THE STORY OF O JOHN SMITH
John Smith is the manager of an insurance company . He discovered diving few years ago during a vacation in Cancun. While not a dive addict, John usually makes a couple of dives during his vacations. John has been waiting all winter long for his well deserved vacation. He is willing to enjoy a relaxing time under the sun on a beautiful beach. And he is planning to do a few dives too. Perfect holiday!
The diving day has come and John gets up early, he enjoys a big breakfast and shows up at the dive center (called A-Diving) at the agreed time. After the usual welcome and introductions, the divemaster gives John a handful of papers to be filled. . Paperwork... We all know it's always the same, first paperwork and then diving.
While doing paperwork, John realizes that he has a "yes" in the Medical Statement. Let's say, this same year he got injured his back and had to operate. Minor surgery. It's been 6 months since that and therefore he writes "yes" in the medical statement. When the guide checks John's papers, he addresses John with a concerned face and tells him that at least, that morning he can not dive. John needs to see a doctor to certify that the surgery is not an impediment for diving. The guide offers to drive him to a doctor that same morning, and to start diving the day after. It is an easy and helpful offer.
But John does not see it that way. He's angry. He has only one week holidays and does not want to waste a morning visiting the doctor. He tries to convince the guide that his back is okay. John states that he talked to the doctor right before he came. The doctor told him that he can dive without any problem. The divemaster listens to him, understands him, but still, he has his hands tied up. He can not take John diving unless John brings a certificate signed by a doctor.
John gets very angry and yells at the guide. John does not understand why this dive center does not want to take him diving. "It's crazy," he thinks. "These stupid people just screwed up my vacation.
On the way back to his hotel, John passes by another dive center called B-Diving. He decides to enter and explain the situation to them. The owner of the dive center listens to him and says with a warm smile: "Do not worry dear John, we will take you diving. Here are the papers you have to fill out. Just please answer "no" to the question about recent surgery. It is not a serious problem and nothing will happen"
At the end John enjoys a couple of beautiful dives. Thanks God everything went well. He returns back home happy because he had amazing holidays with some nice diving too. Once at his office, he decides to review B-Diving dive center. John rates it with 5 stars and writes something like: "They are very professional, very friendly and always caring for the needs of their customers. I recommend it to everyone". In turn, out of spite, he decides to review A-Diving dive center too . But in this case the rate is a one star rate and the review is something like: "They are arrogant people who do not listen to the customer. Their service is very bad and I would not recommend it to anyone "
John could not be more wrong. John has just awarded the scammer and punished the one who offered him the best service and care. And even worse, he recommends everyone to use the services of that diving center that risked John's safety for a handful of dollars. Sometimes, in the world of diving, things are not as they seem. We must learn to evaluate situations the way they are and not the way we would like them to be. And we can not forget that watching over your safety is the best customer service that a diving center can offer to you and, in fact, it is obliged to offer to you.
We professionals face these situations constantly. The boom in the dive industry during the last years has had an inherent consequence to any big boom of any industry: competition. They say that competition force us to improve. In the case of the diving industry, sadly, sometimes it seems to happen the opposite. In order to compete, some operators choose to reduce quality and safety.
WHAT CAN YOU DISCOVER THROUGH AN OVERALL RATING?
A phrase that you will read a lot on any website of any dive center is: "Safety and quality are our main priorities". In many cases this is so. In some others, unfortunately not. How to distinguish them? Can you know through an overall rating if they truly care about safety and quality? It is very hard to.
The overall ratings on sites like TripAdvisor, Google or Facebook has been demerit. When you search online, you'll find that those dive centers that offer good quality are equal to those that offer a very bad service.
Even the overall ratings on sites like TripAdvisor, Google or Facebook has been demerit. Do the test for yourself. Search for dive centers on these websites and you will see that most have ratings between 4.9 and 5 out of 5. Like in the case of our friend John Smith, some of those ratings are based on too subjective points of view. Most of the dive centers deserve those ratings, since they really work hard for it. Some others unfairly do not deserve them. And it is unfair because when you check online, good quality dive centers have the same rating as those who only care about getting the money out of your pockets no matter the consequences.
How can we discern the quality of a dive center with the information we get online? Shown below are some guidelines to follow. Even so, it is important that you understand that these are generalized guidelines. Obviously we could customize each particular situation. But then, this would be an endless article.
1-LEARN TO READ BETWEEN LINES
Dive centers do not live outside the Internet and social networks. They know the importance of online ratings and work hard to get their 5 stars. Unfortunately, as we saw in the case of John, a good rating doesn't necessarily mean quality service or care for safety. It can just mean good customer skills. In other words, some dive centers will offer you a miserable service with the warmest of smiles. It is important to read between lines. As in the case of our friend John Smith, to believe blindly any review can lead you to misunderstandings
Let's see some examples:
"(...)Spontaneously we decided to take the course at the end of our vacation. Thanks to our instructor and his adaptability we were able to complete the Open Water course in 2 days."
"(...)My wife had many problems clearing the mask. Thank God our instructor was very understanding and he decided to skip the practice on the open sea(...)"
These are real comments. They are accompanied with 5 star ratings. These comments are alarming. And in turn, these comments should be the cause for someone to lose his/her job. Getting an Open Water course in two days is simply impossible, unless you skip a few standards. For second review, an instructor who omits obligatory exercises in open water is giving away a certification for which the student is not prepared yet, which at the end of the day, it is to put the student in danger.
