How to help a park give you the compensation you need

October 15, 2018, 10:13 PM · An unexpected rainstorm created a guest relations mess at Universal Studios Hollywood last week, where almost all the Halloween Horror Nights mazes are built in tents that work best in Southern California's typically rainless weather. We've been hashing out that event in another post, but I thought this a good opportunity to talk about some general best practices in dealing with theme parks' guest relations employees.

So here is my advice for theme park fans on what they can do to help make things right when something goes wrong in a theme park.

First, adjust your expectations. You almost never will get a ticket refund from a theme park. If the park was open and you went in, a refund is pretty much off the table. You did get the admission you paid for, after all.

Theme parks do offer various forms of compensation to guests after bad experiences in the park. But keep in mind that a compensation is intended to make up for what you paid for and did not get. It's not a lottery prize for getting unlucky.

What people get in return for paying for an admission ticket varies wildly. Some people can blow through a park and get on every attraction in a single day, while others might only experience one hand's count of rides or shows. Parks are not going to base their compensation on a few pros who know how to maximize their time. No, the park is going to start with the assumption that you're an average guest who might have enjoyed quite a bit of value from the park that day already.

That's why timing matters. One time we had to take a child to an urgent care just after entering a park. The details don't matter here as much as the timing did. Because it was early in the day, we hadn't had the opportunity to go on anything yet when we needed to leave. So as we left first aid, I stopped in the guest relations office to explain the situation. The guest relations host quickly issued us replacement tickets for a future day. If this had happened around dinner time, instead of before lunch, we'd likely not have gotten any compensation, since we'd already enjoyed the bulk of a day in the park.

Compensation should match the loss. If a ride shuts down after you've waited but before you got through, a line-skip pass for when the ride re-opens is fair compensation. A free admission ticket to the park isn't. If rain or a power glitch closes several rides for a while, that's just part of normal operation. Go do something else in the park. But if something causes the majority of attractions in the park to be closed for the bulk of the day, preventing you from enjoying anything, then you have a plausible case for a return ticket.

If you're upset, no matter the cause, prepare to adjust your attitude, because you are going to have a much more productive experience with park personnel if you treat them with respect and kindness. Quickly explain the problem you need help to solve, instead of shouting demands to be met. Don't make a scene. In fact, if you can talk privately, out of sight and earshot of others, you might be more likely to get a compensation that the park might not be ready to offer to everyone affected. Even if you're in a crowded guest relations office, if you lower your voice, that invites park employees to lower theirs in response, potentially allowing you to get that private deal.

All the park employee needs to know is how you failed to get what you paid for, and a brief explanation why, so they can decide how to make things right. It might be that you just need better information how to navigate what could be a confusing system. That's the compensation parks love to provide — directions, advice, or maybe even a last-minute reservation to get where you wanted to go.

If there's a big problem in the park, the person you are speaking with almost certainly knows about it, so you don't need to explain the whole scene. Park personnel might already have decided what the appropriate compensation is and will be handing it out to affected guests. Take it, say thank you and move on. If the offered compensation seems wildly inadequate, look for a supervisor or someone who looks like they can be taken aside for a conversation. Again, no scenes. Explain calmly why you think what was offered was not enough to make you even for what you paid and suggest what you think would be more appropriate compensation.

For the Halloween Horror Nights debacle, when I got to the front of the line, I would have thanked the team member for being there for us, then said that because I arrived at [insert time here] and only got to do [one or two] houses before the rain hit and closed everything else, would it be possible to get a return ticket for another night?

To me, that was the reasonable compensation. Yes, the event runs rain or shine, but if almost all of the attractions close in the rain, it's not really "running rain or shine," is it? I wouldn't have bothered asking for a return ticket if I had managed to get through at least half the attractions, as that's a reasonable result from an evening's admission. If the team member didn't provide the return ticket, I would have held on to my ticket for the night, then tried calling or emailing the park later to try again.

Park employees are not your therapist. They're not there to pick up your emotional baggage or to endure people lashing out at them. That's not appropriate, and no responsible theme park guest should take out their frustration on front-line employees. They're not the ones pocketing the money you spent. Even if your effort fails and the park doesn't provide what you believe to be a reasonable compensation for whatever went wrong on your trip, then prepare to write it off as the cost of experience.

