Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, Orlando, Florida
Not so long ago, I was a trainer at a mobile phone company in Canada. In between teaching call centre employees how to synch email and change APN settings, I got to teach them something I really enjoyed — “soft skills.” That’s trainer talk for the touchy-feely customer service bit — how to act all charming and saint-like even if you really felt like throttling the person on the other end of the line.
One course I taught was called Achieving Extraordinary Customer Relations from an outfit called Achieve Global. (What’s that? Corporate says there’s no space in between? Okay…AchieveGlobal it is then. Sheesh.) I liked it because it was full-on touchy-feely. Employees liked it because is was two days off the phone. Win-win. (Corporate types still say that right?)
The basic premise is that the goal of any customer interaction is to try your darndest to create a Positive Memorable Customer Experience — a PMCE for short (phone companies do love their acronyms) — something so good that the customer would remember it for the rest of their dying days. Okay perhaps not that long, but hopefully something so good that they would at least tell a few people.
But that’s actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. In my experience, we’re wired to look for the negative. And we’re even more wired to talk about it. Especially those of us from North America.
“We had to wait TEN whole minutes!”
“They only had THREE checkouts open!”
“It was MEDIUM and I asked for MEDIUM-RARE!”
“They gave me the WRONG kidney!”
Okay perhaps that last one is bonafide. I’ll give you that one.
But in reality, there are more than a few folks like this twat:
There are people who will always find something to complain about.
My Kingdom for a Fork & Knife
I had a fair idea of what to expect before I went to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Orlando, Florida. Friends and co-workers had been to the one in Toronto. If you’re not familiar with the show, here’s what their webpage has to say:
“Inside the stone walls of our 11th century castle, Medieval Spain comes to life as six knights, donning authentic armor, clash in a jousting tournament for the title of King’s Champion.”
Basically it’s jousting and a “hold the cutlery please” chicken dinner, accompanied by goblets of diet Pepsi.
I had a peek at the reviews on TripAdvisor just to get my bearing. And par for the course for TripAdvisor, the reviews ranged from glowing (“most awesome dinner show!”, “AMAZZZZZZINGGGGGG!”, “the chicken was off the chain good!”) to embarrassing (“medieval manners from the servers”, “the smell caused my youngest granddaughter to have a headache”, “one of the horses galloping by sent sand onto my plate thereby ruining my meal”, and “more fun at Wal-mart down the street.”)
Most of the reviews were fairly positive though, with a running theme of decent food, great showmanship, and a good night out — especially for kids.
I went to Medieval Times with my brother, his wife, and my niece. We were seated in the front row alongside a young couple with two kids — one hyperactive little boy (“It’s my birf-day!!), and one happy, smiley, and all-too-quiet little girl. The parents looked a little…well, haggard. The kind of haggard that comes from caring for two small kids, one of whom undoubtedly has a Ritalin prescription in his near future, and the other, as I was to learn, has special needs.
The little girl wore leg braces, could not feed herself, and had some obvious difficulty supporting her head. My guess is Cerebral Palsy. I smiled at the parents. That sort of smile that I hope says, “I’m so sorry — I don’t know how you do it — you’ll get through this — she is such a cute kid — hang in there.”
Then I do what I think many of us are guilty of in these situations, I do my best to ignore them.
It’s not until the end of the show that I get what Medieval Times is all about. Yes, there was jousting and pageantry and roasted chicken. But there was also a moment. Dare I call it a PMCE?
Before choosing the winning Knight, the King gives a single rose to each of the six Knights to hand out to one lucky girl in their respective sectiona. As our Knight, the Green Knight (see Exhibit A below) trots by surveying the kids screaming, “Pick me!!” and their parents screaming even louder “PICK HER!!!”, I instinctively point to my niece. And as fate would have it, Green Knight gives her the rose.
Instantly I feel horrible.
Why hadn’t I pointed at the little girl in leg braces instead? I was happy for my niece, but certainly that little girl was more deserving? Wasn’t she? Did I just “pageant mom” a disabled kid out of a rose? Great. Just freakin’ great.
A few minutes later, the King chooses the Champion, and as it turns out, it’s our very own Green Knight.
Now’s my chance to make it right I thought. If only I could get that rose in that little girl’s hands.
Except this time it’s not a rose. It’s a tiara and a sash and the title of “Queen of Love and Beauty.”
What are the chances good old Green Knight is going to give a rose to my niece seated directly to my right AND a tiara and a sash to the little girl seated directly to my left? There are dozens of kids (and their parents) screaming for that title.
As he trots by this time, I sheepishly point to that little girl. Green Knight takes one look at her and her folks, then looks back at me with a single, ever so subtle nod. The type of nod that says, “I see what you see — that little girl deserves something — her parents deserve something — I know some people are gonna be pissed that I’m giving the rose and the tiara to two kids so close together, but I’m just gonna do it anyway.”
That look on that little girl’s face, and on the faces of her parents is why I’ll always recommend Medieval Times.
They get it.
They get that by putting on such a large production sometimes things just aren’t going to go as planned.
They get that if you are feeding 250 people at the same time every night, someone’s dinner is bound to be cold, or not to someone’s taste, or some errant sand will make its way onto someone’s plate.
They get that they cannot make everyone happy, that someone’s always going to complain.
They also get that they can make moments like the one I (and many others) witnessed.
While I was browsing the Medieval Times website I came across their mission statement. Usually fun reading I know, but there are a couple of the points worth noting:
- To provide our guests with outstanding customer and entertainment.
- To empower our team members to do the right things, to do things right.
They lived up to both of those on this particular evening. And even though I know there were people in the audience that night who will likely complain about something, I also know that there are people in any audience who just love to complain about anything. The trick to reading any review is learning to separate the bonafide ones from the crazies.
With Medieval Times, as with many attractions with lots of moving variables, the stars may not align every time to ensure every audience member has the most perfect experience. But sometimes, just one person, with just one act can ensure that perfect experience for those that really need it.
Well played Green Knight, well played.
Note: I was a guest of Visit Orlando during my time in Florida. Special thanks to CarRentals.co.uk for the use of a rental car in Orlando.