How to Solve Your Cruise Problems

| September 26, 2007

Passengers who address shipboard problems like a cruise industry insider are likely to get better results.

The portly, sweating middle-aged man in a tropical shirt stepped forward from his place at the head of the line at the Purser's desk.

"Good afternoon Sir. How may I assist you -- now?" The ship's representative barely spoke the last word before the passenger launched into his tirade. As he gesticulated wildly, his wife stood alongside and beamed at him with her best "Well, that's telling them!" look.

The problem? Despite a warning from the same Assistant Purser an hour earlier about demagnetizing his 'sign and sail' card by placing it in a pocket next to his cell phone, our passenger repeated the error. The staff person repeats the same information dozens of times a day, and saying it one more time is just part of the job. But to the passenger, it was a source of heartburn-causing consternation -- at least that was how it appeared.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is not the best way to solve a problem on board a ship.

There are two kinds of complainers: those who take each event in stride and patiently await a resolution, and those who add one complaint onto the next, escalating their outrage each time.

In this case, the man making the complaint caused his own problem, though unwittingly. A calmer demeanor would have been far more appropriate. In cases like this, neither party is at fault -- the purser didn't design the magnetic key cards, and the passenger didn't erase the encoded information on purpose.

Addressing Serious Shipboard Problems Human nature is always a factor, as anyone who has worked in customer service will tell you. How quickly and effectively a problem is solved can be affected by the manner and tone of the complaint.

How should a cruiser complain when a serious problem crops up, like an accounting error in their final bill, or a room service meal that never arrives?

The best course is to notify the proper person as quickly as possible, not letting loose on whomever picks up the phone. We suggest the following:

Before going to the Purser's desk or calling the Room Service supervisor, reflect upon the attitude of the person receiving your complaint. Their demeanor is one of courtesy and professionalism, and in most cases they appear to be sincere about wanting you to have the best cruise ever.

Most ship staff work very hard for a good comment on the cruise evaluation forms. If you give the ship's workers the impression that you take notice of them individually and appreciate the jobs they do personally, then they are going to think of you as someone who might give them a good "grade," and they will work that much harder to please you.

But if you appear to be uninterested in getting involved with anyone outside your own circle, they probably think you won't bother to notice if they do a great job, and they will not put in any extra effort for you. Thus personalized "complaining" to the right person can be more effective because it shows the worker that you know how the system works.

To Whom Should You Address Your Complaint? Getting your complaint to the right person is as important as how you state your complaint. Many people do not understand the division of labor on cruise ships, and may think that making a comment to anyone on the ship is as good as speaking to the captain. But that won't work. Every worker is in a specific department and rarely knows what is happening outside their domain.

For example, I have seen passengers ask a gift shop person what was on the dining room menu that night. That shopkeeper eats in the crew mess and has no idea what the passengers eat on any given night. They have never tasted the lobster or the filet mignon, so they can't tell you which is better.

And I have seen people ask their room steward the best way to make a dinner reservation. Any room steward will reply with "call the front desk" for any question he can't answer, but that is not the right answer to your question. The answer is to call the Maitre D', but knowing that is not part of the room steward's training.

If the complaint involves a cabin that isn't cleaned properly, don't immediately complain to the Hotel Director's office. First, approach the cabin steward with your complaint. He or she is the one who will ultimately have to rectify it. Even the best of us have bad days, and maybe this was an oversight; or maybe the steward had additional cabins to care for because someone was ill. A gentle word will usually suffice. If it doesn't, then you always have further options.

Below are some of the divisions of labor on a cruise ship. These should help you direct your complaint to the right place:

Housekeeping: Problems with the cleanliness or functionality of your cabin should be directed to your cabin steward first. If it is a technical maintenance issue, a good steward should know how to get things done. But if a day goes by and your problem still is not fixed, call the front desk and say "Could you notify housekeeping that I have a problem with my_____?" The front desk will understand that you are an experienced cruiser who knows how things are done.

The one area of housekeeping you usually cannot access is the laundry service. This is handled through your room steward, or your butler if you are lucky enough to have one.

Restaurants and Cuisine: If you have a question about your special diet or want to make a special dinner reservation, call the Maitre 'D. He is responsible for coordinating individuals' requests with the kitchen.

Spa: The spa is a separate entity on the ship, with a Spa Manager in charge of coordinating everything that happens between the spa and passengers. Call the spa directly for anything regarding the spa, including incorrect miscellaneous charges on your shipboard account.

Children's Programs: Most ships have a children's program supervisor. If you cannot find his or her number, call the front desk and ask how to get in touch.

Shore Excursions: Shorex is a very busy department, and they are usually the only people who know what is happening in their department. Try to understand the rules regarding cancellations and changes well in advance of any bookings you make. If you must make changes, you generally have to work around their schedules, which means being in line 10 minutes before they open their desks if you want to resolve something quickly.

Front Desk: The primary job of the front desk is acting as the Purser for the ship. They track the money you spend on board, relying on all other departments to feed them information. If you need a problem resolved quickly, it is usually better to start with the source listed above. Many passengers try to fix everything through the front desk, which is generally possible; but they are acting as your proxy and may encounter more difficulties than if you start with the source yourself. You are the one who knows the situation, so if the Spa accidentally charged you for a bottle of shampoo you didn't order, fix it yourself or you might wait several days before the front office does.

Butlers: Some people get butler service with a penthouse and they wonder, "what does a butler do?" Well, one thing they do is handle your problems. Want to change a shore excursion, a dinner reservation or make sure your tux is dry-cleaned by tomorrow? That is what butlers are for. So, beyond just showing up with a bottle of champagne the day you board, a butler can be a wonderful service if you know how to use him.

Summing Up Does this mean passengers will always be satisfied with the results when they complain? Maybe not. We don't live in a perfect world. Nevertheless, the chances will be far better using the aforementioned tactics than those of the boorish man mentioned at the head of this article. Chances are pretty good that the problem will be solved to your satisfaction, in a fashion that makes like a truly valued customer.

As Glen Campbell used to sing, "try a little kindness." You might reap some unexpected benefits.

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