Smart theme parks offer compensation for things that go wrong because they don't want to sever their relationship with you. If you're not happy, they want another opportunity to make you happy in the future. That's what the return ticket, the line-skip pass, or the other compensation is supposed to do.

If you're not happy and the park seems okay with that, then you don't need to spend any more money with that park in the future. Consider that lesson the cost of the day, the ride, or the experience that you didn't get for the money you spent.

In my experience, and the experience of many other Theme Park Insider readers, parks will do whatever they can to help make reasonable and polite customers happy. Give them that chance — without being abusive — and you likely will find much better experiences awaiting you in the future.

Need to contact Disney or Universal? Here's how:

Replies (12)

October 15, 2018 at 11:34 PM

If the park is having a really bad day your best action is to write an email explaining what happened and I pretty much guarantee they will give you tickets to return. I have known a lot of people over the years that worked in guest communication capacities at various parks and that is the standard. If there is a major issue going on in the park going to guest relations is not only going to take up a lot of time because of the line and the complexity of each transaction, but the people are also less likely to work with you because they are getting swamped and need to deal with thousands of people all very quickly. On World of Color's opening weekend when a show was cancelled due to a fountain leak it blew my mind seeing the line for Guest Relations going all around the park...just write an email and they will give you tix to come back, why waste your time waiting in a huge line to deal with overwhelmed people?

The worst i've seen when it comes to lines at GR (or in this case, front desk) are the hurricanes at WDW. I think WDW does a pretty good job with communication but people still all insist on going up to the front desk and trying to rebook/refund which is just a complete sh*tshow. It's very difficult getting huge amounts of staff all to come in to work during a hurricane, so they are understaffed to begin with, and then it seems like everyone staying at the resort all goes to the front desk at the same time (keep in mind these are huge resorts) and you have a recipe for disaster.

On a related note i've been going to parks frequently for 25 years and the only time i've actually resorted to the email was this year for CP. Opening day was absolutely pathetic, the only coaster open for resort early entry was Steel Vengeance. The website lists Gatekeeper, MF, Maverick and Valravn as early entry rides, and they were literally ALL closed. And not only were they all closed for early entry but MF opened at like 11am, Gatekeeper around like 2pm, Valravn not until after 7pm, TTD didn't open until like 8pm then promptly broke down and was closed all day the next day as well, and Wicked Twister was also closed all weekend. Now that doesn't just happen they clearly did not have enough maintenance people working over the offseason to have the park ready to open.

On top of that a lot of rides were scheduled to open late for staffing reasons (which I can understand that time of year), but the way it was handled was piss poor as entire sections of the park would close for staffing at random times with no communication as to what was going on and the lines for food were also out of control. I ended up writing an email to CP just to vent (as my last visit to CP before that was also epically bad) and they sent me tickets without me asking for anything. I will admit I was so annoyed with the park that I sassed and emailed them back saying thank you but it was not necessary as they couldn't pay me to go back to the park, but I was really mad at the time (to my credit I did not use them lol). Honestly the main reason I was so mad was because every time I go to CP it is the same nonsense and I had just had enough of traveling all the way there for that.

October 16, 2018 at 12:46 AM

Great points on being polite to get results. Case in point - I know a lot of readers like to bash Six Flags parks but I have had really positive experiences with their GR lately.

On one visit, my season pass card got lost in the park somewhere. I went to GR to explain my dilemma and the person there waived the normal $15 fee and simply printed me up a new card.

This past spring, my Six Flags refill sports bottle vanished while I was on a coaster, likely taken by another guest. These bottles normally cost $25 each. Upon explaining my situation at GR, they gave me a voucher for a replacement!

Needless to say, the surveys I received after these visits were a pleasure to submit. Most of those guys and gals do in fact work very hard and do so without adequate help (we're talking Six Flags after all!) Even when the food / beverage locations have obscenely long lines, I still thank the guys serving me as the situation is not their fault. I make an effort to complement them for their hard work and then watch their face light up like a Christmas Tree. It may be the only kind words they hear all day.

Across town at White Water, if the park has to close early due to weather and had to shut down for more than two hours prior to closing, it has been their voluntary policy to hand out return tickets. Clearly they did not have to do that as the park has a very clear 'no rain check' policy.

