What the Cruise Lines Do Badly
Written by: Kuki
I believe there was a time – until the mid ’90s – when the cruise line’s customer service agents were very responsive to customer complaints. If a customer experienced even relatively minor inconveniences, and wrote a follow up letter to the cruise line on their return, they’d almost always respond quickly with “the customer is always right” mentality, and almost automatically respond with discounts offering 20%,30% or even 50 % discounts off future cruise bookings with the lines.
As word spread that it was so easy to get discount offers, one of the nasty sides of human nature came into play; greed–as people would write to the cruise lines about the most minor complaints, and even fabricate problems to write about, just to get those future cruise discounts.
No doubt the growth of cruise related internet web sites in the mid to late nineties, particularly those with message boards where people could share the “tricks they’ve learned, and vent their complaints, contributed directly to the abuse of the cruise lines customer service policies.
Suddenly more and more people were learning from others that a simple letter of complaint to the cruise lines resulted in discounts on future cruises. As a result the cruise lines, who’s onboard surveys were showing them with 95 -99 % approval ratings, were finding themselves inundated with complaints at rates which reflected much higher dissatisfaction than their own fairly detailed statistics showed.
I believe the result of this anomaly eventually led the cruise lines to take a more cynical approach when evaluating customer complaints, and in turn, began putting more restrictive customer service policies in place.
Now the question arises whether the cruise line’s response to customer complaints has gone to the other extreme, becoming too cynical, and too unresponsive to customer complaints? Are legitimate complaints now being ignored, and mishandled because of the past patterns of greedy passengers who worked the system for undeserved compensation?
Because I enjoy cruising so much I’m quite fairly labelled an advocate for the industry. But I’m an advocate who doesn’t wear blinders. I’ve heard of and even personally experienced situations going wrong, where the cruise lines have dropped the ball, even when given an opportunity to remedy the situation.
The vast majority of problems that occur onboard a ship can be dealt with the most effectively on the ship, when they occur. The onboard personnel are normally ready and willing to resolve any issues that arise. Frankly, it’s now much more difficult to get issues dealt with post cruise, dealing with the cruise lines customer service departments.
Cruise lines believe their onboard management are best equipped to resolve issues onboard as they occur. They trust their onboard management is equipped with the necessary skills and judgement on how to handle complaints.
Therefore, if a problem does come up during your cruise, it’s going to be much more effective to seek satisfactory resolution onboard. Of course, the key to finding that satisfactory resolution onboard is to notify and discuss the issues with the people onboard who can effect resolution; those are the various department heads, and/or the Hotel Director. Demanding to see the Captain because your cabin television isn’t working properly, or your hot soups are arriving cold at dinner isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Which leads me to passengers having the judgement to determine if they have a legitimate complaint. My favourite story as an example of illegitimate complaints is one told to me by a Hotel Director on a Royal Caribbean ship…. It occurred after a scheduled port visit to Labadie (which is essentially a private island stop for RCI ships) had to be cancelled because tendering is necessary for this stop. Sea conditions were so bad the Captain determined the conditions were too bad to safely transfer guests to and from the “island”, and they cancelled their scheduled stop.
A passenger came to speak to the Hotel Director, and complained vehemently that he had booked this cruise specifically for it’s stop in Labadee, because he had a very important business meeting to attend in Downtown Labadee. He insisted on a complete refund of his cruise fare because he was unable to make his scheduled business meeting. The interesting fact shared by the Hotel Director to explain to the passenger why a refund would not be in order was that there is no Downtown Labadee.
Just about every department head, Cruise Director, and Hotel Director have hundreds, if not thousands, of similar stories to share. Some of these are created by passengers arriving to their ships totally misinformed; some because their travel agents sent them away with misinformation, others because they misunderstood what their travel agents told them because they chose not to listen, and others because they did no research, and simply came onboard with preconceived expectations with no basis in fact or experience.
As I stated earlier, there is no doubt legitimate problems arise which deserve vociferous complaints, and justifiably require resolution, and in some cases real compensation. There are cases where perhaps the judgement of the onboard personnel has become too skewed and to cynical because of less than factual complaints, that they do not handle the situation appropriately.
The same effect can be seen in today’s customer service departments at the cruise line’s home offices. Therefore it does require some diligence and patience by those with legitimate complaints which they were unable to resolve onboard, to get what they feel are appropriate responses from the cruise lines. Unfortunately it can take months to get response to written complaints from the cruise lines (either email or snail mail), as their systems require them investigate and go through a myriad of reports and communications with the ship involved.
I believe the very best system for seeking resolution to a complaint that you were unable to get resolved onboard is to have your Travel Agent advocated on your behalf. That is most certainly a part of what they are paid to do. They should have avenues for contact available to them that you as a passenger do not.
If, on the other hand, you feel forced to deal with the issue yourself, keep your communications to the cruise line succinct, to the point, and quickly state what you feel would be satisfactory compensation for your situation. And know, sadly, you may have to wait months before receiving a response from the cruise line. This should most certainly not be the case, but unfortunately this does seem to be the reality of the current state of the cruise lines land based customer service departments.
Have any of you found better ways to achieve quick resolution of problems than I’ve mentioned here? If so, we’d certainly appreciate you sharing them with us!
Do any of you believe that the cruise line’s Customer Service departments are now acting as a barrier to insulate the cruise line executives from those who file complaints?
What are your thoughts regarding the issues I’ve raised with this blog, that passengers presenting illegitimate complaints have had a negative affect on how cruise line’s policies are set now to react to these situations?
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Posted: December 16th, 2008 under Kuki.