I’d like to start with a disclaimer: This is not Wally World and no guards were held hostage during our recent visit to Six Flags Great Adventure in NJ. This was opening day and coincidently, I drove my family nearly 3 hours to visit this park a couple of weeks ago on what turned out to be the first open park day of the spring. In what could have (should have) been one of the best amusement park experiences of a lifetime, ended up with many twists, turns, and business lessons along the way.
At the end of last fall, both of my sons (age 7 and 5) had grown just enough to become eligible for the next tier of adventurous rides at amusement parks. Lucas, my youngest son just barely reached the 42” mark, while my 7-year-old Zachary continues his never ending growth spurt crossing over 54” tall. To anyone not familiar with these height restrictions, 42” tall opens up the opportunity to enjoy some moderately thrilled family rides, while 54” is a magical number to roller coaster lovers enjoying the most extreme rides in any park. So I purchased Six Flags Season Passes last Labor Day (a great value since they work at ALL Six Flags parks across the country) and we presented them to the kids around Xmas time. Since we live near Annapolis, MD, our “Home Park” is Six Flags America near DC and this is an important detail later in the story.
We drove up to NJ because we had never been to that particular park and it’s easily one of the top 3 amusement parks in the country featuring 14 Roller Coasters including “Kingda Ka” which was the world’s tallest (456 Feet) and fastest (0-128 in 3 seconds) coaster at one point in time although I haven’t heard if these records are still intact. I’d like to ask forgiveness as you judge my parenting skills allowing a 7-year-old on this kind of ride, but the park didn’t say you must be in 5th grade to ride and he REALLY wanted to conquer it more than I did, haha. Long story short, we had the park almost entirely to ourselves and could walk-on any ride with no lines unless you wanted to wait one extra turn in order to get the front row seats.
Everything was perfect and this was going to be a day to remember….until lunch time. The only lines in the park were at the select cafés that were open to serve food on this first day of the year. Standing in line and bordering on “Hangry” (this phrase sometimes happens when you are without food an hour past your normal lunchtime), an employee mentioned a new Six Flags app and that Season Dining Passes could be purchased on this app. Since we were #10 in line and had a few minutes to spare, I downloaded the App and purchased 2 Gold Dining Passes for $185 which were good for the entire season at ALL Six Flags parks. This was a cost I could justify if we made about 4-5 visits to their parks throughout 2016. This is where we took the proverbial plunge on the customer experience roller coaster.
Upon ordering what I thought would be our two Free Meals, I was told my passes weren’t accepted since they weren’t activated from my “Home Park in Washington, DC”. This was literally two minutes after a Six Flags employee mentioned purchasing the passes using their App. The employee’s assumption was that we were at our home park on opening day and we all know what happens when you ASSUME…. After showing several supervisors the Gold Dining Pass purchase confirmation and credit card receipts on my phone, I was serenaded to the song of “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do…. and that will be another $45 for those chicken tenders!”
With my passion for customer experience coupled with not wanting to get blacklisted at Six Flags, I was able to share this story with some contacts in management rather than trying to post a blog that went viral and instead turned this into a teachable moment within the Employee Training Program. The lesson to be taught here is that your front line employees have the most direct interaction with your guests, and often times a black & white company policy needs to be open to interpretation. Employees want to be empowered and giving them control to make customer-centric decisions (a la Zappos employees being empowered to deliver happiness), they will take even more pride in delighting guests which leads to greater customer satisfaction and build long term loyalty.
If you have other customer experience tips/ideas to share, shoot me an email at email@example.com. Don’t tell that secret tip about opening day with too many of your friends, my kids are now spoiled in thinking they can just walk right up and ride a world class roller coaster without waiting.