A Look at Six Flags' Guest Service Training

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 11:41 PM
I've decided to start this thread after listening to the latest Coasterbuzz Podcast. It was said, as it has been many times before, that Six Flags' problem is that they do not properly train their employees in the art of guest service. I am here, as a former Six Flags America employee (I worked there as a ride operator starting in early September of this year, 2005, after a summer at "another place", also in ride operations), to tell you that improper training is a myth.

The training I received at Six Flags America with regards to guest service was almost identical to that of "the other place". We were trained to be just as friendly, helpful, SAFE, etc., as we were at "the other place".

Now I'm sure you all are wondering why, then, is the service so lousy? Simple. No one cares, and no one is made to care. i watched a supervisor spin around in one of the kiddie teacups when no one was riding (or the ride was down, I can't remember). I watched one day on Batwing as a few guests, infuriated over downtime (I understood the frustration, although some were outright belligerent), came up to the platform and start yelling and making a scene like they wanted to start something, only to see a fellow crew member yell and act like a jerk right back to them (my lead and I held him back, and thankfully no train was in the station for which the crew member could cross to the side with the guest). I swear, I thought a fight would start. To top it off, one of the higher-ups merely take him down the exit stairs, talk to him briefly, then let him return with no disciplinary action taken. And that's just the beginning.

Of course, direct guest interaction is only part of the guest service experience. What about the indirect things? I watched sups look at pics on cell phones right in Batwing's op booth. I saw 2 drunk leads making fools of themselves with sups laughing, all just about a half-hour before the park opened (they were assigned to the Skycoaster, of all rides). Against my better judgment, I did not report it to the head of operations who happened to be nearby as well, and who also came up and talked with us and somehow missed the obvious fact that the 2 were drunk. I regret not having said anything when I clearly should have, and I am glad nothing happened. I've also watched Batwing break down every 5 minutes due to poor maintenance. I personally guarentee that no train on Batwing ran with all 24 seats operating during my entire stay at SFA. Many of the other rides are just as bad.

Again, the things I mentioned are far from everything that happened, but unless you all feel like reading a book, I refuse to go into every single instance. I feel the above examples suffice to show you that at SFA (at least), the sloppy guest service is due to the fact that nobody really cares. I'm disappointed in myself for not saying anything to anyone, as it may have prompted someone up high to take a look. My apologies to you all who have had disappointing experiences at SFA, and though I was not there for long due to employment elsewhere, I apologize if I ever failed to live up to your expectations. I know I made mistakes at SFA, and I'm sorry for that. My goal is to work as hard as I can to provide guests with a friendly smile, a nice greeting as often as possible, and some fast-as-greased-snot bar checking with zero sacrifice to safety. I hope I lived up to that.

I hope this enlightens you all to the real story behind lousy guest service at SFA (and I imagine every other SF with the same problem). I can only hope some higher up in SF finds their way to this thread and sees just what one of their employees thinks of things. You want me to come work for SF again? You force me to do my best. Doing one's best shouldn't be an option, it should be a rule. Plus, my loyalty's to my first park, where people cared.*** Edited 12/21/2005 11:03:35 PM UTC by sirloindude for various reasons*** *** Edited 12/21/2005 11:03:53 PM UTC by sirloindude*** *** Edited 12/22/2005 3:42:21 PM UTC by sirloindude***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:05 AM
SFA was certainly the worst experience I've ever had at a theme park, and it was due mainly to not just lousy and lazy ride ops, but downright awful ride ops. Your synopsis definitely described a few things similar to situations on my visit. I do appreciate your concern though and hope in the future you take action when you see the things you mentioned. Is it mainly the management at SFA which makes it have such poor operations?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:18 AM
I think that the fact the No One cares really shows why SF parks in general are alway getting such negative reviews and such.

Most people think that the reason the parks are the way they are is due to training, but it's far beyond that. Proper training is the first step, but if you have someone who doesn't care/doesn't want to listen, then all that training will go in one ear and out the next. It's like the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

The main difference between Six Flags and other parks, is that other parks, the employees actually care.

Go ask a teenageer at Six Flags why their working at the park and I guarantee the general response will be for the money.

Then go ask a Cedar Fair employee and I guarantee the general response will be because they like the atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:41 AM
Having worked for Six Flags, and now "someone else", I agree with the above synopsis.

To Six Flag's credit, they have one of the best working for them: Carla Clark is the corporate director of training at the parks. She started at Disney, and is widely accepted as one of the best trainers in the industry.

