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Departments: First Word

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher


Quality Conundrum

Scott Paton

I’ve been complaining about customer service a lot lately. Regular readers of my column will no doubt attest to my dissatisfaction with the state of customer service today.

I recently had an interesting experience that’s left me with a bit of a customer service conundrum, which I’ll explain later.

Last month I went on a seven-day Alaskan cruise with my wife, son, sister and mother. We sailed on Royal Caribbean International’s Vision of the Seas.

The ship was beautiful. It was spotlessly clean and much more open than I anticipated. Our cabin was tastefully appointed with sufficient storage for all of our belongings.

The food was excellent and, as I had been warned, was available around the clock. The service in the dining room and café was excellent. Our head waiter, waiter, assistant waiter and all of the other food-service personnel were friendly, knowledgeable and catered to our every whim.

The entertainment was top-notch. We enjoyed the evening shows, the karaoke (no, I didn’t sing), the lectures, the exhibits and even the bingo (no, I didn’t win).

The itinerary was also terrific. We marveled at the Hubbard glacier, took a train ride through the mountains in Skagway, flew over the spectacular Mendenhall glacier near Juneau and visited the totem pole museum in Ketchikan.

Prior to booking our cruise, our travel agent informed us that we would have to pay $629 plus taxes and other fees for our 10-month-old son to accompany us. She told us that the cruise line was required by the U.S. Coast Guard to “have a bunk for every passenger on the ship.” This meant we’d need a triple cabin.

Imagine our surprise when we opened our cabin door and saw that our cabin had one double bed in it. A few minutes after we arrived, our cabin attendant delivered a crib—our “third bunk.” Unfortunately, when he tried to set up the crib, he quickly discovered that it didn’t fit in our cabin. Even if it had fit, it would have been impossible to open the bathroom door or reach the door to the cabin. In addition, the crib was old and unstable. He apologized and removed the crib.

My wife called the purser’s office and explained our situation. We had paid for a triple cabin and we expected to be given one. “No problem, we’ll send up a different crib,” she was told.

A few minutes later, a different cabin attendant arrived with an identical crib. Of course, it didn’t fit either. He, too, apologized and disappeared.

Again we called the purser’s office. This time we were told that our cabin was actually a quadruple cabin because, unbeknown to us, there were two bunk beds that could be pulled down from the ceiling. Why didn’t we just put our son on one of those? I replied that I didn’t think it was a good idea to put a 10-month-old baby on a bed that was five feet off the ground. She told me that there was nothing that she could do and that I would have to call customer service after the cruise to request a refund. No apology was offered.

So my wife and son and I spent seven nights in a double bed—not the end of the world, but frustrating when you paid extra for the mysterious “third bunk.”

Here’s the conundrum: We had a wonderful vacation with one lousy service experience. Did this one failure to meet our “requirements” result in a poor-quality vacation? Let me know what you think. E-mail your comments to spaton@qualitydigest.com.