Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The dodgy pint analogy
You're drinking in a public house and you see another customer go up to the bar with his pint. He holds it up to the light and speaks to the barman. What do you do? That's right, you hold your own pint up to the light and check it. Hmmm! Yes, it is a bit cloudy. Within a minute you're at the bar too, and a queue is forming behind you.
How should an intelligent, customer-focused publican handle such a situation? Simple. As soon as customer 1 starts to raise his pint to query its appearance the publican should take it, empty the glass down the sink and draw a fresh pint from a different barrel before anyone else in the pub realises what's going on. Customer 1 is satisfied and withdraws. The publican then tours the bar, casually checking other pints and speaking to anyone whose drink looks anything less than perfect.
To carry on with this analogy, what apparently is the equivalent Costa approach?
Firstly, make sure that there's no one at the bar who this irritating customer can pester with his miserable, worthless complaint. Let him stew. Then, when the whole bar is congested with complaining customers who've spotted the first complaint, pretend to listen, even pretend you'll call the brewery, but do absolutely nothing. After all, it'll soon be closing time and they'll have to leave, unsatisfied. Will they come back ever again? Who knows and who cares. After all, the publican is only a paid manager and it isn't his reputation on the line.
Things then start to escalate, with customers starting to become aware of the wide range of the pub's other faults and then start airing their other grievances, none of which are ever resolved, for example, the stale sandwiches, dirty glasses and the faulty hand drier in the toilet. As a result, customers become convinced that both the pub manager and the brewery just couldn't care less, and a downwards spiral of anger begins.
Costa's major problem, having taken this approach, is that their dreadful management of legitimate customer complaint has now led to a widening of the issues that are being raised. This isn't because passengers are inventing problems; it's because any reasonable person will accept that no cruise is perfect and will make allowances for smaller shortcomings. In Costa's case, having been treated with contempt passengers are now bringing forward everything else that was wrong.
Let's list a few of these things:
- food served consistently luke-warm in the ship's premium Orion restaurant, in spite of repeated complaints
- the imposition of a large compulsory gratuity, applied in spite of some of the worst service most of us have seen on a cruise ship
- the careless mislaying by Costa of several passports
- the loss of luggage removed on the last night to the quayside (still not traced days later)
- attempted fraud during the cruise on a customer's credit card ... in Genoa!
- being told to get out of cabins by 4am on the final morning, even those transferring to the airport in the afternoon
- being told to get off the ship by 6.30am on the final morning, regardless of transfer schedule
- the smell of sewage on deck late at night - one wonders why
- only having plastic picnic mugs and cups for tea and coffee
- unpleasant attempts by ship's management to suppress passenger dissent
- the repeated subordination of customer wishes to the convenience of Costa and its staff
- reading in the cruise documentation after a particularly unpleasant excursion experience that Costa takes no responsibility whatsoever for any excursions that it arranges - see section 15. Excursions
One could go on ad infinitum, and as more and more passengers get in touch with their horror stories we probably will.
But let's be clear on one thing: it's entirely reasonable to assume that many of these failures are systemic and apply right across the Costa fleet, even on ships that aren't crippled and past their sell-by date. And it's for this reason that the offer of €600 per person against a future cruise was a careless insult.
And all of this simply because the metaphorical barman didn't deal with the dodgy pint immediately, thoughtfully and efficiently