A student who is not able to solve any problem underwater is not ready to be a diver. To omit obligatory exercises in the Open Water is not a good service. It is to give away a certification for which the student is not ready yet.
Let's look at some other comments:
"We've thrown our money away. After 4 days they did not want to give the certification to my girlfriend with the excuse that she was not able to clear her mask. They offered to certify her as Scuba Diver but, of course, they never wanted to give us back the money (...)"
"A dive center that does not listen to its customers. We hired them to take us diving to "Dive site A". We believe that because they had the boat full we were apologetic as the dives were above our level. Obviously they were. That's the reason why we hired them!"
These are real 1 star ratings. A student who is not able to solve any problem underwater is not ready to be a diver. The Open Water Course should not be a course that is passed just for the simple act of paying for it. For the second review: taking you to places that exceed your level is putting you in danger and is something that diving centers should not do. Doesn't matter the experience of your buddy or guide, you have your own limits and you will pay for it if you go far beyond them.
2-CHECK OUT A COUPLE OF COMMENTS FOR EACH RATING LEVEL
A single complaint of a single customer doesn't mean a general problem. When it is a general problem, it will show up in different comments and ratings. Think that what for someone can be a very bad service, for someone else can be just an okeish service. If you read a couple of reviews from each rating level you might find out a common factor. Let's see an example:
1 Star: "The instructor was rude and never showed real care of our learning problems. We decided to continue our training in the Dive Center next door... "
2 Star: "Unless you are a young blondie you will find yourself being ignored by the staff..."
3 Star: "We enjoyed the diving and the owner was very kind. Still, the guide was very rude and made very offensive personal jokes..."
4 Star: "They were very kind and diving was excellent. The contra we found is that once at the boat nobody explained us anything and we felt a little ignored and disoriented..."
Those are real ratings from a dive center. It has 297 ratings, 274 of them are 5 stars. Through these comments it can be seen that despite the efforts of the owners to offer a good service, there is at least one employee who is acting rude and careless towards customers. Reading some different comments from different rating levels will most probably give you the best overview of the dive centre.
3-READ THE ANSWERS OF THE DIVE CENTER
This is a very good way to learn about the management of the dive center you are analysing. The way they take criticism and the way they react when things go wrong is a good picture of the way you are going to be treated at the dive center. Again, let us show you some real examples:
-"We believe that you should be confused about diving centers. There is no customer record with your name in our files and we do not recognize your experience as a habitual practice of our diving center" (You will find this same answer for about 10 different comments)
-"We are really sorry that you experienced such a bad service. But as you will remember you came late and you were totally unprepared. Everybody had to wait for you. Maybe next time, to make things easier, you should plan to be at the dive center 10 minutes earlier and with all your paperwork done"
-" Dear .... We are very shocked about what you mention here. Your story doesn't match with the normal procedures of our dive center. On top of that we don't do DSDs with 8 participants. Maybe you are confused about the service you hired..."
Those are the answers of a dive center to all the bad reviews the received. It can be that sometimes, like John Smith, the customers are wrong about their perception of how things should be. But it can not be that the customer is the one who is always wrong. When you see this kind of answers, you realise that maybe yes, they have no other excuse than blaming the customer when something goes ugly.
4-CHECK THE PICTURES
A picture is worth of a thousand words.
The information you can get from the photographs is very valuable. If you will to spend a little time to analyze the pictures of the dive centers, you'll discover many interesting things about it:
-Diving equipment: You can see very easily in what state is the whole diving equipment. Although you may not be thinking about renting equipment, it is still a very significant value.
-Facilities: In many photographs you can analyze their facilities, boats, gear rooms, and give you a general idea of the dive center.
-Quality of their instructors: This is a very personal opinion. From my point of view there are two important points here:
- When I see a dive center where the average age of their instructors is in their early twenties, first, by pure mathematics, it can not be that these guys are very experienced instructors. Think that you can become instructor only when 18 years old. Secondly, I wonder why this dive center is not capable to employ experienced instructors. None of the possible answers I find to that question is positive.
- Photos underwater give me valuable information about the quality of their training. If you see pictures of students with a nice trim and with good buoyancy, you know that the dive center offers quality training. If, on the other hand, I see photographs with students swimming vertically, dramatically over weighted, dragging fins on the seafloor, etc. The truth, I doubt about the knowledge of their instructors. Besides, I doubt of the managers too, as I would never dare to post such photographs under the name of my own dive center.
-Size of their groups: You can easily check about it in their pictures. When you see one instructor with 10 people or maybe 2 instructors with 8 people etc...
-Pictures give you a feeling: You will have an instinct. Some kind of "i like this people" or "i don't know if i like them". Follow it. Many times first impressions are the correct ones.
5-ABOUT THE POSITIVE COMMENTS
Do not leave aside the comments and ratings of 5 stars. Comments as:
-They are passionate people
-They are nice and friendly
-Always willing to help
You have to understand that a diving center is a business that is based on customer service. That is the minimum. Without these customer service a dive center could not exist. It is wise to take good ratings into account, sometimes they are honest and very positive values. But in our industry, smiles and customer service are not all what matters. While the smile should not be disregarded, the safety of the divers, a complete training of the students, the decision making, putting quality and safety over money, to follow the rules, etc ... These are very important values that make diving a safe sport.
It is our responsibility to support and hire those centers that make an effort to create a business based on honesty and good practices above those who think about money regardless of the quality of their services or the safety of their clients. At the end of the day, the quality between the two dive centers differs greatly, but interestingly, not the price.