I worked for Universal Orlando (originally just Universal Studios Florida) from 1994 to 2001. It was a great and often challenging job that instilled in me the concept of providing, and in turn expecting, outstanding customer service.
I remember being there when attractions like The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera, Nickelodeon, Murder She Wrote, Back to the Future, and The Wild, Wild, Wild West Stunt Show all ran day in and day out.
Anyone else remember the Dynamite Nights Stuntacular? I do.
The main thing I remember, though, is how important it was as an employee to provide outstanding guest service. You see, in Universal theme park vernacular there are no “customers.” Only guests.
I remember how important guest service was because it was instilled in the training to work there and reinforced every day. There were guest service competitions hosted by management regularly. Prizes and incentives were awarded for turning a guest’s day around when opportunities presented themselves. Universal Orlando was intent on making sure that every man, woman, and child had the most memorable vacation of their lives when they arrived in Florida to “ride the movies.”
It’s always sad to revisit places that you remember with fondness only to learn the truth of how cruelly time has changed them. Who says you can’t go home? Universal Orlando.
A couple of weeks ago, Universal announced that they were closing Jaws the Ride. That attraction was my first job for Universal Studios, so I posted about it on my blog:
Jaws the Ride at Universal Studios in Florida. Memories & Let’s go ONE LAST TIME! http://www.tomcroom.com/?p=8495
A number of former boat skippers and I started working on meeting up to ride the ride together one last time. Thus, this event was created on Facebook to spread the word:
After getting messages and seeing posts from a number of folks looking to travel or having difficulty committing due to finances, I decided to contact Universal Orlando. I had no expectations, but there was a little hope that Universal would open its arms to some returning alumni to say good-bye to Bruce and the “mistake on the lake.”
Here’s what happened from there:
- On December 2, 2011, I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org presenting the event and what we had planned. I also cloned the communication via Universal Orlando’s web form here: http://media.universalorlando.com/Contact_Us/contactus.aspx?tab=PublicRelations
- On Saturday, December 10, 2011, I was in Orlando for meetings and a birthday – so I took the time to stop by Universal to talk to Guest Services since I hadn’t heard anything from Public Relations. That proved a dead end since, after checking with some supervisors, the woman at the window (who was, for the record, being very helpful) said I should contact Public Relations since they should be able to help.
- This past Tuesday (December 13, 2011… twelve days later) I hadn’t heard back. I honestly didn’t notice because (personally) I had already planned on buying a ticket. At the time I had no trouble giving Universal some money for a trip down memory lane. For me it seemed (again, at the time) worth it. Folks were contacting me, though, asking if I had heard anything about passes just in case.
- I called the Public Relations phone number – (407) 224-4233 – and spoke to a pleasant enough young woman. Her first answer after I explained why I was calling, though, was that there was nothing that could done on “such short notice.” I then pointed out that I had first made contact almost two weeks earlier. I was given the impression that I was inconveniencing her at that point and she gave me another name of whom I should speak to. She then explained that that person in question was unavailable that day and my best bet was to just email her.
- Not wanting to keep peoples’ hopes up, I posted on the Facebook Event page the direct contact information I was given (Kristen Clark, email@example.com) and conveyed that if folks wanted to follow through on their own that they should. I’ve dealt with plenty of businesses that aren’t savvy enough to operate an effective communications team, but seeing that Universal Orlando had become one was a huge personal disappointment. Even a short “We’re sorry we can’t help, but thanks for asking” would have been sufficient.
- EUREKA! I got an email back from Kristen yesterday stating that she got my email, but that she wasn’t the person that could handle it. She was, though, polite, direct, and promised follow through. This was what I had come to expect from working at Universal. Even if there was nothing she personally could do regarding the request, she was at least communicating the fact politely and professionally and offering to follow up on it.
Then I got a phone call last night.
Working for Universal Orlando taught me that one bad experience can ruin a vacation & I learned it first hand yesterday.
I wasn’t exaggerating with the title.
The person on the other end of the line was Tom Schroder, Vice President of Media Relations for Universal Orlando. At the beginning of the call, he explained that he was calling for two reasons. His first reason took over ten minutes of my time. His second took only two.
Tom went on the offensive immediately conveying his displeasure for my post on the Facebook Event page:
UPDATE: Universal’s Public Relations department is proving altogether useless. After not hearing anything back via email, I called today. The receptionist who answered pointed me to a “Kristen Clark” who is, of course, unavailable. I’ll shoot an email and check… but getting comp passes is looking slim. Sorry folks. If you’d like to email Kristen about the “One Last Time!” boat ride we’re doing… feel free to do so! kristen.clark@universalorlando
He brought up over and over again how he felt that the phrase “altogether useless” was unfair. I reiterated that almost two weeks without a reply and then being told that no one was available to discuss something was (in my opinion) enough to justify the phrase. Tom wasn’t calling to convey anything… he was calling to complain to me because I had said something disparaging about his team when they failed to follow through.
Seriously. This was almost a ten minute discussion.
Two things he said on the call REALLY irked the hell out of me. The first was the generic/passive aggressive “I’m sorry you feel that way” statement. For those of us that understand the language of guest service, that’s a talk off that means absolute zero. It is an apology for nothing and doesn’t address a situation, but instead turns the alleged apology back onto how the person feels instead of what they experienced. Since I speak fluent service-ese, I actually found that insulting.
The second thing he said was when he was trying to justify taking the time to converse with me on the phone about the statement. He related that the would allegedly have had the same conversation “if he were talking to a guest” about those comments. You know what? I am a guest. I am no longer an employee and, when I come to visit, I spend money at the resort. Every time.
As stated earlier, the second thing he called to talk about was conveyed in a huff after (from what I could tell) he felt he was good and done trying to lecture me about how unfair it was that I called his team “utterly useless” – and it took less than two minutes.
He called to say that there was a lot of focus on Jaws the Ride right now and (as a result) they didn’t have any available comp passes. In his words: “there is nothing they could do.”
It’s taking all of my willpower to not describe this unprofessional person using more colorful metaphors since I intend to forward this post to a number of people/media outlets. In short, though: uncool.
I want it abundantly clear that had I gotten a short phone call stating something along the lines of “we’re sorry, but there’s nothing we can do at this time” then I would have been 100% fine. The fact that this guy felt the need to get me on the phone and try to complain to me from his soap box AND THEN convey that “there’s nothing they could do” made it sound like he was drawing a cause and effect relationship between the two statements… meaning he doesn’t take ANY ownership for the communication failure on his team’s part.
Which means that he doesn’t take any ownership for the brand he represents.
Which means (to me) that Universal Orlando just doesn’t care anymore.
And that’s just sad.
I’m still planning on going to Universal Studios on Saturday to see old friends and revisit memories. I plan (as I did from the beginning) to spend my $80 to get in and check out the park. Rest assured, though, that Tom Schroder has single handedly guaranteed that when I take my family to Orlando, Florida for years to come that I’ll prefer giving my money to the mouse down the street.