So....credit where it is due.....BRAVO Six Flags!!!!

October 16, 2018 at 2:09 AM

I’ve had smaller scale incidents happen to me or my group before and Disney and Universal have been great with fair or sometimes over the top compensation. Treat the cast members with respect and kindness and usually they will help you no questions asked in my experience. I once worked customer service for about minimum wage and was not reaping the benefit of my companies profits but would take the brunt of the frustration. But if I was treated well by the customer I would try to give them priority and as much assistance as I could because it was a true pleasure to help make their day better. I will say though sometimes you have to be persistent with companies before adequate compensation is given.

October 16, 2018 at 8:45 AM

Thank you Robert for this article and valid points on compensation.

I work for one of the major Orlando theme parks and take escalated calls from guests. I can speak for everyone in my department when I say if you call and treat us with respect we will attempt to do what we can for you. I will personally go out of my way within company policy to do what I can for you as long as you don’t come in telling me what I will do for you. Additionally, even if you have called about this issue 10 times which can be very frustrating, chances are it could be the first time I'm hearing your concerns. By not taking it out on me directly will also have me doing everything in my power to solve that issue even if it's not something my department would normally handle.

Remember theme parks are a business and they want you to have a good time, to be a repeat guest and come back to spend more money. It’s not good to have a guest telling everyone everything negative about your visit and what they DIDN'T do for you. When something major happens theme parks might not always have the right answers right away especially if the issue happened suddenly however they do attempt to make it right within reason. Depending on what the issue is they usually will have a Tier program set up based on compensation that those dealing with the guest that they are willing to offer or they have a set blank compensation for minor issues. Most of the compensation is viewed as what was lost by the guest. Did they lose time or money? Some examples are the FastPass or Express for a down attraction that won't cost them any money to make you happy for your time. A return ticket for something like the rain issue in California recently might cost them a little in revenue however they will reap the benefits of you spending money in their parks twice and a positive guest experience. Just my 2 cents from the inside.

October 16, 2018 at 9:45 AM

Great post Robs but I was honestly surprised to see something like this after all the amount of people throwing the word "entitled" left and right to describe fellow members of the community in the last post.

October 16, 2018 at 10:39 AM

I think the word "entitled" was used in the broad sense. The scene of the furious guest that feels that their life has been ruined because of a minor hiccup making a scene at the guest relations office/counter is one that is seen again and again in every type of theme park from locally owned and operated ones all the way up to Disney (more so the latter because of their deeper pockets). So many people think that the louder they yell and the more cages they rattle, the more benefits they will be able to extract simply because management doesn't want to make a scene (squeaky wheel gets the grease). These scene makers then create an impression with others that they too need to yell and scream and that everyone is "entitled" to the same compensation, unless of course you think that your s--- doesn't stink, and are privy to even more because you were damaged more than anyone else because of your specific sob story.

Honestly, I wish more companies would own up to situations where they know guests aren't getting what they pay for, and provide adequate compensation to guests without having to actually file a complaint. Washington's Metro system (subway) has a new program that automatically refunds riders their fare if a trip made during rush hour takes more than 15 minutes longer than expected. Riders do not have to file a complaint or even log onto a website to say they experienced a delay, the credit simply appears on riders' accounts following a e-mail sent the day after the delayed trip. It's an elegant, hands-off system that I think has provided some level of goodwill between frustrated customers and a beleaguered transit system.

However, it seems that the process of lodging a complaint is still a necessary part of the customer service process, and because of that, the level of compensation is dealt with at an individual level. Guests that yell and scream are given the biggest rewards to shut up, while those who are more reserved or simply don't complain at all get little to no compensation. The bottom line, though, is that the parks don't owe these guests ANYTHING. The guests that feel they've been wronged paid for, and walked into a park knowing the situation. Certainly, the parks don't want guests walking away disappointed vowing never to return again, but you can't please everyone. Those that feel the need for compensation in a weather situation need to get their priorities checked.

