Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Customer Service Case Study: A Nightmare at Disneyland!!

Posted By: George Deeb - 12/30/2015


& Comment

The plaque at the entrance of Disneyland in California reads: "Here you leave today, and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy".  The very core of the Disneyland brand has been to take you to that fun and magical place.  Our recent family trip to Disneyland was anything but fun and magical.  It was more a page out of a Freddie Krueger horror story.  And, if Walt Disney could see all the corporate greed for maximizing money making, at the expense of a fun user experience, he would surely be turning in his grave.  Below is a summary of our experience, and lessons for us all to learn for delivering a world-class customer experience (or not!!).


You know you are not off to a good start, when despite arriving an hour before opening, you still have to wait an hour just to park your car.  The flow from the highway exit to the lot was bumper to bumper for about a mile, and when you finally arrived at the pay booth, six lanes merged down to one lane in a chaotic mess.  It was like Disneyland had never had to deal with parking flow issues in their sixty year history before.


The average person can walk at around three miles an hour; we were lucky if we were walking one mile an hour.  It was so overcrowded in the park, you felt like you were part of a herd of cattle being lead to the slaughter.  You should never feel like waiting in lines for the rides, was actually a reprieve from the chaos of walking through the park itself.


Disneyland prides itself on how well-designed its park is, with "invisible" operations behind the scenes.  But, to me, the "visible" part of the park, was very poorly designed to handle large volumes of crowds.  There were so many "pinch points", where a wide walkways narrowed down to a thin walkway, creating crazy bottlenecks.  And, there were many "dead ends", where you needed to reverse direction back through crazy crowds, to get where you thought you were originally heading (based on very poor signage).


There are around eight main sections of Disneyland, each with a main ride therein.  In a good user experience, in a 9-5 day, you should be able to ride each of the eight main rides in an eight hour day, with no more than an hour wait for any one ride.  Wait times were approaching two hours on many of the rides, which means the visitors were only able to experience around half of the rides offered.  Fun is enjoying the rides, not waiting in lines for the rides.


I like the concept of a Fast Pass, to get a set reservation time to avoid a busy line.  But, the fails were many here: (1) you can't set reservations anywhere but the ride area, which means you need to battle crowds and wait in lines just to get your Fast Pass; (2) you are limited to one Fast Pass reservation every two hours, which reasonably means you only get a couple chances to use it per day; and (3) if you don't return in your slotted time, you lose your reservation (and many people were missing their one hour reservation time window because the crowds were so bad to get back to that part of the park in time).


I love marching bands as much as anyone, but there is a time and place.  You should not close down the main foot traffic walkways of the park, to accommodate marching bands on the busiest days of the park.  That takes a slow user experience, down to a crawl.  If you want bands, put them on the main stage at the entrance of the park, where they won't impede foot traffic flow during your peak times.


When it is lunch time, around noon, and you can't get food for your kids until after an hour or two of waiting in long lines, there is a major problem.  And, when you finally get your food, and there are no empty tables for you to sit down and enjoy your meal, that just compounds the problem.  And, when you find the one open restaurant in the park with 20-30 open tables, and you are are turned away because you didn't have a pre-booked reservation (which many people missed due to crowds impeding foot traffic) is just plain stupid.

I understand the Disneyland amusement park experience has been in our country's core DNA since 1955, or over 60 years now.  That is around three generations worth of families that have taken their families to the Magic Kingdom for that break away from reality and to fantasy.  But, when that experience has become more of a nightmare, at the rapidly growing entry cost of $100 per person (and easily double that with parking, food and souvenirs), maybe it is time for the country to have a new family tradition.

Perhaps that is visiting any one of our 59 national parks, where the experience is equally spectacular, the land is plentiful and you won't be cattle-herded up against 65,000 other travelers.  Or, if amusement parks is a must, there are scores of them across the country--take your hard earned money to other parks that better respect your user experience.  For example, we visited Universal Studios in Hollywood, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo that same week we visited Disneyland, and they were delightful in comparison.

Anyway, take these business lessons to heart: (1) don't mis-serve your customers in delivering a poor user experience (regardless of how much money you can make); and (2) don't take your history and customer loyalty for granted (you never know when they will hit their breaking point and take their family and money elsewhere).  Disneyland should have capped their user maximum at a much lower level to preserve a better user experience (even if they needed to raise prices to enable that).

I know I will never go back to Disneyland after this recent experience, and I recommend you don't make the same mistake I made: trusting our once-in-a-lifetime family experience to Disney (did I really just say that??!!).  I am sure Walt and the brand team at Disney are cringing as those very words are leaving my mouth, as it is 100% counter to the brand positioning they are aspiring towards. But, it has become the stark reality, based on the current generation of Disney executives who have forgotten how to put their customers first (not their bottom line).  They may not feel the financial impact in this generation, but they surely will in the next.


ADDENDUM ADDED 1/13/16:  I have to give credit where credit is due.  I got an unexpected call from Disneyland this week after they read this blog post.  They said I raised a lot of fair points, apologized for the poor experience, acknowledged it was one of their busiest days of the year and told me their team is brainstorming the overcrowding issues to remedy it in the future.  Then, they offered my family five free Park Hopper tickets (a $750 value) to use on our next visit, anytime in the next two years.  That was an unexpected and appreciated offer, and a professional and honest way to treat an upset customer.  Problem is: with my family in Chicago, the odds of flying my family out to Los Angeles a second time in two years is pretty low.  So, I won't be able to take advantage of it.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb

Red Rocket is a featured contributor on entrepreneurship for many trusted business sites:

Copyright 2011- Red Rocket Partners, LLC