Moral of the story I’m about to tell is that crappy experiences (on top of poor communication) don’t engender loyalty, particularly when people are on vacation and trying to relax. But they will promote word-of-mouth (though not the good kind). Lesson learned – the simple act of communicating and putting yourself in your customers shoes can often diffuse and turn a bad situation around.
We took a ferry ride yesterday from the mainland to an island (which will remain unnamed). The company that runs the ferry asks people to arrive at least 45 minutes beforehand, as tickets can only be purchased at the window. They don’t take reservations online or over the phone. Okay you say to yourself, a bit behind the times, but not that big a deal. We’re on vacation.
As anticipated, the window’s pretty crowded when we get there, because everyone’s thinking that they need to be beat the crowds. Okay you say to yourself, not that big a deal. We’re on vacation.
We buy our tickets and now it’s about an hour before the boat is supposed to leave at twelve. It’s already kind of crowded in the “holding area” but tolerable. And, we’re on vacation. By 11:30, the dock’s pretty full. Like waiting for the doors to open before a concert. An announcement over the loud speaker asks people to move as far down on the deck as they can, to make it easier for all people to enter the ferry in a timely manner.
By 11:45, people are looking for a boat that’s supposed to be leaving in fifteen minutes. It’s shoulder to shoulder on the dock, and if you’ve ever run the marathon,
you’d know the feeling. By the way, the sun’s shining and it’s also pretty hot. Not so okay anymore, because we’re on vacation.
At about twelve o’ clock, the time the boat is supposed to leave, another announcement asking people to move down the dock. Hundreds of people in unison shout back “no.” And now, the crowd’s not happy. We’re supposed to be on vacation. Babies are crying, kids are fidgety, adults are running out of patience, and a lot of older folks (who’ve been standing around for more than an hour) need a bathroom.
At 12:25, someone who has decided to anoint himself watchmen yells “I see the boat.” A collective round of applause, though it’s still fifteen minutes away. Finally, at about 12:40, we board the boat that is supposed to leave at 12.
To save you time, I’ll tell you that it was the same situation coming home. But to top it all off, they decide to collect passengers tickets as they’re getting off the boat at the destination.
So, back to the moral of the story. Some simple communication on the part of the ferry company could have saved the day. And prevented a whole lot of people from getting really pissed off and swearing that they’ll never do this again. Seems that only one boat was running that day, as the other one was experiencing mechanical difficulties.
Here’s where the bit about communication kicks in. Why not let passengers know about the delays as we were purchasing our tickets. Even better, why not leave a message about the delays on the ferry information line. Or, why not tell us when we’re parking our cars about a quarter mile away from the ferry, passing a number of local food and drink options along the way.
My list of “why nots” could go on. Because there were ten different things the company could have done when the hundreds of passengers were shuffled into the “holding area” waiting for the boat. Regardless of what business you’re in, your goal is to create happy customers. And so often (as in life), it’s the little things that make the difference. In this case, both brand and (hundreds of) customers lost.