since they are not spokes-persons. They might represent the company in the parks, but they are not divulged the company position. They are not trained in conveying the company message.

The issue is a category error. Employees should know more about their own company before they know about another. Then again, what do they know?

From James Trexen on July 10, 2014 at 12:27 PM
Like Robert, I want to hear from employees who work at the parks as to what the policy regarding competition is. I'm sure most cast members have nothing against other parks, but I also have little doubt that higher management would be so against such "disloyalty" that job security could come in to question.
From Andrew Swanson on July 10, 2014 at 12:27 PM
Because "What's good for tourism and entertainment is good for Central Florida."
From 67.8.72.232 on July 10, 2014 at 1:33 PM
I've been retired from Disney for 4 1/2 years, but while working as a lobby Concierge at the Wilderness Lodge guests would come to the desk stammering and obviously wanting to ask a question but were hesitant to do so. I would always take them off the hook by mentioning "you need directions to Universal Studios don't you." They were always relieved to know we had directions printed for them and were happy to explain the route. I always invited them to come by later and let me know if they had fun.
From David Matecki on July 10, 2014 at 1:54 PM
To me it's just like customer service anywhere. I don't think there is a problem talking or suggesting good things about another company. As long as you provide good customer service which will make them want to come back.
From 108.26.52.89 on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 PM
This past January, my husband and I were eating at Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge and chatting with our server. We were telling her how this was our last day at Disney, and we were going to Universal for 3 days after. Our server was very friendly and actually very chatty about the Forbidden Journey ride, stating that it was her favorite theme park ride! She didn't seem concerned at all that she was working for Disney but speaking so highly of a Universal ride. I've also heard from other cast members that Universal expanding helps WDW because it brings more people to Orlando. I've been told that WDW's competition is Las Vegas and Dubai.
From TH Creative on July 10, 2014 at 3:20 PM
In 1986 I was working as a Guest relations Host at EPCOT Center. The main information desk at Earth Station actually had brochures for other Orlando area attractions --- Church Street Station, Cypress Gardens, etc. The only attraction that was not represented was SeaWorld.

The reason? When EPCOT Center first opened the concept was somewhat unique. Kind of an educational park. So guests were often uncertain about where the fun was.

So SeaWorld started running television ads where it boasted that a survey of its guests showed that they enjoyed a day at SeaWorld more than a day at EPCOT Center.

That might have been the first and ONLY flat out "us vs. them" promotion related to Orlando's parks.

From 80.1.218.63 on July 10, 2014 at 4:59 PM
Personally I like the approach taken by the city of Blackpool. The entire city is marketed as a resort. Yes, you have the Tower/Dungeons/Taussaud's/Sea Life run by Merlin, but they also cross promote and offer vouchers for Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Water Park, and many of the minor attractions.

The Florida Parks, even cross-brand, don't have to compete 24/7... People are probably gunna visit more than one. Having em all there makes them more attractive to visit.

From 69.149.253.66 on July 10, 2014 at 6:51 PM
I don't have a problem if they talk about another park. Obviously, when I go to Orlando, I will always go to Disney and Universal. If i were in management, however, I would have guidelines for how it is done, since you can have some extremely rude guests at theme parks. First off, they all have to know that the big two really are not competing. They aren't. Diagon Alley will bring people to Orlando who might not otherwise gone, and they will stop at Disney. When Disney finally stops resting on their laurels and builds a Star Wars Land, or, even more intelligently, an entire Star Wars park, it will bring people to Universal as well.
From Tony Duda on July 10, 2014 at 7:17 PM
Sounds like "Miracle on 34th Street" when Santa started telling the kids where to find a toy if Macy's didn't have it. Word of mouth made Macy's extra popular because of their customer service.
From 174.63.171.24 on July 11, 2014 at 1:59 AM
I'm pretty sure Disney management doesn't mind if cast members answer questions about other parks.
Disney is, at least for the moment, secure in their position.

People who want to go to Disney are going to go to Disney, and many people who want to come see Harry Potter are going to try to at least go to the Magic Kingdom for a day. This could be a whole new thread, but I think Harry Potter is the main reason MK tickets cost more now, and a big contributing factor to the crowds at MK being bigger than ever. HP is drawing people to Orlando that Disney alone does not entice, and they are spending a day at Disney since they are already here.

I think this article by TH from 2010 still holds true today:

http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201005/1907/

An interesting side note, Disneyland's website actually has links and info about all of the other theme parks in Southern California. (except Six Flags. Maybe the don't want to be liable for gangs you may encounter there?)

