I think I need to break up with Disneyland and its 999 Happy Haunts

I spend a lot of time thinking about customer service, and how we as veterinarians are sometimes so focused on being amazing clinicians we neglect to remember the fact that we are in a customer service industry. You can be the most astute diagnostician in the universe, but if your front desk staff or technician (or you!) is  rude, ambivalent or just generally unpleasant, it ruins the whole client experience. It doesn’t take much to be minimally pleasant, but I’m amazed how uncommon that has become.

I’ve always held Disneyland to be the ultimate in the customer service experience. I remember going as a kid and being followed around the park by chipper young men in starched white uniforms, cheerily scooping up the popcorn we were dripping behind us. “Have a magical day!” they’d wink, and we did. The haunted mansion staff got really into being creepy. My friend, who worked there in high school and college, was taken to task for wearing non regulation pink lipstick. The Disneyland Experience was no joke. Yes, we knew it was fake and those cheery people went home and were crabby humans just like everyone else, but we all appreciated the artifice of good cheer.

I know things have changed a bit. Disney has gotten a little more corporate, the college aged employees too stuck in hipster mode to bring themselves to actually act like they’re happy, but I had no idea how bad it had gotten until this past week.

My aunt and uncle were visiting from Massachusetts, and my aunt decided she would like to enjoy Disneyland with my kids- who were on Spring Break. My aunt has MS and uses a wheelchair, which as she reminded me allows you some measure of benefit in the form of getting to enter the rides through the exits, thus a shorter line. The kids were happy to hear this.

Now I know Disneyland and I have had our moments in the past- the Splash Mountain debacle, for one, and a heartbreaking encounter with an accordion playing D-list celebrity I used to be a fan of, but still, I figured how could they screw this one up? All you have to do is make some reasonable accommodation for a disabled guest, blah blah Magic of Disney etc, right?

Yeah. It seems somewhere along the way they have forgotten some of Business Tactics 101, applicable to any place hoping to retain customers, be it your friendly local DVM or a once well regarded amusement park.

1. Staff appropriately.

Part of the problem was that we went during spring break, and I know this. That being said, I had to push my aunt hither and fro round each and every ride looking for some guidance as to where one might enter as it seemed like no one was actually working the line. We wandered through Indiana Jones’ exit line for 5 minutes before finding a line of wheelchairs 30 deep marinating in the shadows, staffed by an ambivalent kid in khakis who was not, I suspect, as into archaeology as he should be pretending to be.

2. Anticipate problems.

See someone trying to get through your front door with a huge crate as big as they are? You open the door for them. Same goes for someone trying to back a wheelchair onto a train platform before the door slams shut on someone’s neuropathic feet. Theoretically. It’s the little things, right?

3. Keep track of your clients.

I  heard horror stories of a physician going home for the day, leaving an increasingly agitated client in an exam room who never got past the nurse. I think it’s reasonable for the person in charge of traffic flow to be keeping an eye on things to make sure no one gets left behind.

Which brings me to my most egregious Disney misadventure to date.

“Actually, we have 999 happy haunts residing here but, there’s always room for 1000. Any volunteers, hmmm?”

Anyone who has been on the haunted mansion is familiar with the ride itself: you step onto a moving conveyor belt and run into a little whirl-a-gig buggy thing, ride around for a while getting spooked, and then extricate yourself from said buggy back onto a moving platform. All fine and dandy for those without mobility issues, but it gets dicier when you’re moving slowly.

Doom buggy, as apropos a title as any.

I entered the ride first, with my kids. My mother and aunt got on the buggy behind us, after asking the person running the line to slow it down so she could get on. This is SOP in these cases.

On the other end, I got off with the kids and they started up the one way escalator off the ride. I heard my mother behind me, saying, “Stop! STOP!” in louder and louder degrees of panic. Apparently, in a cost cutting measure they got rid of whoever normally stands at the far end to make sure people get off ok, and there was just one girl at the near end of the ride who couldn’t hear my mother yelling as there was a horde of 30 people pushing off past her. None of whom, by the way, seemed alarmed by my mother’s distress.

My children, sensing a disturbance and me pausing at the bottom of the escalator, were valiantly attempting to rush back down to me, only to be pushed up by people telling them not to goof off. I turned and saw only the sad sight of my aunt’s hand hanging out the side, waving sadly to us as she disappeared into a dark tunnel to join the 999 Happy Haunts in parts heretofore unseen.

I went up the escalator after my kids. A few minutes later, my mother appeared, sans aunt.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“They don’t know,” my mother responded, which seemed like a bizarre thing for them to have told her. I mean, she’s on a fixed belt and can’t walk, so one might think she would be easy to find. “They said she’ll probably pop up at the entrance.”

Probably. Else they found their thousandth happy haunt.

I went to the entrance, which is an entirely different area, to see if she might arrive there. No one knew where she was there either. My mother, having exited the turnstyle, couldn’t go back down to the exit to wait for her there. Eventually my aunt texted me: “Going through again.”

She did indeed make it back to the entrance, shocking the hell out of the people about to get in the cart with her. The person there stopped the ride and asked her off, but seeing as though her family and her wheelchair were now at the exit, she demurred. Eventually, she arrived back at the egress and had to pick her way, slowly and gingerly, up to the exit turnstyle where my son was frantically holding on to her chair. I had to explain to my kids why I was laughing so hard while we rolled right on out the park and back to our car, pooped.

“Because your auntie is a cool lady,” I said, marvelling. And she is.

On the bus ride back to the parking lot- which was incidentally the best ride of the day- we were helped by an old-timer named Clarence. “You don’t say,” he said, when we told him of our misadventures. “I’ve never heard that one before. Losing a lady on a ride.” He could barely kneel himself, but he helped me maneuver her chair down the bus ramp.

