Customer Service Around The World


arrecife coffee.jpgThis is the eighth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Lanzarote is one of the seven Canary Islands off of the coast of Africa. It's a large island, volcanic in origin, and not heavily populated.
Arrecife, where we stopped is the largest city.

The first thing one notices is the beautiful contrast between the dark volcanic earth and the pure white buildings. The second thing one notices is how tremendously friendly everyone seems to be.

Restaurants, coffee shops, taxis, stores - it didn't matter. We were treated like friends. Perhaps the most memorable was the taxi driver, Miguel, who took us to the breathtaking Timanfaya National Park. He took great pains to ensure we missed nothing. If you find yourself in Arrecife, he's the cabbie you want. Just look for the only Mercedes SUV cab on the lsland.  And special mention go to the employees of the crazy-busy Granier coffee shop in Lanzarote, who just rocked!

The primary industry on the island is tourism, so great customer service is, perhaps, to be expected. But having travelled to many destinations that rely on tourism, so far, this one is at the top of the list. Not hard to understand why The Canary Islands are one of the most popular destinations for British vacationers.

Tomorrow - Casablanca Morocco.  Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

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Customer Service in The NO Bar

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sparkly staircase.jpgThis is the seventh installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

The MSC Preziosa has 17 lounges and bars to accommodate the 3,000+ passengers on board. Although there are some delightful and memorable exceptions, the employees in these lounges and bars may be the worst trained and managed teams in food and beverage history.

The worst of the worst is in The NO Bar.

Okay, it's not actually called the NO bar. The official name is Il Cappuccino. We've begun calling it the NO bar because "no" seems to be their default first answer to everything.

"You have Cafe Latte?"
"No"
"But isn't that it on the menu?
"Oh, yes"

"Can I have a Irish Coffee made with decaf?"
"No"
"How come"
"Okay, well maybe"

In the NO bar, everything is an effort...

A few steps from the NO bar is the wine bar, which is usually pretty good. One young Balinesian server is one of the real bright lights on this ship. But sometimes, during shift changes, people from the NO bar will fill in at the wine bar - and they bring their No's with them.

"We have a bottle of Chianti saved here. Can we get that from you?
"No. I wouldn't know anything about that"
"How about you check that little fridge beside you"
"Oh. There it is..."

The part that is getting to all of us is that, with MSC Cruises automatic 15% penalty fee attached to every bill (they call it a 'gratuity', but there is no connection between it and actual customer service), the NO people end up getting paid just as much as the exceptional people. That just doesn't seem fair. And it certainly does nothing to promote better service.

Gabrielle Rocks!

On a quick, unrelated note, there is one person on board who so far stands heads and tails abover everyone else. Her name is Gabrielle. We have no idea what she actually does on the ship, except that she is always smiling, always happy, and seems to be able to remember the names of all 3,000+ passengers.

When I start my own cruise line, she's the first person I'm hiring.

Today we are on Tenerife of The Canary Islands. Stay tuned!


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When is a Tip not a Tip?

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waitress.jpgThis is the sixth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

When you think of the word "tip" or the word "gratuitiy," what do you think of?  Personally, I think of it as the opportunity to thank someone for the customer service you have received. In Canada, and many other countries, a tip can vary depending on the level of service.  There are times, for example, I've left as much as 40% for truly exceptional experiences, but then left nothing for truly horrendous ones.

In many European countries, the 'tip' is built in.  It really isn't a gratuity at all, but a fee - a surcharge - with no real benefit attached.  It is basically a restaurant's way of saying, "We've found a way of offsetting a large part of our labour costs."  Such is the case with the MSC Preziosa - and all MSC cruise lines.  They add a 15% surcharge to everything about the cruise - including the cost of the cruise itself.  They call it a 'gratuity', but it really has no relationship to customer service.

Does it really make a difference?  Absolutely.  On the American/British - owned Princess Cruise line, passengers are asked to tip their cabin attendants at the end of the cruise.  That tip gets distributed amongst all of the staff.  The better the service has been, the more money everyone makes.  Simple.  The result?  On the Princess  lines, your cabin attendant takes great pains to introduce hiimself or herself.  He/she goes out of his way to make sure you are getting everything you need.  Throughout the ship, everyone is engaged and involved.  The crew hold each other accountable, because they know that it only takes one poor experience to impact everyone.  

