Disney, oh how we miss you.


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As a professional Customer Experience Management practitioner, I have come to realize that while I have a good eye for a great experience, I am also a tough customer. I am tough because I’ve seen what great customer experiences can be, and often feel that anything else other than great is simply a let down. One such experience happend to me this week, personally, and I wanted to share my thoughts about it with you.

My wife and I decided to visit Walt Disney World for a long weekend in the sun given a long and ardous winter in New Jersey. Disney has always been a place I held in high regard, both in terms of the memories it created in me growing up and more recently as an adult going back. Disney has even begun selling its secret sauce to others looking to emulate the “Disney Experience” in their own efforts. Having not been there in years, I was so looking forward to the time away and revisitng some of that magic, myself.

While it is not my intention to use this article as an indictment of poor customer experience, I feel in writing it I need to at least bring you, my valued reader into the experience with me. I will not, however mention which hotel property we stayed at nor will I mention specific individuals’ names in order to avoid unnecessary backlash.

Here at our firm, Strativity Group, we often mention that customer experience is largely about the memories we create. Interestingly, in terms of my Florida visit and stay at Disney, the most lasting memories, the first and last impressions, are largely disappointing and not in any way indicative of the WDW visits of the past.

Let me elaborate.

The property we booked our visit at is a resort with multiple guest lodging buildings spread around large grounds. The buildings, some as far as almost a mile from the main building are in turn encircled by a roadway where the busses that carry guests to the parks pull up. For argument sake, we stayed in building 7, which to my understanding was the furthest from the main building and a significant distance to walk.

Upon check-in the front desk agent with whom we spoke told us our intended check-out date was incorrect, even though we made the reservation. She insisted we are staying for three nights when in fact the plan was to stay for two. She insisted, it seems, because her computer said so, and was not going to accept anything we said to the contrary without first meeting with her shift manager and three other agents about the apparent discrepency.

Eyeing my wife and me as somewhat tired travelers and visitors without kids, she said she’d put us in a nice quiet room overlooking the quieter of the two pools – an adult pool that had few if any kids. She also said she’d ensure my ride back to the aiport at the end of the visit would be all coordinated for me with their airport shuttle and we’d receive our specific instructions the night before departure in the room. She also said that she is the type of person who takes great pride in exactness in detail, which at least at the time struck us as odd, but only later did I see how ironic. I said I appreciated her understanding and help.

We left the check-in wing of the main building and journeyed to find our room to at least drop our bags before heading to lunch and out to the park. I won’t mention that one of the bags was at the time missing, courtesy of the airline but that’s a different story and posting. None of the buildings, nor signposts were well marked and finding the room took some work, but after 15 or so minutes of walking around looking, we found the building, and in turn, the room. It turns out our pool view was actually a parking lot view, which disappointed but did not stand to get in the way of what would expectedly be a good time anyhow.

Leaving what bags we did have in the room, we decided to head to the park. The exacting check-in agent failed to mention that the bus stop assigned to our part of the resort was out of service and that busses would only be availble at other stops, again, a significant walk away from our non-pool view room in the back edge of the resort. So much for details and exactness. I wasn’t phased, however because I knew I could use the exercise and the additional walking would do me good. But again, details and exactness set the expectation and she wasn’t even close.

The food at the resort was bland, overcooked and medicore at best. Fast food restaurants would be tastier, but eating on-property was easier, even given the almost a mile walk from our distant room back to the main lodge and restaurant. In the future off property will be a better option for food knowing what I know now.

The final straw and largest deal-breaker came on my final day there – day 3. We had planned a third day in the park and looked forward to it. Waking up that morning we found the weather changed for the worse overnight and we were having a significant thunderstorm. Going to the park would not be an option and instead we decided to check out even earlier than originally planned.

Having packed our belongings we set out to walk back to the main building to check out, in the rain, for that almost a mile walk. The rain was coming down hard and the wind was blowing it sideways into our eyes. We were getting drenched. During our walk back, at least four different guest trasport vehicles – elongated golf carts – wizzed by us ferrying other guests to and from the main building. Those carts each had significant amounts of open space but no driver chose to slow down and offer a ride, especially given the weather. There was no acknowledgement of us whatsoever dragging our suitcases through the rain, puddles and mud by any of them. By the time we got back to check-out, we looked like drowned rats.

Checkout was smooth and I guess and the invoice was right, but even that rubbed me the wrong way when the agent, following her script, wished me a “magical day”. You should have seen the look on my face.

The final straw? Needing earlier transport back to the airport than planned I asked the concierege how to make the arrangements. He directed me to the red phone on the counter to call the transport desk, which by the way was only 50 feet away. I called and was confirmed on the earlier bus, leaving in an hour. When I got to the bus loading area and ready to board for the airport, I was denied access because I had no voucher. I was simply not given one and nor was I told I needed one. I asked expressly what paperwork I’d need and i was told, none.

I eventually got a voucher and got on a bus. Headed back to the airport and failing to catch an earlier than planned for flight home, enjoyed my final 6 hours in Orlando at the airport feeling trapped and anoyed. At least I made it home.

Now, as I said earlier, I am a huge fan of disney and I was so looking forward to the visit this week. I have such respect for the Disney Experience and could not wait to experience it again.

I wish Walt could have seen what this week was really like at his namesake. He’d be rolling over in his grave.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Marc Mandel
Marc Mandel is a Regional Sales Director at Allegiance, Inc.


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