The fact that Carla also does seminars for Six Flag's competetors should show you that the rules are there: they just are not enforced. I really think it all boils down to what expectations are made and upheld by management, both full time and seasonal.

And the notion that Cedar Fair employees work for fun is rediculous. If that were the case, they would just get a season pass! People have lives, bills to pay, school to attend- a summer job might be for fun to you Ellen, but take a look in the real world, and you will see that practically everyone works for financial stability. *** Edited 12/21/2005 5:42:33 AM UTC by Fun***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:46 AM
I'm not sure how much other parks pay but I know that in general, Six Flags doesn't pay their employees much. That probably factors into it, when you are paying barely above minimum wage for many positions in the company a lot (not all) of people probably don't care about their job that much and know if they get fired they can just get a job somewhere else with similar pay.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:12 AM
You have hit the nail on the head, yoshifan. Ever heard the term "you get what you pay for"?

Besides that, you can't train people to be outgoing, friendly and responsible. These are things that should be caught in the interview process, and weeded out during background checks. It should be harder to work for a company that stresses customer service if you don't have experience in that area.

Once again, you have to pay for it though, either through raising base pay, or through incentives. I doubt anyone with any real experience is going to want to work for Six Flags. I lasted a year, then I moved on to better things. *** Edited 12/21/2005 6:13:04 AM UTC by DWeaver***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 2:21 AM
I remember when I was in the 11th and 12th grade, during the 96 and 97 years, I used to work for Six Flags over Georgia. I thought it was the best place for a teenager to work, especially in Atlanta, theres not much really to do outside of fast foods and the grocery stores.

But I must agree that kids that work at these parks today don't have the skills necessary to deal with customers and this is a major reason Six Flags garners so much flack. I wouldn't jump the gun and say that cedar fair's customer service is better because they get paid more than Six Flags because it's not true. Knott's berry farm, Sea World California, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Six Flags Magic Mountain all pay about $6.75-$7.00 (I checked before posting this blog) to operate rides. In my opinion, I think that is rather ridiculous to pay so little but expect excellent service in return, I guess that's why the incentive for working in these parks is the free admission. Customer service would probably take a turn for the better if Supervisor's and Management held the employees responsible and fired the ones that are causing ill publicity with their less than helpful attitudes.

Six Flags as a whole would do a lot better if the selection process was a little picker, but like stated you get what you pay for and not many applicants experienced in customer service will be willing to work for $7.00 and have to deal with the type of guest that visits these parks, mainly knuckle headed teens, it's just not worth it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 6:36 AM
Your average Six Flags can't afford to be picker in their selection process. When a large amount of your seasonal employees are from Columbia, Poland, etc.. (depending on the park) you can't really expect them to be grilling local applicants.

Obviously the solution is a pretty complicated one, starting with a vast change in attitude and culture on behalf of the parks. What could help is looking at the Six Flags that, IMO, *work* Such as SFGAm, SFOG, SFOT, SFStl, etc. and then trying to model that success at other parks. Then again...they seem to be packing them in at SFMM and SFGAdv (and SFA from what I hear) no matter what the experience is like, so I guess as long as the front gate is busy, they don't have much reason to change at those parks. But whatever, I'm not exactly saying anything that everyone else knows or has said before... *** Edited 12/21/2005 11:42:16 AM UTC by matt.*** *** Edited 12/21/2005 11:44:28 AM UTC by matt.***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 8:48 AM
Well, this isn't rocket science. Customer service is poor EVERYWHERE these days. Why should amusement parks be any different.

McDonald's...which was the industry leader in this area is no better than anyone else anymore.

You can't get good service at most mall stores anymore. You use to get hounded when you walked in a store and now you are lucky if you can find someone to help you or if the cashier will put down his/her cellphone long enough to ring you up.

I've used this example before. Back in the mid 90's or so McDonald's tried to run a promotion where if your cashier didn't smile and say have a nice day your food was free. They couldn't get their employees to do that very basic thing and had to discontinue the program because they were giving away too much free food.

Go on the Disney fansites and you even see criticism there...which was unheard of in years past.

What is the common denominator to all this? The workforce. There is an attitude of privilege that is running rampant amongst teens and young adults right now.

In general, this particular generation has not experienced hard times. I'm in my mid 30's. I can remember the pain of Vietnam, the gas crisis of the 70's (far worse than what we are dealing with now), the Hostages in Iran.