That is not the case on the MSC Preziosa.  Because the 15% "Gratuity" (surcharge) is mandatory, everyone gets the same - no matter how well or how poorly their customer service is.  

My question is, why not just raise the cost of the cruise by 15% and stop the pretense of it being a gratuity?

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

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preziosa-lounge.jpgThis is the fifth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Over the last six days aboard the MSC Preziosa we've seen an impressive and steady improvement in customer service. We're not entirely sure what has transpired internally to create the change, but it is a very different experience now than it was just a few days ago.

Friendly, helpful staff - that seemed non-existent before - are now in abundance. They seem more relaxed. More focused on the passengers. While we're still encountering some who appear far more task-oriented than customer-oriented, it's not happening nearly as frequently.

We're experiencing some truly outstanding moments now. Nothing earth shattering or "Wow," but those things aren't necessary for an outstanding experience. What we're experiencing now is the sense that the staff care about the passengers, and that's what outstanding customer service is all about.

Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding

 


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Customer Service on the MSC Preziosa

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preziosa.pngThis is the fourth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa
Customer Service on The MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

In the last post about the MSC Preziosa, I didn't have a lot of kind things to say. Although the negative customer service experiences still vastly outweigh the positive ones, it's only fair to acknowledge that there are indeed some positives. They are somewhat isolated, but they do exist.

One worth mentioning was a little service recovery piece done by the young Brazilian woman server who looks after us at dinner. During the first dinner onboard, we were all shocked that MSC was charging extra for coffee and water. The server was most apologetic, and was clearly a little embarrassed when I asked, "So, what is there to drink that is included with the dinner?" It turns out, apparently, that an MSC Cruise Line definition of a 'meal' does not include anything that is liquid.

For us, it was the final straw in what had been a day of nickel-and-diming and surprise surcharges. On sheer principle, we couldn't bring ourselves to pay extra for something that had been included on any other cruise we had been on. So, the second evening, we brought our own water bottles.

On the third evening, however, our server appeared with bottles of her own - and filled all of our glasses. Clearly she identified that she had some unhappy customers, and was taking steps to correct it. I don't know if she asked permission, or if she just decided to do it on her own (which is why I'm not using her name!), but she deserves a lot of credit for taking ownership and trying to turn a negative into a positive.

Smiling, happiness or just ordinary pleasantries continue to be a rarity on the MSC Preziosa. The crew behaviour is a stark contrast to the MSC promotional videos that play all over the ship, showing happy, friendly staff and claiming a relentless focus on customer experience. The exceptions, and we have had a few, have been outstanding, however. I wonder if those employees realize how much of a positive difference they make.

One young Balinese server was laughing and regaling us with life in her country. By the time she moved on, everyone was smiling and happy. When I start my own cruise line, she's the first person I'm going to hire.

The Customer Is Always... Annoying?

"Can you make me a whisky sour" I asked the nice server from Madagascar. She checked with the bartender and came back. "No," she said. "We can only serve things that are on the menu."

"Huh," I said, having already had more than one in other bars over the last few days. "Okay, then, how about some Pinot Grigio?" I pointed to the item on the menu. A few minutes later she arrived with four glasses of something that was definitely not Pinot Grigio.

"Um, I don't think that's Pino Grigio," I said, pointing at the bubbles. Off she went to check with the bartender, then came back with, "Yes, the bartender says it is." In typical Canadian fashion, we decided not to make a big deal of it, and just took the sparkling wine.

When we were finished, I decided to do a very un-Canadian thing, and approached the bartender. When pressed, he admitted that he had substituted a sparkling wine because he couldn't find the one we had ordered. Obviously, he thought we just wouldn't notice the bubbles.

I then asked him if he had sour mix. He said they did. I asked why he couldn't bring himself to pour the whisky (I pointed at it) and sour mix into a glass. He just looked at me like I was the most annoying person on earth. At that point I just sort of gave up.

All of these things, of course, are little things. Trivial, in the grand scheme. But the collective impact is huge. Later that evening, the four of us were comparing the MSC Preziosa to other cruises we have been on. It was unanimous that, given a choice, this is a cruise line we will avoid in the future. And THAT is the cost of poor customer service right there.

