Why Theme Parks Need Leadership Training On Kindness

The theme park world is facing some very heavy challenges right now.

In this post-pandemic world, theme parks are experiencing drops in attendance, higher than normal employee turnover, employee burnout, guests with high expectations and frustrations, reduced guest perks, short staff, reduced attractions, and in some cases reduced food and beverage stations.

These are some big challenges. 

But with any big challenge, there comes an even greater opportunity to WOW guests!

There is still a way to wow guests and give them that magic nostalgic feeling over and over.
In order to wow guests, leaders must focus on their team members.
It is the guest-facing team members that represent your brand and bring the culture of your parks to life.

You need to be asking the question, “What can leaders do to help team members WOW guests?”
The answer is simple and it is often lumped under the category of ‘soft skills’ which are seldom measured and rarely reviewed. Which is confusing, considering customer service should be laser focused on this one soft skill.
To achieve incredible guest delight, leadership must focus on one very powerful character trait; kindness.

What Is Kindness?

Kindness isn’t just being nice.
‘Nice’ skips over difficult conversations about an employee’s poor performance.
Kind leaders respectfully have those difficult conversations and patiently guide the employee on path toward growth.

‘Nice’ leaders want all employees to be their buddies.
Kind leaders challenge employees to grow.

‘Nice’ leaders are non-confrontational and allow the loudest voice in the room to dominate regardless of right or wrong.
Kind leaders step-up in defense of their team members.

‘Nice’ leaders are focused on appearance perks, like happy hours or pizza parties.
Kind leaders are focused on substance that replenishes team members, like education and resolving conflict.

Empathy helps leaders understand where their team members could use help and kindness is the act of meeting those needs.
Kindness is using your power as a leader to grow those around you.

Customer Service Positions Have A Completely Unique Energy Demand
Your hosts, cast members, team members…are in a very unique position.
They are like a power bar.
Teammates plug in and customers plug in.
And as their leader, you BETTER be a source of energy for them!
You better not be drawing on their power!

What Draws On The Power Of Your Team Members?

If you were to consider customer service as a sport, I would argue that theme park employees (hosts/cast members/team members/other cute and effective terms) are the pro athletes of customer service because they ALWAYS have to bring their ‘A’ game!

1. Theme Park Customer Service Is On Display for the Whole World.

People come from all over the world to visit your park,  (or if you work at Epcot, then you’re the Olympics because you’re not only performing but you’re also representing multiple countries!)
The need for word of mouth marketing has never been higher!
In this post-pandemic world where every park everywhere has scaled back (perhaps only slightly) attractions, entertainment or food services; more and more people are not sure whether they can trust their vacation days and hard earned dollars in the hands of their beloved theme parks.
Every guest everywhere wonders the exact same thing, “What is the experience like post-pandemic?”
And they are not going to listen to tv advertising or social media marketing.
They are going to speak with people who have gone.
There are social media groups monitored for citizens of other countries wanting to visit US theme parks wondering what the current restrictions, wait times, and experiences are.
As guests visit, they are collecting their experiences like souvenirs to share with all of their friends, families, and social media connections.

2. The Bar for Theme Park Guest Expectations is Really High

Guests are coming to you for “MAGIC!” That’s a big pair of shoes to fill!

They want to feel like a kid again, they want to make new memories with their kids, they want to commemorate a special occasion, or they want to escape the normalcy of their day to day and experience something wonderful.

Personally, I absolutely love theme parks because I can be myself and smile at people and say, “Hi!” and actually get smiles and “Hellos!” back without the strange and confused question of, “Why are you so happy, is something wrong with you?” 
Additionally, every adult in the group knows how much it costs to enjoy the day at a theme park. So, it better live up to their expectations.
It’s not up for debate whether or not guests should have those high expectations. The reality is they do and your customer facing team members have the responsibility to live up to them.

3. Working in a Customer Service Role in the Theme Park Industry Requires a Ton of Positive Energy.

Always being “on” with smiles and a friendly and helpful disposition can be very tiring. So what can be done to be sure you have enough positivity to go around?
Of course there are the common tips of a balanced diet, vitamins, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, but what’s rarely considered is the amount of support and kindness a customer facing team members receives from their leaders and/or fellow team members.
Leaders who are kind are an EXTREMELY valuable energy booster to team members.
It is the kind leader who trains their teams for problem solving and gives them the authority to implement solutions on the fly to provide exemplary customer service.

So what can be done to equip your teams to amaze guests?

Customer Service That Amazes Theme Park Guests

Be a leader who displays and teaches kindness.
    Although theme parks tend to attract employees who often have a positive disposition, it’s extremely important for leaders to BE KIND! Lead by example.
You might be surprised how few leaders in a person’s life actually show kindness to their team members. (Which is exactly why I’m on a mission to share this message.) You could easily stand out as one of the best leaders a person has ever worked with if you focus on displaying kindness.

