Behind The Desk At Epcot Guest Relations With Rachel
by, 12-20-2011 at 04:50 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, I talk to Rachel, who worked in Guest Relations at Epcot as part of the College Program. As part of her job, she also worked in the Disney Reservation Center, and was a guide on the Segway Tours around the World Showcase. She's got some great stories to share, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
And now, here's Rachel!
JEFF: What made you decide to work at Disney?
RACHEL: Growing up, my parents took us to Disney every 2-3 years. The first time I went, I was only 3, and we stayed off property. Every time after that, though, we stayed on property. I adored Disney World. Even at an early age, I loved being in Florida but feeling as though you were actually in a completely different environment. It was an escape from reality, where everything was different and special. Even the napkins and soap in the room were unique to Walt Disney World! This was obviously all before the whole “Disney Parks” movement, where everything was universally branded like it is now.
When I was about 11, we finally got the Internet in our house. The first thing I would do was look up information on Walt Disney World. I remember spending hours on the Hidden Mickeys website, and learning all about the little details that went into the parks. It was at this time that I discovered the Walt Disney World College Program. I swore that when I was old enough, I would live in Vista Way and become a Cast Member. I learned everything I could about the program, and before I even officially applied, I would go to the seminars just to get a taste of Disney on campus. To me, there was nothing better than having the opportunity to replicate the feeling of magic that I had felt all those times in Disney in someone else.
JEFF: You mentioned to me before the interview that you worked at Guest Relations in Epcot during your time in the College Program. Did you want to work in Guest Relations to begin with?
RACHEL: In my experience, pretty much everyone wants to work in Guest Relations. There is a power to being in Guest Relations! Other Cast Members joke around about the "platitude" that Guest Relations CMs have. In reality, you have as much power as any manager in the Parks, and all the magic is at your fingertips.
I wanted to work in Guest Relations because I loved sharing my Park knowledge with my Guests. During my College Program, I also worked in “Merchantainment,” and sometimes I'd get in trouble for talking to a guest for TOO long. If you wanted ice cream, I was the Cast Member who could tell you where to get best soft serve or hand scooped ice cream in the park, the only place on Disney property that served peanut butter sauce topping, and so on. Guest Relations always naturally appealed to me because I felt as though it was a perfect role for me. I knew much of the information that I'd need to know already, so it just fit!
JEFF: What was a typical day at Guest Relations in Epcot like?
RACHEL: Anyone who works in Guest Relations can tell you that there is no such thing as a 'typical' day in Guest Relations! Keep in mind that Guest Relations is the place that guests go whenever they have problems. We would get all kinds of complaints, requests, and problems to solve...the role itself encompassed a lot.
If I worked lobby, a typical day included booking and changing dining reservations for guests, listening to complaints and fixing less than magical experiences, upgrading tickets and issuing annual passes, reissuing demagnetized Key to the World Cards or Park tickets, answering questions about Walt Disney World in general, writing out Guest Assistance Card (GAC), giving directions around property or the surrounding areas, helping locate lost children, helping guests locate lost items, giving out various celebration buttons, renting DST (Disney Show Translators) to guests who didn't speak English, creating balloon animals, spreading pixie dust...I can keep going on and on if you'd like! There was just so much we could do on a daily basis!
JEFF: Any specific challenges you had to overcome? Whether it be reoccurring problems, or just one specific one that popped up that you had to deal with?
RACHEL: The GAC (Guest Assistance Cards) are a huge issue. Guest Relations is technically a global role, meaning we're all trained the same, and can work that role in all of the Parks. While we were all trained the same, Magic Kingdom Guest Relation tends to run a bit differently than the other three Parks. This includes being more liberal when giving out GACs. In a situation where a Guest is in a wheelchair, we would recommend a wheelchair assistance pass at Epcot (which basically doesn't enable you to cut any of the lines). Not including the Magic Kingdom, the Parks were built after ADA regulations were in place, so most of the Park is wheelchair accessible. You do not need to cut the line if you are in a wheelchair, because the queues can accommodate wheelchairs.
Like I said earlier, Magic Kingdom Guest Relations runs differently, and they tend to hand out alternate entrance GACs to Guests in wheelchairs. The problem with this is that if a Guest loses a GAC they got at Magic Kingdom (or is a local and their GAC is expired), at Epcot, they will most likely be handed a wheelchair GAC instead of an alternate entrance stamped GAC. As you can imagine, this causes problems.
The GACs themselves are also a headache. It's a wonderful thing that Disney online communities exist. It helps people plan their vacation and overall have a much smoother, more magical time. However, there definitely are issues with people learning how to abuse the system and trying to obtain GAC when they don't really need one.
The GACs should only be written for up to six people. Those are the technical rules. Imagine how long the FastPass line would be if we were writing out the alternate entrance GACs for 8, 9, 10 people...it would throw off the wait time! When people are traveling in a large group though, this creates problems.
JEFF: You also mentioned to me earlier that you worked at the Disney Reservation Center. How did you go from Guest Relations to the Disney Reservation Center (DRC)? Are they under the same job description?
RACHEL: Apparently after 9/11, attendance was down, and the full timers in Guest Relations weren't getting their guaranteed hours. In order to ensure that they were working full time, a satellite DRC office was installed above the Guest Relations lobby in Epcot. When you work in Epcot Guest Relations, you are trained both in Guest Relations and in DRC.
