Are Your Poorly Executed Low Margin Services Hurting Business?

On a recent dive trip to the Philippines I saw two different situations where service companies had upset and lost some of their best customers over something that could have been prevented by a bit of attention to detail.  Too often companies do not understand the value of these low margin, loss leader tasks on their reputation and in the case of SCUBA diving, their potential liability.  I see this problem everywhere from minimum wage check out staff, call centers and front line technicians that just slog away day to day not thinking about how their actions have a direct impact to the bottom line of the business.

Doing what is expected and Requested by Customers

The first problem was the quality of SCUBA gear maintenance.  Most dive shops offer it to get people back into the store and hope they upgrade their gear, take a new course or sign up for a trip. Like filling tanks, one of the few things related to diving you cannot buy online.   Since they don’t make much on the annual maintenance most treat it that way.  Let me set up the situation from this trip in the Philippines.   There were 25 divers that went with Backscatter to Anilo Philippines for a 10 day macro photo course.   The trip is expensive so you can assume these customers have a bit of money.   All had relatively new and higher end gear and since they use it a lot all take good care of it.  On this trip we had at least 8 divers that had some sort of gear problem that is directly related to poor repair service by their local dive shop.

All regulator manufactures require you to service your breathing device annually.  It is either a full rebuild of all moving parts and o-rings which is done every other year or a visual where they check everything out for defects and wear and if all looks good you are good for another year.  The nice things is if you keep the maintenance current, the parts for the rebuild are free.  This is a very small price to pay by the manufacture to minimize lawsuits from dive injuries from malfunctioning equipment.  Unfortunately, since it is a low margin service, many dive shops relegate this to “support staff” who do this sort of work for discounted dive gear or free air or as part of the duties of the shop’s sales staff. It is not complicated work but does require attention to detail and time for the online certification course.

Lets start with my problem first, mine and Motoko’s gear was due for just for an inspection but since we were going on a long trip with an estimated 40 dives I asked for ours to be rebuilt and I would pay for the parts.  When I picked up my gear a few days before the trip, I learned they did a visual inspection only.  Since every thing looked good the tech felt there was no need to do a rebuild – not what I asked and was willing to pay for.   I can accept that since it looked good but my concern was with our wireless air transmitters that send data to our wrist computers.   These batteries are supposed to be replaced annually.  The dive shop clerk did not have an explanation as to why it was not replaced.   Since opening it requires a certified tech to keep the warranty, they were not able to change the batteries before we left on the trip.  Also, they require a specific battery that is not readily available which is why I was looking for the parts bag in the first place.   The previous year I had two transmitters fail during a dive and when checked the batteries upon return we learned the dive shop had used some cheap batteries from China they had bought online to save a few dollars.

There are 2 distinct problems in my case.  First they did not do what the customer asked and was willing to pay for.  Specific notes were added to the ticket to tell them to do a full overhaul. Second, the required service was not done.  Had I not specifically checked I would not have known they did not replace the batteries.  They had the gear for 45 days so should not have been a rush job.  I have had two previous issues with techs doing a bad job including where they forgot to tighten the yolk value after repair and it flooded and another leaded transmitter when they had not tightened it correctly.  In both cases the dive center covered the repairs but both caused me problems when I was out diving.  There are not many dives shops near us so we are running out of alternatives.

The other 7 divers, 2 of them on our boat, had similar problems.  They paid for the full service but did not happen.   One diver had a serious leak on the first dive were her computer attached to the high pressure hose that had a serious leak.   She came to the surface and found that they had not put the o-ring back on where it connects to the hose.  She would miss out on that dive and we had to go back to the resort to get her another regulator.   The second person had a problem on dive 2 when her high pressure hose had a rapid stream of bubbles coming from it.  Back on the boat after the dive, she found that her hose was worn.   That is one of the items that is supposed to be checked during the inspection.  First to make sure the hose is not on a recall list and second for any sort of damage or excessive wear.  A blown high pressure hose is not only a problem since that takes away your air supply it can also cause great injury as it is a higher pressure hose that is bouncing around your head violently until the air run out or is turned off.