It’s the little things that stick with us in customer service. But all’s well that ends well; at least we got her back. 🙂


Filed: Adventures, Blog, Musings Tagged: ,
  • Cathey

    WOW! When you have a customer service “snafu” (surely that’s not a strong enough word for this!) you have a doozy! I’m hoping that someone from Disneyland reads your blog and passes it on to HR – OBVIOUSLY there are some adjustments needed. And I’m so glad you got your aunt back – she sounds like a great lady!

  • Sue W.

    As an MS sufferer and past fan of Disney, I read this with horror. That could easily have been me. I would not have been so cool. I’m not sure Disneyland is worth it. Thanks for the heads up!

    • She was so cool about the whole thing. I was spitting nails but she rolls with the punches. Truly an incredible woman.

  • carolinegolon

    This is so awful it’s funny. I am glad your aunt is supercool but MAN, what a cluster$%^*& that must have been.

  • Great and very timely blog, Dr. V. Literally seconds before your blog arrived in my mailbox, I hung up the phone from yet another awful interaction with the receptionist at our veterinarian’s office. The front desk staff at this clinic bring new meaning to the words abrupt and rude. I often feel like I am in a Monty Python skit when I call to make an appointment or speak with our vet. The ONLY reason we stay (and we do consider leaving, often), is that the veterinarian is an excellent diagnostician, surgeon, and caretaker of all of our dogs and cats. We have known her for more than 20 years and truly do not want to change vets. However, she clearly does not understand the benefit of having considerate and caring reception staff. We have talked with her about this in the past, to no avail. It is especially disturbing when I think of owners who may call there with a seriously ill or injured animal, to be greeted with such rudeness. (They are like this in person, as well as on the phone). Once again, I sit here thinking of changing vets because of this problem. I hope a lot of practitioners read your blog and take note. Thanks again for a great post.

    • I would recommend, if you are up to it, writing a letter. Sometimes they take that more seriously. It’s unfortunate because I imagine maybe they have a sense of loyalty to this person or there’s something else going on, but for every person like you who sticks it out, there are probably several clients who leave, never to return.

      • If a letter is written, mark “PERSONAL” in large letters on the envelope, or you may risk having it tossed into the round file by the staff. Frankly, a face-to-face consultation will produce more results IMO. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect any meaningful changes, however. Any professional who doesn’t notice rudeness by his office staff is either brain-dead or too wimpy to do anything about it in the first place.

    • A major part of an office that is properly run is the front desk. I don’t care how good the practitioner is, the front desk personnel are considered part of the practice, whether it be medical, dental, veterinary or whatever. As a retired dentist (35 years), it is up to the man/woman who actually treats the patients to set the rules of the practice. He/she is the one who sets office rules, and he is the “general” who enforces (or should enforce) those rules. Perhaps the veterinarian has been cowed by the front desk staff who think that nothing will happen if they are rude to patients and who think they are indispensable. I have news for them: they can be replaced.

      Knowing what I know, I would schedule a face-to-face consultation with the vet, explaining your concerns. You don’t have to give a reason for the consultation, and a charge for the consultation involving a valid complaint should be at no charge. If such action fails to put the office staff into shape, change offices. Life is too short to put up with rude front office personnel.

  • Elizabeth

    Oh my, that brings back memories of the ride breaking down during “It’s a Small World” and me having to hear that song for what seemed like forever… Your story makes for dreadful PR for Disney, though – not quite the Happiest Place any more! But your aunt seems to be a great sport.

    I fired my vet, who was wonderful with the pets and seemed to have excellent vet skills, because I couldn’t stand listening to her scream at her staff any more. “You are so STUPID!!” “Why did you do THAT??”, etc. She seemed to have a very high staff turnover, I can’t think why…

    • How awful! I wouldn’t want to work with anyone abusive towards their coworkers, no matter the situation.

  • JaneK

    That’s too bad. Glad you all have a sense of humor. Very sad when customer service at Disneyland goes south…… I know a family with a special needs child that just took their “Make a Wish” trip to Disney World in Florida. Fortunately, they had the opposite experience but I think mainly because of the place they were staying (set up especially for those families) and also the child couldn’t ride many rides and getting a 4 year old in and out of rides is a little easier than a grown up.

    Glad you got her out, too. Was starting to be the beginning of either a horror movie or a slapstick comedy……

    • My aunt and uncle both confirmed that their experience in Orlando was nothing like this.

  • Jess. Just sent your link to Disneyland. I reminded them that they still have not responded to my initial email I sent them a week ago. Maybe your comment will give them a nudge. In any case I am glad you posted my story for others with disabilities to hear. You certainly have a way with words. Even if Disney isn’t listening I am very grateful to you, my dear sweet niece.

    • I’m still angry at them. Not even for the staffing- beyond the control of the people we met- but their complete, utter ambivalence.

  • Got an “apology” from Disneyland today that definitely did not apologize for anything. Totally unapologetic.

  • KolchakPuggle

    I’m so surprised! We went to Disney is October for two weeks and we were so impressed with the “above and beyond” attitude of all the staff we met. We spent a couple days in the park with a wheel-chair bound friend I we were bowled over by how attentive and thoughtful the staff was. Perhaps we hit a good time of year – or you hit a bad one. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad you got your aunt back!

  • Getting to ride over and over without getting off? Most peeps would that!

  • Lauren

    “…a heartbreaking encounter with an accordion playing D-list celebrity I used to be a fan of…” Please tell me this wasn’t Weird Al. I love Weird Al. I don’t want to have to stop loving Weird Al. :o(

    • I can’t bear to break your heart, so I will remain silent. *tears*

  • say what you want but Disneyland is a great place for whole family. I’ve been there couple of times and I had always great time.