Tuning Up Customer Service
Written by: Kuki
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog stating cruiser’s needed to take more responsibility for themselves… particularly in regard to purchasing travel insurance to cover unforeseen problems. This week’s blog entry is somewhat the opposite of that; that’s the cruise lines taking responsibility for their actions as well.
We do occasionally see people coming out and publicly praising a cruise line for their handling of a customer service issue. However, it’s much more common to see complaints of rather pathetic attempts at resolving customer service issues.
I believe much of this arises because the cruise lines don’t seem to have any standard policies which customers can read and understand easily and simply. The quality of the experience dealing with Customer Service departments seems to rely entirely on the luck of the draw, dependant on whether a customer with an issue finds a sympathetic or unsympathetic ear during their initial contact.
After 30 years in the hospitality industry my experience taught me that though on rare occasion a new problem occurs, the vast majority of customer service issues are reoccurring (with some variances), and can be dealt with effectively and quickly by having a set resolution policy in place.
The only complication in that system is making the determination as to whether the customer making the complaint has a valid issue which should put the resolution machinery into effect. That means having a well trained customer service staff, and that’s where the cruise lines systems seem to fail too often.
Granted, as anyone with much time spent working in those departments will tell you, it’s somewhat difficult to not get cynical after spending time dealing with customer complaints. It is difficult dealing with people who expect perfection, when you’re dealing with imperfect products, or when perfection is in the eyes of the customer. But better training, and set policies would simplify this process.
I believe the Customer Service departments don’t have much vision into just how much an unsatisfied customer, with valid complaints, can cost them in lost future revenues. Instead they concentrate too much on minimizing the immediate, short term, cost of resolving the matter.
In this regard, my own story is an example. In 1995 I sailed on the second sailing of the Celebrity Century, along with 11 other family members. I won’t go into all the details of my complaints at the time, but a combination of “new ship glitches” along with service and stateroom issues, and what I felt were inappropriate responses by the onboard management dealing with them, left me unhappy about that cruise experience. I believed I had valid and defensible complaints and wrote a letter to Celebrity attempting to address them. Their response (if memory serves me) was an offer for a 10% -15% discount on a cruise, to be used on a future booking, valid for 12 months. I felt the $300 -$400 value of that offer was not adequate compensation, and declined the offer… and didn’t sail on a Celebrity Cruise Lines ship again for 6 years (until I decided to give them another chance).
During that 6 year time frame I became a message board monitor and hosted live on-line chats for Cruise Critic on AOL, and went on to become a writer and ship reviewer for CruiseMates. During that time I “talked” to thousands of cruisers, and put in place a group cruise program for CruiseMates. During that time frame I also went on perhaps 18-20 cruises… and none of them were on Celebrity Cruise Line.
I discussed this with a friend who is an Actuary, and combining dollars I personally spent on those cruises with that spent by people cruising with me over that six year period, he said he would conservatively “guesstimate” my situation may have resulted in $400,000 + of lost revenue for Celebrity.
Now my story may not be the norm. But I suspect most people who have similar unsatisfactory resolutions to their problems are more vocal than I when sharing their dissatisfaction with others. I quit cruising on the cruise line for some time, but others, more vocal “word of mouth” types, sharing their dissatisfaction could have cost the cruise line even more revenue.
In my case, an apology admitting the problem was theirs not mine, rather than sending me a “gesture of good faith” letter, and a couple of hundred more dollars in compensation, would have meant they’d have received at least a significant portion of that missing revenue.
They needed to step up and accept responsibility for their failures, just as I implore passengers to accept their responsibilities in the partnership. The combination of the two is what creates great cruise experiences.
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