D23 VIP Treatment

A D23 Imagineering Moment

I have mixed feelings about D23. I somewhat understand that an event held for the fan faithful will be attended in droves. I arrived at 6:40 am and essentially began a waiting experience that continued until about 9:40 am, when we were finally escorted into the exhibit hall. That’s a three hour wait with no “themed” queueing along the way to distract me. It was a long wait, and not a perfectly organized one, but there were thousands upon thousands visiting, so I appreciated the challenges of managing such an enormous number of people.

When I finally got in, I headed straight toward the Star Wars Imagineering Exhibit featuring the model of the new land designated for both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Other than the book signing for my new book later in the day, it was the one thing I wanted to do at D23, and I had only planned on being there one day to do it. I was able to get in and grab a bunch of photos, then went on to see the rest of D23.

D23 VIP Treatment
The wide expanse of the model for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
D23 VIP Treatment
Up close details to the model for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

At the end of the day after the book signing, I headed back to the same Star Wars exhibit to take it in one more time before I left D23. The queue was some 30-40 minutes. I was in line for about 15 minutes when an “Imagineering volunteer” started talking to the crowds about how they wouldn’t be letting anyone in for the next half hour, and that guests had an option of staying or coming back later. There was no explanation why. It wasn’t like this was a ride that had gone down, or as they say in Disney speak, “101”. It was just a walk through exhibit. Before I could process it much further, another volunteer came around to say that this was not the case and that they were still admitting people into the exhibit.

After a 30-40 minute wait, I again finally entered the exhibit. I must say it is one of the most amazing models I have ever seen, and could get anyone excited about Star Wars coming as a land into the parks. Still, after about 10-15 minutes I suddenly noticed several men with suits standing in front of the exhibit on one end. They seemed to block the view of others. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but then I saw actor Josh Gad (Olaf, LeFou) being given a personal tour of the Star Wars model by an Imagineering head. I’m not one who goes crazy about seeing famous actors, still I thought I would take a picture from across the room where I was standing.

D23 VIP Treatment
Note one of the 304 body guards behind Josh. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I then went on to study further the model elsewhere in the room. In a few minutes, It appeared that myself and a few others were the only ones in this exhibit beyond Josh, the Imagineers, and these men in suits who looked like they were working for Cobra Bubbles in Lilo and Stitch. I then realized that they were holding up the line out front, not allowing anyone to enter while Josh Gad was present in the room. They couldn’t throw out those like myself in the room already, but they were more than fine keeping paid guests back in the queue outside the exhibit until Josh had his 20-30 minutes to see the exhibit.

I don’t blame Josh Gad–he probably didn’t know what was really going on. For all I know, Imagineering wants him to be the voice of a droid in the new land. But I was livid that guests were being treated in this manner by event and Imagineering staff. This isn’t Disneyland, but anyone working at Disney should know better. This was a slap in the face to those who paid serious money to attend D23. Thankfully it didn’t happen to me, because I think I would have made a scene if it had. But it still bothered me to no end they would treat others that way.

I left. I had planned on doing more Facebook Live events and blog posts about D23, but I had no more desire or interest in saying anything positive about Disney. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. Frankly, when you scorch your customer, they struggle in being your advocate.

What Would Walt Do

I contrast this with a story told years ago by Bob Matheison in a former Disney News:

“One day at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York, Walt Disney decided to visit each of the four attractions there created by The Walt Disney Company. When he reached the Ford Motor Company exhibit (featuring the Audio-Animatronics dinosaurs now in Disneyland), the young hostess tried to escort him to the entrance reserved for celebrities and other V.I.P.s; Walt declined politely. But the hostess, unaccustomed to anyone, let alone Walt Disney, refusing the easy way in, insisted. At last, Walt very firmly turned her down–and took his place in line with the rest of the Fair-goers.”

D23 VIP Treatment
A dinosaur from the original World’s Fair now at Disneyland. Treating guests with respect shouldn’t go extinct. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I understand that in the context of VIP or “very important person”, I’m not there nor will I ever be with Disney. I won’t be ushered in to the front of the line. I won’t be given the apartment inside Cinderella Castle to stay the night. I may not even ever see Club 33. And I’m okay with that. But I do expect myself and other guests to be treated with dignity and respect even if others are brought in front of me to see an exhibit and/or ride an attraction. Imagine that Walt not only cut to the front of the line, but kept the ride from being enjoyed by anyone else while he alone rode the ride. Of course that would never have happened, and he would have been upset to have seen guests treated like this. But this is exactly what a team of Imagineers and D23 event management staff did.

These are heady, exciting days at Disney. But Imagineering and D23 needs to remember who supports their paycheck. The treatment is frankly an affront to guests who have paid a tangible and intangible price to visit D23. I would hope they would have a conversation about how this should never happen again.

Souvenirs at Disney

Of course, this isn’t just about Disney, it’s about your organization as well. Consider the following:

  • Do you treat your guests, your customers like a VIP?
  • Are they treated with respect and dignity? Are they treated fairly?
  • Are there places you show undue favoritism toward some and not others?
  • What would you glean from your customers that you would miss if you didn’t have to wait in line, or go through the experience like them?

Consider that your customers are your bread and butter. You should treat each of them like a VIP.

I speak more positively about providing the right kind of VIP experience–a Very Individual Person experience. You can read about this here. It sets in order the kind of guest experience Disney has been known for.

D23 VIP Treatment
The Sword in the Stone experience at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I also share insights from a former Disney Cast Member who was responsible for the presidents, kings, and movie stars that visited Disney. You can read about that in my book, The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney. It’s available through Amazon, and gives you practical ideas from Disney–at least when it’s done right. There are ways to provide a VIP experience to everyone who visits Disney–whether they are a rock star or a family visiting from Ohio.

VIP Treatment at Disney
Great ideas in customer service come to life in one of Fortune 100’s best companies. Check it out!

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