October 16, 2018 at 1:34 PM

I can't tell you how many return tickets I issued at parks during my career. If there was a legitimate problem that was the park's fault, I wanted you to give us the chance to make things right. In all cases, the compensation had to suite the situation, but a return admission costs the park nothing and in the end, more money will be made as a result. What I hated were the folks who asked for ridiculous compensation based on what happened. Seagull pooped on your shirt? I'm happy to take that shirt and have it cleaned at our wardrobe department and give you a basic T-shirt to wear until it's done. Don't expect me to give you a top of the line garment just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone bumped you and your fries and burger hit the ground? Let me get you another, but don't expect that to get you dinner for you and your party of ten at the finest table service spot at the resort.
If you have a problem, let the park know. You should anticipate them to make things right - but expect the moon.

October 16, 2018 at 3:03 PM

Thankfully, not too many bad experiences at parks. Indeed, often helpful such as when I was halfway to Magic Kingdom when realized my credit card was missing. Called Guest Services who told me a clerk at a Studios shop had found it and it was being held for me there. Guess just good luck overall as they do seem to want to put out a good image of helping.

October 16, 2018 at 3:56 PM

In the UK I think most of the parks now have a "Rainy Day Guarantee". If it rains for more than a set amount of time (at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, for instance, its 3 hours), you get to come back another day free. Win Win Win for everyone - The park gets you back in buying their overpriced food and Souvineers, and you feel like you get value for money.

October 17, 2018 at 3:29 PM

I had the best customer service ever last fall at WDW with my 3 daughters. I am still not exactly sure how it all happened. Our first day at the parks I received a text message from Disney asking if I would like to open up text communications and updates to this number. I replied "yes" not really knowing what it was. We got in line for POC with a posted wait time of 15 min. It actually took almost 45 min to get on. As soon as we were exiting the attraction I got a text from the same number that said we noticed that your wait for POC was much longer than posted, would you like an anytime Fastpass for another attraction. I said yes and chose another attraction. Boom! it was done. Mind you we hadn't used any of our previously scheduled Fastpasses for the day. So we got 4! I was floored. The next day we planned to do DHS in the morning and EPCOT in the afternoon. All of our scheduled Fastpasses for the day were at EPCOT. We planned to rope drop RNR because the girls love it but it wasn't open yet. We toured the park and were within an hour of our have to leave for EPCOT to make our Fastpasses time when RNR finally opened. When we got over there the posted time was 45 min. I told the girls we could do it but we would really have to hustle to make it to EPCOT. While we were in line the attraction shut down several times. We were in line for more than an hour and still hadn't made it to the show building. I sent a text to Disney, "I need help." I explained the situation to CS. Instantly our EPCOT Fastpasses were converted to anytime. I still can't believe the level of service we got! So in return, I did what any good Theme Park Insider would do. I sent a long and very sincere email to Disney praising their service and specifically the two CS cast members that helped us.

October 17, 2018 at 5:49 PM

/\ If your touch point went blue at the parks entrance and they think you were inconvenienced, someone in the guest experience center would text you after its resolved to see if you need any help during the day. I'm not sure if they still do this but that's probably what that was.

October 20, 2018 at 7:32 PM

I have had issues at some parks over the years some were less than stellar and I have not been back to them since. Others that took care of the issue I have returned to on a number of occasions. Disney sometimes doesn't take care of their guests but most of the time they go above and beyond. For example the last family trip we took we arrived at WDW early in the day and went straight to the parks as we knew we couldn't get into our room. We did the online check in and got a text that our room was all set to go. So we closed the park and headed to our room. Unfortunately none of our magic bands worked on the door. We knew our bands were functional as we had used them in the park that day including dinner (had food on the trip).. So I tracked all the way up to the lobby and met with the front desk. They attempted to get the magic band to work on the door. Said I should be good to go so I walked all the way back to the room and still didn't work. So I go back to the front desk and they can't figure out why it isn't working. So, they give me two cards to use. Go back and they don't work. Go back and now it is 11pm and I am exhausted from driving in and spending the day at EPCOT. The poor manager on duty felt very sorry for me. They had already given me some anytime fast passes. She felt so bad that she doubled those. We had another issue that I don't remember now but it was at the hotel as well. By the time Disney got done we had like 10 anytime fast passes per person and they fixed the issue the next day. I think they gave me a special Disney Hotel card to finally get us in the room that night. In fact our girls went on a bunch of rides when the wife and I we enjoying Dapper days (fall version).
The problem now isn't customer service with Disney but their nickle and diming the resort guests. I see no point in returning to WDW with what they are doing to the resort guests.

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