The point of the story is that every one of these cases the diver did their part and took their gear in to get serviced before this important trip.  They expected the professional to do their job and since they did not this resulted in undue stress and frustration and in all cases the divers indicated they would change dive shops.  We have moved onto another dive shop to give them a try to see if their are any better.   Checking with a few of the divers after the trip they have all changed costing that shop both revenue and most importantly, a hit to their reputation.  Again these are people with money and at a time where more gear and travel is bought online, local dive shops need to excel at the small things that actually force people into their stores.  Even if you relegate this to junior person or volunteer the owner must ensure that things are done correctly and that customers are satisfied.  I had suggested that when people tell you they are going on a big trip contact them after and see how it went.  If they had a problem with gear that is a potential to try and resolve it or maybe sell them something more specialized.   I had been going to my local dive shop for 12 years and every few years replacing at least 2 if not 4 sets of gear so lets see if they miss me this year.

Expectations of High Value Advice and Service

This was the second set of problems people experienced on the trip.  To be fair, no one can know all the bits that go into a custom camera package but when people are paying as much as a low end car for a camera set up they are expecting a certain level of experience and service.  During the trip there were a few cases, myself included, where we bought a package of some sort and had problems.  In my case they handled it great but did require a bit of effort that was more than necessary on my part.

Anilao is one of the ultimate places for underwater macro photography.  The suggestion was to bring a extension diopter to help magnify some of the smaller critters.  Now I did research between 3 or 4 different online stores but quickly realized there were too many moving parts and needed help. Trying to piece the adapter, a converter due to the housing mount being a different diameter and something to allow me to move the diopter out of the way when not using it was to time consuming so I called my favorite store Backscatter.    They suggested a specific combination and strongly recommended one diopter over the other especially for this trip.   Other review sites I read suggested the same product.   They sent me everything a few days before departing and since I was testing everything I tried to assemble this set up as well.    No matter what I tried the diopter would not fit the flip mount that they suggested for my camera.  I spent a good amount of time trying to get it to fit – frontwards, backwards, even almost disassembling it thinking the mount was put together backwards in the factory.  I sent a note to support and they replied to tell me they they had the same outcome when trying to replicate it on a similar set up – does not fit.   They indicated this diopter was new and they had not tested it on this specific mount.   They dropped the next best one in the mail overnight and I got it and all worked well.  Would have sucked if I had blind trust and waited until I got to the Philippines to put it together as others on the trip did.

I had a similar problem with a prior wide angle/video trip.   I called the sales team and told then what I wanted.  They suggested a very specific package.  I paid for it and it arrived and went on the trip assuming that I had all I needed.   After the first day of diving all of my photos had a bright spot from the internal flash reflecting off the dome.  One of the other divers heard me and told me I needed to block the internal flash from getting into the dome.  He was surprised they had not sent a small felt ring that goes around the lens between the housing and camera to block the flash reflection.  I made one out of cardboard for the next day and set an email to the sales team.  They responded with yes, we sell that item for $10 but most people don’t want to pay $10 for a piece of felt.  Again, why not at least suggest that I get it to solve a well known problem? Or better yet, why not add it as part of the package for that expensive dome/lens would have been better experience or at least add as an item on the invoice to trigger a conversation.

Some of the other divers did not fair well.   They were missing whole components like sync cords to talk to strobes.  IN every case the people felt that it should have been in the package or at least notified that they needed to make the set work.   I am not a fan of nickel and dimeing people.  In the end you pay the same price so why not just include it or at least list the additional items necessary.   Seriously, if you are paying $15k for a new camera package the sync cords or fancy carry handle should be part of the package or at least a line item the user can tell you to remove.
In this case the photo pro that came to the event from this shop had a couple or cords knowing they fail.

There were other photographers that could not use their new camera rig since they were missing a key part that was simple to include or at least ensure they bought.   They specifically told the sales person they were going on this long trip so a bit of extra attention should have been provided to make sure they had all of the items they needed to make their expensive toy usable.   Imagine flying around the world to use your new expensive underwater camera only to find out that you were missing the gear to focus the lens, or the cords to fire your strobes or in one case the battery for the camera itself.  Yes, that one was a user fault since it is on the checklist but a simple question by sales, do you have the battery for the brand new camera you are buying from us would have gone a long way.

So ask yourself, how much business am I loosing from poor performance on low margin services.  In the end it is your responsibility to ensure that your front line teams are doing their jobs to the best of their ability.  And remember it is had to expect owner level knowledge and passion from a minimum wage employee that has nothing to loose from providing poor service your clients.  Ensure they are motivated, trained and passionate.  Also ensure that the best of your clients are happy and getting the service they are willing and most importantly able to pay for.
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