My generation is partly to blame because we are raising the current generation. We are giving them everything they want. Cell phones, cars, the latest games, etc. When you are given everything you want, what instills the proper work ethic?

I was at the mall the other day. The kids were better dressed, had more gadgets, had the newest shoes, etc. And, while some of them may actually be earning the money themselves I suspect that is not the norm.

Our challenge as leaders/trainers is to find out what motivates today's workforce. There was a day when money was not the number one concern of workers but I'm not so sure that is the case anymore.

But, in the case of amusement parks there has to be something that differentiates the Six Flags from the Disney's and the Cedar Fairs. To me, part of that is the corporate culture and the recent history of the buying spree Premier went on. There is no history at most of the Six Flags parks now because they have gone through different owners, managements, etc.

When Cedar Fair goes into it's new acquisitions it tries to respect the history of the individual park while instilling the ideals of Cedar Fair. When Six Flags goes into a new acquisition they start slapping Warner Brother's characters up all over the place and they don't look back.

I could write a book now...and it is more complicated than this...but these are the basics.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 9:33 AM
I don't disagree with sirloindude's opinion about SFA. The park usually starts out great, but by the end of June something happens and service tanks.

However like Wahoo Skipper mentioned, service has taken a back seat at a lot of places these days. Buy something at a store, you have twenty people willing to take your money, return it and they have one wanting to give you your money back. McDonald's was an excellent example. You use to people to walk in at lunch time and every register was open with barely a line, now your lucky to find three registers open with four people waiting. The food use to be waiting but McDonald's has started claiming they are emphasizing quality rather than fast service. Uh.. Whatever....

I was at DP in May, Customer Service wasn't any better than SFA. If I want better Customer Service I need to go to parks like Hershey or any AB park.

It comes down to, if you want quality service you need to pay to get the quality service. Hershey and AB are major fortune 500 corporations that can use their parks for college kids to launch careers with the company.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:04 PM

sirloindude said:

The training I received at Six Flags America with regards to guest service was almost identical to that of Geauga Lake. We were trained to be just as friendly, helpful, SAFE, etc., as we were at GL.

Now I'm sure you all are wondering why, then, is the service so lousy? Simple. No one cares, and no one is made to care.

You make it sound like you were a better employee. But, Don't I recall a while back that you found joy in hearing that a guest was injured on Batwing by a ride op? you're no better.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:14 PM
No doubt an organization this large has a well established and professional training program. I don't believe anyone is here to say Six Flags intentionally hires bad people or tries to provide poor customer service. We are not here to critique the people hired. The larger issue is the bare minimum approach of the company.

At some independent parks I've met people who have worked their jobs for over twenty years. When you've been working a job for a very long time it's hard to avoid becoming really great at what you do, while being very knowledgeable and resourceful at the same time. It's a blast talking to some of these old timers who've worked at these parks most their lives. They are the biggest park fans you will ever meet. You just won't find them at Six Flags.

When I am at Six Flags I get the sense the park is run by a group of kids. It's just that it becomes obvious when someone is new to a job. They are great at what they are trained to do and not very interested on doing anything else. It suggests the company has a hard time maintaining staff, or meeting the needs of their employees.

When Montréal’s park first opened as a Six Flags park it was obvious the public was having a very different experience from the new staff put into place. They couldn't answer a lot of the public’s questions. And many of the park's biggest and oldest fans were no longer advocating for the park, because they could not afford to work for Six Flags.

There is a limit to how much folks care about new jobs. Until they feel comfortable, their enthusiasm will be limited. Unless you work at Disney then enthusiasm is a prerequisite. It's great that Six Flags is so willing to hire the youth of America, but is that because no one else is willing to work for them? Is it because employees see no future in staying with the company? Why can't Six Flags hold on to their biggest fans and strongest advocates? Park employees are the heart and soul of every major amusement destination; they should be treated as such. *** Edited 12/21/2005 5:37:02 PM UTC by rc-madness***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:19 PM

Then go ask a Cedar Fair employee and I guarantee the general response will be because they like the atmosphere.

I worked at Cedar Point for three summers during my time in college running Mantis Millennium Force and Dragster. I came back every summer becuase Cedar Fair made the park atmosphere a great place to work. From employee ride nights after the park closed to the big employee bash at the end of the season even to the bonus we got. For every hour we worked we got a dollar. At the end of the season it was a lot.

