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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

ANGERS AWEIGH; CUSTOMER SERVICE AT SEA

BRYCE ON CUSTOMER SERVICE

- Losing your cool at sea is not conducive for relaxation.

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We went on another ocean cruise over the holidays. It has become somewhat of a family tradition with us. This time we tried a Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) ship, "The Spirit," out of Port Canaveral, Florida for a week long tour of the Eastern Caribbean, a favorite of ours. Unfortunately, this turned into a bad experience and I will never recommend NCL to any of my friends. I have been on many different ships and cruise lines, but this, to me, was the worst I ever experienced. The stops along the way were fine, the room a tad smaller than normal, but we could live with it, and the food can be described as mediocre at best. The real problem was customer service or the lack thereof. This went way beyond just bad service, it was gross incompetence. The only person who seemed to know what he was doing was our cabin steward. However, the bartenders, waiters, and the maitre d's turned this into a horrible experience, and frankly gave the appearance they couldn't care less. Let me give you some examples:

First, prior to the cruise, I had ordered and paid for a couple of bottles of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries for our cabins as part of our "bon voyage." Unfortunately, they were never delivered by the staff, even though I called room service twice to check on the order. Perturbed, the next day I went to the front desk and asked for a credit to my account. The clerk, a young woman from Croatia, looked at me as if I had three eyes. She said the items were still to be delivered. I told her she obviously didn't understand what a "bon voyage" gift meant, and demanded my money be refunded. I was informed it would take two weeks to issue the credit which I thought was rather unusual; NCL was quick to take my money to make the purchase, but slow to issue a refund. Interestingly, on the third day of the cruise, room service knocked on our cabin door with the champagne and strawberries. They obviously missed the memo and we told them to get lost.

The next incident was staged at one of the ship's many bars, a small one with about ten stools, of which my son and I sat along with an Englishman we met. Two bartenders were actively taking orders and serving customers, except us, and we sat directly across from them. I leaned over to my son and the Englishman and said, "Let's see how long they neglect us; let's wait fifteen minutes and see what happens." Again, the bartenders were directly across the bar from us. Fifteen minutes came and went with no service whatsoever, and my Scottish blood began to boil. I then got up, slapped my hand on the bar and loudly said, "What in the world is the matter with you two; are you stupid? We've been waiting here for fifteen minutes and you don't even look up at us to ask for our order? Are you stupid?"

They both jumped back surprised and said, "Oh sir, you should make a sign to request service."

"You want a sign? Well here it is," and I took off my hat and waved it in their faces, "Here, we want service!" And they finally got our drinks. I have to admit I was explosively angry causing a stir in the bar, but the Englishman commented I was justified in my outburst.

When I turned 60, I made a pledge to myself there would be "No more games," meaning I would no longer tolerate incompetence. Whereas over the years I was taught to be patient, courteous and wait my turn, I learned people charged with customer service will abuse such people and take them for granted. In other words, patience and manners comes at the cost of being treated badly. If you wait your turn, you will likely lose it to another obnoxious lout. So, I decided to fight fire with fire, thereby employing the axiom, "The Squeaky wheel gets the oil." However, on an ocean cruise, the intention is to have passengers relax, not erupt into anger and upsetting everyone concerned, particularly the disgruntled passenger.

Part of the problem is the NCL adopted a policy of automatically including an 18% gratuity into every cocktail or item you buy on board. The ship's crew takes this for granted thereby becoming apathetic towards the passengers. In other words, the passengers are automatically tipping the servers for both good service and bad.

There were many other problems along the way, such as having our luggage delivered to our cabin very late, meaning we couldn't clean up before dinner, elevators were constantly dirty, as were tables in the casino and bars. Half empty glasses, ashtrays and debris were everywhere and nobody seemed interested in cleaning them up.

When I happened to mention this to some of the other passengers, they too were in agreement the service was rotten. Some claimed to have cruised on other NCL ships and experienced satisfactory service, totally unlike what they found on "The Spirit."

This cruise had an adverse affect on me causing me to redefine an Ocean Cruise as "a journey at sea with incompetent service, unsanitary conditions, mediocre food, and traveling with people you would normally not be seen with." All because of incompetent customer service.

So, why does NCL allow this ship to get into such a condition? Blame should obviously be pinned on management where the officers accept inferior workmanship, and have allowed the crew members to take passengers for granted, probably because of their policy of including gratuity into every bill, large of small. Beyond this, I believe society has been trained to accept incompetence as a natural part of our existence. Instead of complaining, we tend to roll with the punches and accept whatever the vendor is willing to give us, good or bad. To me, this is indicative of a decay in our culture where we used to work harder to please customers knowing this would result in references and repetitive business. A little customer service would have gone a long way to alleviate the problem. Evidently, NCL no longer cares.

As for me, I did not like having to create an ugly scene, it was unsettling. Shortly after returning home, one of my friends observed I looked more agitated than relaxed. It was obvious the cruise did not agree with me. This is why I will not cruise with NCL again. It was such a toxic experience, I may give up cruising completely, regardless of the line.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2016 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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