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
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christ.pngThis is the third installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa
Customer Service on The MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Our next stop, as we move up the coast of Brazil, was Rio de Janiero, home of the legendary Carnivale, Christ The Redeemer Statue, and Copacabana beach. The atmosphere is markedly different than that of Sao Paulo and Santos. With the thriving international tourist industry, and the full-speed preparations for the upcoming Olympics, the people of Rio are much more aware of customer service. There is a warmth; an eagerness to help, that just wasn't apparent in either Sao Paulo or Santos.

It was also interesting how closely the merchants worked together to look after their customers. I asked one vendor with an outdoor key-cutting stand, for example, if he sold watch batteries. He smiled and stood up instantly. Guiding me by the arm, we walked a half a block to another merchant who did, indeed, sell batteries. The key-stand guy walked away with a cheerful "Ciao!" and the watch-battery guy smiled, took my watch and replaced the battery in a matter of seconds.

Wow. I didn't see that coming.

I think of outdoor vendors in virtually every other city I've been to, my home town of Ottawa included. If they don't have what you're looking for, most will give you an annoyed look, grunt out a "no", then go back to checking their Facebook page. Not so in Rio.

The language barrier still creates a challenge, but the people of Rio seem more than willing to get creative with gestures and props to make sure they understand and are understood. There was a lot more laughter and engagement pretty much everywhere we went. All in all, a terrific experience.

Next:  More about customer service on the MSC Preziosa.  Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
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preziosa.pngThis is the second installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard theMSC Preziosa
Customer Service on The MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

There are not many places where customers have higher expectations than they do on cruise ships. The cruise industry has, at least from a marketing point of view, set the bar pretty high.

I've been on a few cruises, with a few different cruise lines, and have to say that they do a pretty decent job of meeting those expectations. No small feat, given the gigantic number of passengers they accommodate evey day - with people from every age, culture and language imaginable.

This is our first time on an MSC cruise, and it's been interesting to contrast the customer service and overall experience levels to the other lines we've experienced. Our first impressions? Not great.

At first, we thought maybe it was just the language barrier, and language challenges that the crew experience. There is a hugely diverse group of passengers on this 3,000+ passenger boat, speaking Portuguese, Spanish, German and Italian. There are a few French speakers, and very few (we've found no-one else yet) English speakers. The staff have to be able to navigate all of these. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that language - at least verbal language - wasn't the issue.

Customer Service Is Not On The MSC Cruise Line Radar
It becomes obvious very quickly that process, efficiency and maximizing revenue are all they are really focused on. Customer service, for the most part, does not appear to be a priority.

Seriously - how hard is it to smile?
Getting anything remotely like a simple smile from anyone who works on the MSC Preziosa is pretty much out of the question. It has already become a game for us - trying to get a bartender, waiter, steward or any MSC employee to smile.

The answer is NO.
With one very notable exception of a wonderful young Brazilian employee at the customer service desk - Alejandro - they seem far more focused on enforcing the rules than on creating positive moments. As an example - We were walking through a passageway, when two employees began waving us away, saying 'No! No!' They pointed and gestured that we were to take a different route to our desitnation. We dutifully complied, but on completing our detour, went back to the people to ask why. (it turned out to be about a 6' stretch of hallway that we had been blocked from). The person said - "Oh, you could have walked through. I thought you were trying to exit the ship."

Had he taken the time, of course, to simply confirm where we were headed, and listen to the answer, the detour could have been avoided. But it seems to be far easier for the folks here to just say "No."

But Wait, There's More!

There's more - things that are significantly substandard from a customer experience point of view - but to be fair to the people of The Preziosa, I'll save that for the next post. It's early days yet, and maybe our first impressions will turn out to be anomolies.

And, in defense of the staff of The MSC Preziosa, I am quite confident that the absense of customer service is more a reflection of the leadership on the boat than on the front line. I haven't met the executive team yet, but whenever you see such a consistent lack of warmth or enthusiasm in such a large and diverse employee base, it is an attitude that has come from the top. I have researched, consulted and advised on customer experience for over 25 years now, and have almost never seeen an exception. A team's behaviour is a direct reflection of their manager. Period.

Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
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santos.pngThis is the first installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard theMSC Preziosa.