Ask anyone who worked at Cedar Point or any of the Cedar Fair parks and they will tell you it is because they are proud to be a part of it. If we went into town people could tell you were from the park.

The training we received was top notch. If you screwed up you were delt with swiftly and severly. I had to write up and op for not closing a restraint the right way on Mantis and the next day he was fired. Cedar Fair tends to just hold their employees to a higher level of standards.

Mabye Dan Synder can change this and get his employees to care. As for SFA until the get their act together and make it less ghetto then things will not change at that park

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 12:51 PM

Fun said:
And the notion that Cedar Fair employees work for fun is rediculous. If that were the case, they would just get a season pass! People have lives, bills to pay, school to attend-

Hmmm, yes I did have bills to pay. But I would say 60% of the people I worked with at Cedar Point weren't there for the money, they were there because it was a summer job that was fun and they enjoyed. I didn't go back the 2nd summer for the money. I could have made more than twice as much interning. I went back for the people that I worked with, the people I hung out with after work, and being proud of my job.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:16 PM
I admire you both for your commitment to the company but I would say that you are NOT the typical Cedar Point employee. By posting here you are already more interested in the company or industry that the vast majority of the people you work with.

That isn't to say that aren't others as equally as motivated as yourselves. But I think it is a minority...and I notice you were both ride ops which may also have something to do with it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:24 PM
If pay were the sole issue, then it'd be an industry-wide issue. Perhaps it is to a degree but there are many parks that provide better service at the lowest employee level than SF does and several parks known for their outstanding service that offer pay rates similar or equivalent to what SF pays.

Pay is an excuse. If you accept a job, you understand the deal. You get paid X number of dollars to perfrom X duty to the best of your ability.

Apathy due to pay rate is such a lame excuse.

Rather than think "I'd do better if you paid me more" maybe one should be thinking of ways to further themselves to achieve more pay.

One way would be to do your job well and get promoted to a better paying position.

It's just something I've never understood. Instead of b!tching and moaning about how you're getting screwed pay-wise (even though you knew the deal going in) and saying that's cause for lack of effort - maybe try the opposite. Put forth effort and the pay will follow.

Either that or go find more pay in the first place.

I think you guys touched on a couple of the real issues:

Work environment.
Ability to motivate and retain employees.

None of which seem to exist in the SF community.

*** Edited 12/21/2005 6:25:25 PM UTC by Lord Gonchar***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:31 PM
Lord...what I'm getting at is that the pay rates, do in fact, eliminate more of the better candidates. They don't even bother applying because they know they can do better elsewhere.

That isn't insignificant. I've said it before. Back in the 70's, 80's and to some extent the early 90's Cedar Point had a myriad of kids to choose from. They would go on campus tours and the rooms wouldn't be big enough to hold everyone. They'd snap big group pictures of kids because they didn't have time to interview everyone and then they tried to match the look of the kid to a particular job. I'm not exaggerating.

Yes, those who take the jobs shouldn't complain about the pay...but I'm worried about the kids who aren't even thinking about working there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:49 PM
That's the point I was making as well wahoo. I worked for Six Flags as a supervisor for a year. I found a job that paid more and I left. Supposedly the woman who replaced me was a moron, but she excepted the low pay rate because she didn't have other options.

It's not just about pay, that's just a small chunk of it. It's about the reputation the company has, incentive plans, insurance and a sense of pride that's created by the employers.

Disney doesn't pay all that well either, I've worked for them as well. But people line up to work for them. Because they know there's a certain pride that goes along with being a Disney employee, and let's face it, the incentives to work there reads like a book. In addition, there's a unspoken expectation that you feel the moment you walk through the employee backlot. It's as clean and well maintained as the part that the guests see. *** Edited 12/21/2005 6:51:16 PM UTC by DWeaver***

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 1:58 PM
Well, the utilidors under the MK aren't exactly clean and well maintained but I get the drift.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 2:10 PM
You have to love what you do. If you don't, you'll do less than your best. Putting college-age kids in positions where they often have to deal with ornery, stupid, or hostile customers doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun, and I'm sure the kids recognize that after their first week on the job.

There's all sorts of prongs to this problem, one of which is that you need to change the environment at the parks to make it more palatable to work there. The new SF management is on the right track when they talk about changing the face of the clientele in their parks. Who wants to cater to teenagers (often rowdy) all day, every day, all summer long?


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