Six Flags Great America accused of denying pass refund for deceased husband

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

John DeNatale died of cancer in March. Six Flags Great America initially refused to refund the $72 his family paid for his 2014 season pass, according to his wife.

Read more from The Chicago Tribune.

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Seems like the right result if nothing else from a PR stand point. And I can understand how the initial contact person takes the approach taken. Policy is no refunds so keep it simple at initial level. But there should be a process for elevating the issue a level or two to someone who has some discretion to override the no refund poliicy. And maybe that process exists but the first level employees just ignored it.

Jeff's avatar

The fundamental problem with most service orgs is that the first level of contact isn't empowered to make any decisions. Seriously, if you can't give them that power, you might as well have machines handle the phones.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Seems to me the question is, on balance, how many decisions do the first line ccontacts need to make. If they don't need to make many (which in my experience is often the case) I would tend to stay with low wage employees (who I wouldn't expect to be able to make many decisions) with higher paid supervisors who can make decisions. If decision making is required often, I think it makes more sense to pay more for people who can make decisions at the first level.

And to a large degree, first level contacts provide info rather than make decisions. And to a large extent, they have been replaced by machines already. Interactive voicemail systems (which I think tend to suck) and websites (which when done right work quite well for many first level contact issues).

I was a first level contact at a large company for many years. We weren't minimum wage, but we were the bottom rung. While our supervisors were trained in customer contact, they rightfully preferred to not spend their day on line. Their emphasis was to empower us to make those day to day decisions in terms of adjustments and customer satisfaction, which is how it should be.

There was also a line drawn in terms of money amount each level was authorized to adjust, and that seemed to work. I could sign off on, say, a hundred bucks but supervisor, then sometimes manager level approval was required depending on the amount. There were checks in place, too. If I was found adjusting 2 or 3 "season passes" every day it would show and I would be under review for my decisions.

In light of this unusual request the first level should have expressed regret then immediately handled the contact on a call-back basis, and after checking with the manager, contact the customer with the decision, yea or nay. To give even first level contacts blanket policy statements to regurgitate is ridiculous- while they may deal with the "I want my money back" situation everyday they should have the common sense to know when an unusual or sensitive subject comes up.

Last edited by RCMAC,
LostKause's avatar

In 2000 and 2001, when I worked at Universal, they had a program that "empowered" front line employes to do whatever it took to solve a situation and make it right. I was working the entrance of Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the rental baby strollers were blocking the entrance to the ride because everyone knew it was going to rain and had parked their strollers under the covered area of the entrance. Well, I received orders to move the stroller into the stroller parking area and unblock the entrance.

Just after I did that, the sky opened up and it stormed like a mother. The strollers and everything in them were soaked. One family in particular was extremely angry with me because their dry clothes in the stroller were not dry anymore, and they had nothing to change into from getting wet on the water ride.

I came up with a solution and was "empowered" to enact it. I called my supervisor to ask him to send someone out to watch the entrance position while I took care of them. We went into the JP gift shop and we allowed them each to pick out a dry shirt and some other clothes. We also added a few ponchos for the baby to sit on because the stroller was still wet, or something silly.

This made them go from outraged to pleasantly calm about the entire situation. They were made to understand why we had to move the strollers, and apologized to. To show them that we really were sorry, we gave them free merchandise that could be used to fix the problem. Not only that, but a few weeks later, I was presented with some kind of certificate, which got me some free food or merchandise too, for how I handled the situation. it seems that the family still went to guest services to talk about what happened, but not to complain, but to tell them how pleased they were with the outcome. HAHA!

I know it was a pricy fix, but they were very happy, and that may have resulted in repeat business. I wonder if the park still has a program like this now?

janfrederick's avatar

I'm assuming you were in Florida. That being the case, they really need to have more shelter for things like strollers. Doesn't it rain a lot?

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
Jeff's avatar

At 3:30 every afternoon in July and August.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Lord Gonchar's avatar

Ok, this is barely related to the story and it's probably another Gonch "dick" moment, but it's another example of how I just roll with things and don't seem to have the expectations others have (think my opinion on 'volleying' with a ride op over a seat on a coaster). But...

I would never in a million years even consider trying to get a refund in this situation. It's just doesn't even register with me as a logical response to the situation.

That's all.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar,
Jeff's avatar

It's always easy for you to have these kinds of opinions when you don't have a dead spouse, child with autism, etc. The way we operate in the world is vastly influenced by our experience.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

LG -- Apparently the person who wrote the employee training manual for Six Flags thinks along the same lines which explains why this issue wasn't addressed in employee training.

Actually, I don't think it's dick-ish at all. I don't know that in a situation like that, I would ever think of it either. I guess people just deal with crises in different ways, and this was a survival mode thing...I'd probably think of things I could sell or what added employment I could take on before trying to recupe money that I spent on a contracted purchase.