If you've never done it before, you have to try this: Go to a country where virtually no-one speaks your language. Imagine trying to order from a menu written in a language you don't unerstand, and nobody to translate. Imagine trying to buy a pair of shoes, tell a taxi driver where you want to go, or ask about WiFi. If everyone in the world would have such an experience, there would be far greater tolerance of immigrants and different cultures.

Such is Brazil for us.

The first night we were here, I randomly picked two things off of what appeared to be an appetizer section of a restaurant menu for four uf us to share. We ended up with one plate heaped with huge pastries filled with ground beef, and a second plate filled with... well... something.

Huh.

Dispite the language difficulties, the customer service we have experienced here has been okay. Not stellar. Not remarkable. But with the one exception of a taxi driver that didn't speak English and couldn't read Portuguese, people are patient and polite.

What we didn't see were people who seemed happy, cheerful or tremendously engaged though. These are just jobs for these people, and not intended to be proud of or enjoyed.

One smiling young man approached us as we were walking through a market and said in perfect English, "You speak English! Where are you from ?" He then went on to tell us about a local restaurant we HAD to go to for lunch. Best in Santos we were told. Owned by his mother. Dutifully, we complied, thinking that maybe this would be a different experience, but once again it was okay.

Interesting.

Today, we head to the port to embark on the MSC Presioza. It is a gigantic ship, carrying over 3,000 passengers. We will be departing this on our way to Rio de Janiero.

Cruise ships are remarkable places to examine customer service. Customer expectations are high, and the workload for the staff is non-stop. I've seen a lot over the years - good and bad.  Let's see how MSC does. Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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people-map-small.jpgOne of the most interesting things about customer service is having the opportunity to see what it looks like in different countries and different cultures.

Well, over the next nine weeks I will be visiting nine countries, and doing exactly that.  What are the differences?  What are the similarities?  Who provides outstanding customer service and where do we have more mediocre experiences?

Stay tuned and check back frequently as I update!  I'll be looking at customer service in:

  • Brazil
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Morocco
  • France
  • Italy
  • Malaysia
  • <Philippines
  • UAE

Cheers!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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Can Comcast Turn The Customer Service Tide?

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Thumbnail image for comcast.jpgBrian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, admitted recently that the customer service delivered by the cable giant needs work.  He, and Comcast EVP Neil Smit, claim that they are taking action to address it.

The question is, of course, can they do it?  The odds aren't in their favour.

It's hard enough for any organization to make significant changes to their culture.  Harder still for a giant like Comcast with 80,000+ employees.  And then, when you compound that with their track record of creating angry customers (there's even a "Comcast Sucks" Facebook page), we're getting into the territory of miracles.

If Mr. Roberts is serious -  many think he isn't, and is saying those things just to help clear the way for a merger with Time Warner - then they have a long and difficult path ahead of them.  Here are the things that have to happen, in the order they have to be addressed:

1.  Make it clear at the executive level that customer experience is the number one priority.  Quickly weed out individuals, no matter what level they are at, who aren't actively and genuinely promoting this direction.

2.  Set employee satisfaction, happiness and engagement as the dominant kpi for all managers - including senior leadership.  Their biggest issue right now is cultural.  Most of the collossal customer service failures we've been reading about have come from disengaged empolyees who just don't care.

3.  Set immutable standards for leadership and customer service, together with non-negotiable consequences.  They will need to quickly weed out the negative influences.

4.  Flatten the escalation process.  Give front-line employees broad empowerment to fix things that aren't right.  Let them make decisions, with the understanding that they won't get in trouble as long as a decision is focused on the right thing to do for the customer.

5.  Identify all of the policies, processes and practices that are having a negative impact on customer experience.  Prioritze them, then fix them all.

6.  Make the investment in solid customer service training for all of their employees.  None of the elearning stuff - real, interactive group training

7.  Madate all managers to relentlessly and positively coach employees to consistently deliver outstanding experiences.  

8.  Measure performance - reward performance - get rid of those who don't contribute.

 

Doing this will require decisiveness and raw, relentless, unapologetic action over many years.  Not many companies have that appetite, and not many CEOs have that vision and persistence.  Whether Comcast has what it takes remains to be seen...

Shaun Belding 
CEO 
The Belding Group 
www.beldingskills.com 
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This is the eighth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link) Lanzarote is one of the seven Canary Islands off of the coast of Africa. It's a large...



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