The 3 Pillars of Kind Leaders

1. Help Employees Better Themselves.

A leader in the theme park world will recognize that it is rare for someone to get a job at a theme park and remain there for the rest of their lives. They will go off and do something else. But just because someone will move on, doesn’t mean that you should treat them poorly while they’re there.
One of the most common desires an employee has at any job is to improve.
They want to learn.
In order to do a great job helping team members learn, leaders need to think like a teacher.
Leaders need to explain, train, attain, and do it again!
A kind leader is going to do everything they can to set up their team members for success.
A kind leader will be clear about expectations, they will demonstrate what good looks like and what excellent looks like. They will support their team members in learning how to achieve success in their role and how to create greater success that goes beyond their role.
If a team member struggles, the kind leader will consider additional ways to help that employee attain success.
Providing an exceptional learning experience gives employees control over their success!
It is then up to them on how great they become.
On the opposite side, a sub-par learning experience, would be lacking clear expectations and have only one-way accountability meaning, the leader isn’t accountable to help the team member grow but the team member is accountable for doing a good or poor job.
Helping employees better themselves is a big characteristic of kind leaders.

2. Celebrate Team Members Effectively

Have you ever worked under a leader who took your ideas and presented them as their own? Have you ever been a part of a great accomplishment only to be left off from receiving any credit?
Leaders who do this are poisonous and are not leaders at all. They take wildly successful team members and turn them away from ever wanting to contribute above the minimum requirements to keep their job.
If a mid-level leader is able to get away with this behavior for very long, it also destroys confidence in the upper level of leaders. Team members begin to wonder how upper leadership could be so dumb to get fooled by such a selfish person.
Instead, leaders need to understand that their primary role is not to make themselves look good in front of others at the expense of their team. But to focus on building their team up in an effective way.
This doesn’t mean throw a pizza party. Look, pizza parties have their place, but pizza can not replace the need for leaders to celebrate and elevate their team members.
There are many perks at a theme park that fall into the pizza party category such as, free tickets or discounts on food and merchandise. Those are nice perks but they are not going to satisfy the quality recognition that every team member needs.
Leaders need to give their team members the public recognition they deserve. If a team member goes above and beyond to contribute to a solution, a great leader will go above and beyond to make sure that team member is recognized and strive to see that they are compensated for it.
Leaders should also always be helping their team members achieve promotions. If there’s one piece of evidence of a good leader that should stand out loudly, it should be whether or not people on their team competently (actually, I really want to say “excellently” here) move up into more specialized roles. A true leader is one who celebrates and elevates the people they’re leading!

3. Give Team Members The Freedom To Be Kind.

There’s nothing more frustrating than being in a customer service role and not being allowed to provide service to a customer!
Many people seek out working for theme parks because it looks like there’s a fun and positive culture they can be a part of.
When leaders equip their team to make quick problem solving decisions on their feet and the freedom to execute on those decisions, they give their team members the ability to deliver excellent service rather than feel like their hands are tied with rules and regulations.
Many team members have chosen to work for theme parks because they are kind people who want to work for a place where they can be themselves by being kind to others.
Powerful leaders recognize this need and work to provide their team members with the freedom to be kind.

Where Will Kindness Take Your Park?

It is kindness that challenges people to become true leaders. And true leaders who understand kindness are transformed to focus on building up and growing those around them.

It is kindness that enables leaders to provide their team members with an environment where they are revived to give their best and exceed customer expectations.

It is kindness that enables leaders to recognize the specific needs of team members on their growth path.

Continued practiced kindness builds muscle memory for team members to solve problems quickly and transform what could have been a negative experience into a positive and memorable one.

A Lack of Kindness is a Scary Culture

There are many more powerful benefits to understanding and implementing kindness into your culture, but it’s even scarier if you don’t.

Studies show in a work environment that is low on kindness, employees are twice as likely to develop heart disease.

When Will You Begin The Journey Of Transforming Your Park’s Culture?

As the pro athletes of customer service, when you stop to think about the training provided to your park’s leaders and team members, does it include training on the power and implementation of kindness? 

If not, it should!
And I would love to be the one to help your park so just that!

Nathan is a bestselling author and keynote speaker on the importance of leading with kindness.
He speaks for many different business sectors from theme parks and customer service to technology and cybersecurity.
He shares the secret to a substantial leap forward in growing others is to build a culture of kindness.
To request a speaking engagement, or to request a bulk order of the bestselling leadership book, Empowering Kindness, please email: 

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