This week, AttractionPros’ own Matt Heller shared seven key takeaways from his recent theme park road trip. Matt has dubbed this trip as Coaster Nerd Con 2021, where he and some friends visited 8 parks in 8 days. The parks were Fun Spot in Orlando and Kissimmee, SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Wild Adventures, Six Flags Over Georgia, Dollywood, and Carowinds. Matt said it was wonderful to finally visit parks again after he’d been away from them for about a year because of the pandemic. Matt made a lot of lasting memories on his trip, and many of the standout moments lead to some interesting learning opportunities.
Employees often come up with creative solutions to recurring issues
Throughout his trip, Matt was impressed by the effort employees were putting into their work. Many parks are experiencing labor shortages, but many of the employees Matt saw seemed excited in their roles, despite how busy they were. Furthermore, Matt was impressed by the way employees were tackling problems in order to provide exceptional guest service. For example, Matt witnessed an employee at Fun Spot Orlando use a large, sunshade umbrella to keep guests dry. The employee carried the large umbrella and helped guests move from one covered area to another that had more things to do. That gesture is likely not something you would put in an employee training manual, but that type of out-of-the-box thinking should be highlighted in order to encourage other employees to come up with creative solutions to recurring problems.
Employees deserve recognition for all that they do
Matt was impressed by many of the employees at the parks he visited, but perhaps the team that stood out the most was the ride operations crew at Fury 325 at Carowinds. The crew was incredibly efficient while also maintaining the highest level of safety. They also showed incredible guest service skills, recognizing Matt and his friends when they came around for one of the 14 rides they took on Fury that day. Matt also appreciated that the crewmember on the microphone made the experience personal and exciting by calling out the individual team members by name, mentioning their roles, and asking for the crowd of guests to give that person a round of applause. It was a fun way to bridge the divide that sometimes exists between guests and employees. Adding some fun in between the safety spiel is a great way to keep guests entertained but also engaged with the important safety messages that are being shared between the candid add-ons.
When efficiency is visible, even long lines can feel short
Another thing Matt noticed was the value of perceived urgency and hustle. Visiting a theme park in the middle of the summer typically has a high correlation with waiting in long lines to ride awesome rides. However, that long line doesn’t feel so bad as long as guests can see that employees are working as quickly and efficiently as possible to get riders safely through the experience. Even if a line is long, if it keeps moving the whole time, the wait seems less tedious. The Fury 325 crew did an excellent job of displaying that hustle in order to get guests onto the ride as quickly as possible. Matt experienced a similar situation at a busy food venue in another park. While he and many other guests ended up waiting 45 minutes for their food, most guests didn’t seem too frustrated by this. They could all see that the employees were hustling as fast as possible. Even two managers were working in frontline roles to try to keep up with the demand. Seeing that constant hustle to try to provide the best experience possible as efficiently as possible made the wait bearable. Matt summed this point up well by saying that guests typically don’t mind waiting as long as they don’t feel forgotten.
Take in as much information as possible before responding
In Sesame Street Land in SeaWorld Orlando, Matt had an interesting epiphany: Cookie Monster has feet. While posing for a picture with a statue of Cookie Monster, Matt happened to glance down and see that Cookie Monster, indeed, had feet. This seems obvious now, in hindsight, but he had never thought of it before since, on the TV show, all of the characters are puppets, and you don’t tend to see the lower half of them. Matt was able to turn this into a learning moment. That learning moment is that we should take in as much information as possible before making a judgement call. This is true when trying to help a guest that has come to visit guest services. This is true when a consulting client thinks they have a handle on what is going wrong in their company. This is also true for leaders who make decisions that directly impact their frontline workers. It is important to “listen to learn” instead of simply “listening to respond.” By taking in as much information as possible, it is more likely that we can respond in a way that will be the best possible response to the situation, whatever it may be.
Each park within a chain has unique aspects
Matt visited Six Flags Over Georgia for the first time on this trip, and he learned a valuable lesson from that visit. He’d visited other Six Flags locations. Like with those, he was impressed by the ride selection. However, there were a few aspects of this particular Six Flags that made it unique from ones he’d visited before. In one area of the park, there were wonderful mature trees that provided valuable shade from the Georgia summer sun. Matt really enjoyed that shaded area, and it got him thinking about the aspects he enjoyed from each of the other Six Flags parks that made them unique. Six Flags, and other park chains that have various offerings around the globe, have aspects that are consistent across their locations and tie them together, but each location has something unique and authentic to offer. It’s worth visiting different parks from the same company to see their special, local flair.
Empathy and tone of voice say more than just the words being spoken
Another important lesson that Matt was reminded of is the importance of tone when talking to guests, especially if you are giving those guests bad news. One negative example of this occurred when Matt asked a ride attendant, while the ride they were stationed at was closed because of the weather, if he would be able to ride the attraction if he was able to get into the line before the park closed, assuming the ride opened back up. However, the ride attendant didn’t answer the question that was asked and instead recited the spiel about the attraction being unavailable because of the weather and not knowing when it would open again. Matt repeated his questions and received a response, but the exchange was definitely a low point on his trip. On the flip side, Matt had a much better experience at Wild Adventures. When he strolled into an ice cream parlor, he was immediately greeted by a friendly smile. The smiling employee actually had some bad news to deliver. She apologized sincerely and admitted that she couldn’t serve ice cream at that time because she was out of gloves. This employee went on to explain that Matt could wait a few minutes for the gloves to arrive, or he could go across the street to the Dippin’ Dots stall if he didn’t want to wait. Though he had just received bad news, Matt wasn’t upset at all because of the caring, empathetic tone that the employee had used during the delivery. Matt mentioned that it was both the words that are said and the why those words are said that can really turn a negative situation into a pleasant experience.
You can find exceptional guest service anywhere
Throughout his trip, Matt experienced excellent examples of outstanding service at each park he visited. This showed that a park doesn’t have to be part of a large chain in order to deliver exceptional guest experiences. Even without a huge budget to support rigorous training or guest service incentive programs, parks can empower their employees to provide world-class service. Leadership teams need to provide both positive and constructive feedback as well as examples of exceptional guest service to their employees in order to empower them to be proactive with their guest interactions. Fostering the right culture is the most important part of enabling your employees to reach their peak performance. After all, many aspects of providing an excellent guest experience are free so all parks can make it happen.
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