Oh yeah, to me, Universal's "shtick" about Disney comes off as Universal having a major inferiority complex.
You will not find Disney writing jokes about Universal into their official spiels. As the old proverb goes, the eagle does not hunt flies.

From 71.203.93.119 on July 11, 2014 at 7:25 AM
As a cast member, I RARELY add comments to these kind of boards. However, this is such a basic and obvious thing that I think it's pretty safe for me to publicly say that to my knowledge there is really no policy regarding not being allowed to talk about Universal and Sea World (and I work in a position where we do it a lot). Obviously we promote our own attractions first and the marketing strategy in Florida is for Disney to be your entire trip (from before you arrive, to the free ride from the airport, to the dining plan etc.), but we are more than happy to assist you with what you need to get to Universal and Sea World, Kennedy Space Center, Legoland, the beach....whatever you want...and find basic information for you (particularly at guest relations or concierge type roles), and have conversations with you about how much fun you had (and we ourselves have had) in the Wizarding World.
Also we're more than happy to clarify for you that Disney does not own Universal, you cannot use fastpass+ there, we don't have a free bus there, your Disney park hopper ticket will not get you in there, and that Harry Potter and Frozen will not be at the same park, and that Universal Studios and Disney's Hollywood Studios are not the same thing. We'll get you all sorted out on what's where and how it all works. And we'll get you pointed in the direction of what you need to enjoy attractions outside of Disney if you wish.

We'd just be jerks otherwise.

From 68.202.50.216 on July 11, 2014 at 8:14 PM
When I was going through Traditions, and this was many years ago, there is one thing I always remember from that day. The facilitator told use to look at the red line around our name tag. Yep that's how long ago it was :) and to look closely. He said if you look close enough you will find movie times at Pleasure Island, how to get to OIA, the operating time for Universal Studios directions to Kennedy Space Center, etc. it was his way of telling us that as Disney Cast Members you represent the best in guest service, and that meant knowing about everything even if it's not Disney related. So they did encourage us to help the guest to the best of our ability. What mattered was helping the guest and while you may answer a question not related to Disney parks you are showing them that you want to help. As someone who has worked for 2 different theme park companies I find that Cast and Team Members generally support each other because hey we're in this industry together and it's fun to share stories and experiences. I have had guests ask me " oh you must hate Disney" all because I'm wearing a Universal name tag. I tell them, actually I enjoy Disney. And I enjoy Universal. I also enjoy Seaworld and Busch Gardens. These are all fun places so why not enjoy all the Central Florida parks have to offer :)
From 173.227.104.102 on July 12, 2014 at 6:38 AM
As a Universal employee, this comment upset me:

"Oh yeah, to me, Universal's "shtick" about Disney comes off as Universal having a major inferiority complex.
You will not find Disney writing jokes about Universal into their official spiels. As the old proverb goes, the eagle does not hunt flies."

There is no inferiority complex. We are quite aware that we are not Disney and that Disney is larger and draws more people, for now.

Our "shtick" is that we are not forced to be overly happy, but we are hired based on who we are and not who we could be molded into. We are not written up or talked to by our supervisors for not smiling enough. Several employees at Universal also work at Disney and have all sorts of stories about both parks, maybe one will write in and comment! I am looking forward to hearing back to what official spiel this person is speaking about. The only thing I can think of is the Horror Make-Up Show where they say: "I don't have to be nice to children. This isn't Disney." But that is a script and not a spiel. Plus, it is super funny.

None of what we say to our Guests is scripted, we are encouraged to find out information and help the Guest as best as we can, which often includes information about Disney.

The eagle does not hunt flies... huh. Maybe this is more of an inflated ego issue on Disney's behalf (or more likely the individual who wrote this.) Last I checked the Universal fly has grown quite large and is currently gaining altitude behind said eagle. Not wise for this eagle to ignore that fly.

Personally, I do not see the two parks as comparable. It is not a Coke vs Pepsi scenario, but more like Coke vs Dr Pepper. I am constantly talking to Guests about Disney and I give them my opinions on things there as I am familiar with the parks as a Disney annual pass holder. Just always preface it by saying "this is my opinion". Be honest and be yourself, the Guest appreciates that more than if you are fake.

From 68.204.154.103 on July 13, 2014 at 7:20 AM
I work for the SeaWorld call center. We are not supposed to "promote" the competition but we are expected to provide good customer service by answering basic questions about it. A lot of guests will confuse Busch Gardens with Animal Kingdom or especially Adventure Island/Islands of Adventure. Of course I will try to gently steer the guest towards visiting the SeaWorld family of parks (job security) but I don't mind giving info or opinions on the other parks if I know it will help the guest have a better experience in Orlando overall. Good experiences mean return visits!

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