JEFF: What was it like working at DRC? I assume it was a bit different than being on the front lines of Guest Relations. What was your day like?
RACHEL: I'd clock in backstage, and then walk to the DRC through the Guest Relations lobby. I'd try to find a good headset (yes, there is such a thing as a good headset) and I'd pick a computer. The phone calls come to you automatically whenever people would call in. We'd book dining, Cirque, and some of the special options like the Tea Party at Grand Floridian and the pirate cruise for kids.
Everyone in DRC has a fake name that Disney gives you. We'd all answer the phone the same exact way: "Thank you for calling Disney Dining, my name is so and so, how can I help you today?" My name was particularly interesting sounding, and many guests were confused by how they felt that a person with that name should sound, and how my voice actually didn’t sound like it!
A typical day in DRC is telling guests, "No, I'm sorry, we don't have that available!" With the advent of the Disney Dining Plan, and the ability to book 180 days in advance at the time, it was pretty difficult to obtain priority seating at many of the restaurants. There were usually two types of guests calling: those who called EXACTLY 180 days in advance, wanting me to book 20 dining reservations for their vacation, or the ones who had no clue how dining at Disney works and wanted to eat at Le Cellier in a week, and were shocked that it was booked.
JEFF: Did you prefer one over the other?
RACHEL: I think most of us preferred working in the lobby over DRC. I know I certainly did. In any Guest Relations role, you tend to come across an irate guest or two…that's just the nature of the role. However, people in general tend to be meaner and more abrasive over the phone, just like they can be over the internet. Typically, I dealt with nastier guests on the phone than I would in person. It's a lot easier to be harsh on the phone to a stranger compared to a blonde girl dressed in plaid right in front of your face. Don't get me wrong, I've been called a name or two in the Epcot lobby for being unable to obtain priority seating at Cinderella's Royal Table for a Guest that very same day, so you aren't immune to a less than magical situation in the lobby either.
By the way, that same Guest SLAMMED their double stroller into our sliding doors upon exiting the lobby and knocked them off their track. The next Guest came up to me and sadly remarked, "Oh, Sweetie, I couldn't ever do your job." That next Guest definitely had a little extra pixie dust from me. That was my motto in Guest Relations; if I ever dealt with an extra mean Guest, I would be extra magical to the next Guest, and go above and beyond to try and make their day. Replace the negativity with something positive!
Also, the role at DRC itself was kind of redundant. You're essentially sitting in front of a computer screen, greeting Guests the same way, clicking your mouse, and searching for availability. There isn't too much variation. I personally loved interacting with Guests on that personal level that I was able to do in the lobby.
JEFF: You also told me that you worked on the Segway Tours in Epcot. How did you get into that?
RACHEL: Epcot Guest Relations provides the tour guides for the tours in the World Showcase. We work with Innoventions Cast Members in training the Guests on the Segways in the morning and then directing the tour. The role is open to all Epcot Guest Relations Cast Members, you just need to audition. They train a couple of times a year for new guides, and they give you the script in advance. I had to go in and do part of the script from memory.
JEFF: What was a typical day like for the Tours?
RACHEL: The tours only run in the morning, before the World Showcase is officially open to Guests. I would show up at Epcot around 6:30-7ish, depending on which tour I was doing. The Guests meet in the lobby, and I'd sign them in and take them over to Innoventions with the Innoventions CM. They would watch a training video, and then we would teach them how to ride the Segways. We spent an hour in Segway Central, learning how to turn our Segways on, how to get on and off, how to turn, how to stop, and so on. After that, we would start the tour and travel through Future World to World Showcase.
Usually you only gave one tour a day, unless you did the first tour and sometimes had to do the forth tour. The rest of the day would be spent either in the Guest Relations lobby or at the DRC.
JEFF: Any good magical moments you had, or created, for guests?
RACHEL: Ah...I worked in Guest Relations, so of course magic is my middle name! One young guest was upset that she didn't get to meet Snow White before she got offstage. Her family came in very upset, wondering if Snow White would be appearing later on that day. It turns out that she wasn't going to come back onstage that day at Epcot, so I gave the family a No Strings Attached ticket (essentially a FastPass) and told them that I would see if I could get in contact with Snow White on the phone.
While the family was riding an attraction, I had a fellow Cast Member who was autograph trained (yes, you need to be trained to sign autographs!) to sign a glossy photo of Snow White. I had her make it out to the little girl, who, for the sake of the story, we’ll call Madison. It said something like, "Princess Madison, I'm so sorry that we missed each other today! Love, Snow White."
When Madison and her family came back, I explained that Snow White had to leave because Sneezy was feeling a bit too Sneezy, and that she needed to go take care of him. I told Madison that Snow White was upset when she heard that Madison had wanted to see her, and immediately had sent Happy over to give something to her. I then handed her the picture and a crown. She loved it!
Thanks for sharing with us, Rachel!
And thank you for reading! Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
Be sure to LIKE the brand new 'From the Mouth of The Mouse' Facebook page for more information on the meet up!
And finally, a lot of folks who followed me over here from my old stomping grounds have been asking if the Podcast will return anytime soon...and the answer is yes! I have a few lined up that need to be edited, so look for them in the coming weeks. And if you're new to the column, and would like to catch up, you can download them by visiting it's iTunes page right here!
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/ftmotm
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: www.twitter.com/jeffheimbuch
FRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/jeffheimbuch