Don’s Disney Year – Guest Communications

July 7, 2011

Today’s column isn’t about a visit to the resort, so much as it is an experience with the Resort (and sorry, all words, no pictures today)…

I’m not naive. I understand that the odds are, with as many times as I’m going to interact with Disney over the course of a year, mistakes will happen. What matters then is how those mistakes are handled.

When I first attempted to purchase my annual pass, there was a problem with Disney’s online billing service – they charged my debit card and then said I was rejected for the pass as a resident. Getting that billing corrected and the pass purchased took six hours of phone calls to both Walt Disney World and the bank, multiple faxes back and forth, and finally, a two-week wait for everything to settle out in my bank accounts before I tried again, without a hitch.

I was told by a castmember on the other end of the phone in Guest Services that my experience was the exception rather than the rule. I so wish that were the case.

On Day 34 of this project, I went to the 50’s Prime Time Cafe in search of Father’s Day dinner. All in all, I had a good time.

Actually, according to my bank statement, which arrived two days ago, I must have had twice as good a time as I thought I did. Sitting there on my debit card account was a pair of identical charges for the 50’s Prime Time Cafe.

D’oh.

Still not sure how that happened, but we need that fixed right away. But I thought about it for a second. Suppose I am a visitor to the Resort from out of town and have to deal with this remotely – how would fixing a restaurant overcharge actually work?

If my experience is an example… not very well.

I was able to call my bank and get them to put a hold on the charge, with the purpose of getting it reversed. With that accomplished, I headed over to Walt Disney World website to figure out who to call.

The contact us page at the Walt Disney World Resort website is constructive if you want to make reservations for a hotel stay or a restaurant visit. But for almost anything else, if you are looking for a direct answer to anything you consider a problem, I’d find it almost useless.

Your phone number choices are:

Vacation Booking
All-inclusive Packages
Resort Room Only Booking
Hotel Stays

Ah-ha! Technical Support – they can help, right? A Help Desk?

Nope, turns out it’s for website issues only, if you are trying to book or view your reservation online. I learned that the first time around when trying to buy my annual pass. (look up my Day 0 post for details).

Dining? Well, this was a dining issue. But that line takes reservations only. They don’t handle billing issues. And while I’m a big guy, I don’t yet qualify as a group on my own – certainly not as a group of ten or more. So Group Services is out.

Thus, by default, I fall into the category of “For all other questions.” I stuck with the American number – no telling where the Canadian or UK numbers would have led me to.

The automated voice is bright and friendly,

“Welcome to the Walt Disney World Resort! We’re glad you called. Press one for English.

This is followed by what I assume is the same greeting in Spanish. Somewhere, my teacher of two years of high school Spanish weeps silently at my failure as a student.

After that, I’m asked to explain what I wish to visit this magical phone line by saying specific phrases. All of the choices seem to be about park hours or reservation. Finally, at the end, there is one final choice – something else. I say this…

The automated person immediately asks me to enter on the touch-tone keypad when was the last time I visited the resort was. I enter that in.

Next, I’m asked the zip code I’m calling from. I enter that in.

Next, the date when I will be arriving–

… HEY! Wait a minute! I said Something Else, not Book a reservation! So I hang up and try again.

And again.

AND again.

Remember that definition of insanity, where you do the same thing expecting different results? Working with the Disney World voice mail system borders on the insane – because it took five trips down this particular rabbit hole before the helpful computer voice actually understood my words meant “something else.”

And no, yelling did not help. Well, maybe it helped me a little bit.

So once we passed through that gate successfully, the voice, in the same friendly manner, now says, “Okay, something else. Please help us guide you to the right customer service agent by pressing one of the following keys.” It then lists a menu of seven choices – six of which deal with hotel or dining reservations!

Still determined, I choose number seven and now go into a queue to wait for the “next available representative.”

Disney Parks wants your online telephonic experience to be just like your waitline experience for a ride. So they attempt to entertain you. Actually, first, they try to FastPass you. Initially, a voice comes on and tells you that due to extremely high call volume, you will be waiting, unless you choose to get a callback. If so, you press a number, leave a voicemail, and someone will call you right away.

Right.  I wait for the voice to tell me how long exactly it would be before someone would call me back. That information isn’t forthcoming. Thus, the choice becomes abandon a hard-won place in line for a purported mythical phone call, or wait. No brainer – I’m settling in.

At this point, you’re in the equivalent of the stand-by line. Instead of visual stimulation, you get music, a curated collection of Disney classics, punctuated every two minutes or so with another apology about the long wait. The music you’ll hear is an intriguing blend. It seems that the folks at Disney Parks have decided if you are going to have to wait on hold for an extended period, you might as well enjoy a virtual trip to your favorite Disney destination.

Over the phone, you began to hear soundtracks from various Disney attractions. The Ballad of Davy Crockett from Country Bear Jamboree was followed by Grim Grinning Ghosts from Haunted Mansion. This was the full quintet version with Thurl Ravenscroft, which I had never heard all the way through before).  It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow from Carousel of Progress was paired with even some instrumentals from classic musicals used to set the mood on Main Street U.S.A. (like Hello, Dolly and The Music Man). From Epcot there was the new Entrance Plaza music, one piece I think they identified as part of the Universe of Energy Pavilion.

All of this music made the time slip by relatively quickly, so I didn’t really notice I’d passed the 25-minute mark on hold. However, at this point, Disney Parks pulled out the big guns. It’s A Small World started. But a couple of verses in English would have been too easy. Instead, I was treated to chorus and verse, in order, just as if I was riding the ride – in, if I remember correctly, nine different languages, complete even with twanging Hawaiian-plucked guitars –

That’s the particular moment the castmember interrupted all that joy and happiness.

I was never so happy to hear another live human voice in my life. Robert was quick and efficient – he listened to my issue and identified right away that, in fact, he was not who I needed to talk to.

I wanted to bang my head on the table.

Before I did, though, Robert informed who I did need to call – the billing department. Even better, he gave me their direct phone number, in case we were disconnected, and then transferred me. The transfer placed me back into the phone music system – just in time for the rousing finale of It’s A Small World (just how long is that recording?). The song ended, and Julie, castmember from Billing came online.

Once again, dealing with a live human being from Walt Disney World was the usual outstanding experience. I explained my issue, she found the mistaken charge in a matter of moments and immediately processed a refund. I was informed it would take forty-eight hours to appear on my account, I was again wished to enjoy the usual magical day, and the conversation ended. I finished the online survey and hung up.

Total time from start to finish was one hour and nine minutes. That was a lot of time for a $27 overcharge.

I’m not fond of voice recognition technology, because it can obviously go wrong, as it did in my case. The idea of bringing a little bit of the theme parks to you while waiting is a good idea – but that Small World experience? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemies.

On second thought, maybe on them, I would. But nobody else.

Oh, and the charge cleared this morning. Mission accomplished.

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