I am probably an even bigger B for thinking that the park really had no obligation to give the money back. Was it a nice thing to do? Did it look bad when they initially refused? Yeah. Giving the money back was the nice thing to do and makes for much better press, but the family EXPECTING to get their money back and complaining to the media? I don't understand that way of thinking. Maybe I'm just a jerk, but it's not like I don't feel bad for them...I'm glad they got the money if they really needed it. I just don't get where people are starting to expect that places must pay back contracted monies for deaths after purchase.

Travis, that was excellent customer service. I DO enjoy hearing things like that. Employees who go above and beyond should truly be commended. Regardless of how I feel about the SF issue, I think things would have gone much better with some more employee empowerment to make those decisions.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Lord Gonchar's avatar

It's not impossible to understand a situation even if you've never been in it or only in a similar situation...and also you have no idea what situations I've experienced. (mostly because I rarely whine about those situations and setbacks and instead deal with them myself)

I can say with great certainty and first-person experience that anytime someone close enough in life has passed that it became, at least in part, my issue to deal with, the last thing on my mind is going out and obtaining refunds for unused products and services.

And even still, it's not an emotional issue - at least not my comment. I wouldn't in a million years try to get a refund on an unused season pass under any circumstance. My mind doesn't work that way. I'm not of that ethos. If I buy a pass and my situation changes or I can't use it, I see that as being on me. I made the purchase. (and the same applies to not expecting to stand in lines with someone who doesn't have the capability to stand in a line, FWIW - it's my problem to deal with...not the world's...and having someone significant in my life with an issue like that isn't going to change my general belief)

And Gator, it's not about what's right here. I think SF should refund her. Honestly, really good customer service would have refunded her for all the passes, but let the family keep them.

I just don't relate to the mindset that thinks of asking for a refund.

Maybe, I'm too willing to accept my circumstances? To deal with what I'm dealt? To accept other's established conditions out of a general respect?

And I haven't even gotten snarky at all up to this point that it's $72. Seriously. Bigger fish to fry. (ohh, I got snarky)

Last edited by Lord Gonchar,
Jeff's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:

It's not impossible to understand a situation even if you've never been in it or only in a similar situation...and also you have no idea what situations I've experienced... And I haven't even gotten snarky at all up to this point that it's $72.

Yeah, I get that. I'm just saying that it's too easy to not see what it's like to be in someone's shoes, even when you "know" what it's like. I've made a lot of money for a lot of years, and there is no universe that $72 would seem like a lot of money to me. I have to go back to my college years, when making my $50 portion of the rent was a struggle.

Just as I have no idea what situations you've experienced, you have no idea what the subjects of this article have been through.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Lord Gonchar's avatar

No. I don't.

I'm just saying that in my world, there's no circumstance where you ask for a refund on a season pass. None.

I have seen people argue over/fight for a lot smaller amounts than $72. And in several of those cases, I am sure the people fighting were in much better financial circumstances that the woman in the SF article. Some people have cash registers hard wired in their brains and are just waiting for any moment when the balance of exchange is working against them (even if by pennies). Interestingly enough they never seem to point out when that balance is working in their favor. Life is too short. Though I will admit that I can say that. Others can't so I understand. Its the circumstances where someone can say that too but don't that leave me scratching my head.

Raven-Phile's avatar

Yeah, if one of my family members died, the last thing I would be thinking to do is to get refunds on things like that. It's just at the bottom of the list of important things that need taking care of.

Like looking for bereavement fares for the funeral.

Jeff's avatar

Seems to me that's exactly why it matters... the finance issues. My step dad died the year before last, and dying is pretty expensive. My mom doesn't make a lot of money. $72 gets her to work for two weeks. I think she too would pursue this kind of thing. (Of course, she wouldn't likely ask for help.)

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Lord Gonchar's avatar

Like I said, it's not even the money thing. I wouldn't care if it were a $600 Disney pass. And I get that in this situation, it might really help them out (which is why if I were SF, I'd have refunded them all...especially after the initial refusal faux pas)

For me, it's more the idea that a season pass is not something you try to return. It's the decorum of the situation. Seems tacky. Personal pride. Social contracts. I dunno. Feels like we've lost a lot of that in general.

The same reason I wouldn't argue about a ride op over a seat or try to schmooze a freebie because, "The worst they can say is, 'no.'" and stuff like that.

I bought the pass. I intended to use it. My situation changed. None of that is on Six Flags and I'd feel awkward putting it on them.

(and, it's a totally separate issue, but you really start to lose me when you take the story to the media)

So, in summary:

1. I wouldn't have tried to get my money back. The park did nothing wrong.

2. Six Flags should have went above and beyond after the initial first-level employee screwed up. It's still a total fail on their end as far as I see it.

3. Going to the media is a crappy thing to do.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar,

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