Here’s a question for you; do you regularly use inland dive centres in the UK, and if you do, do you enjoy the experience?

To clarify the question, I’m not talking about the quality of the water (usually cold and murky) because that is something that the dive centre operators can do little about (and the lack of visibility has a lot to do with the hapless students who form the bulk of the clientele).

No, what I am asking about is, do you feel welcome? Do you feel like a valued customer? If you had to rate the service you received would you give it a ten-out-of-ten (tick, gold star) or one-out-of-ten (could do better)?

I regularly take students to a number of UK inland dive centres and while some are excellent in this regard, some are abysmal. Rather than being treated as a valued customer, more often than not you are made to feel like an annoying necessity, something that they have to ‘put up with’.

This is certainly an unusual business model. Making the very people who are you primary (if not only) source of income, feel unwelcome seems like a strange strategy. As a freelance graphic designer I know all about how difficult customers can sometimes be, however since these people pay my wages I’m always mindful that I should be polite when dealing with them. It’s just good business sense.

Now I know that scuba divers can be as difficult as they come but they, like everyone else, work hard for their money and when they spend it, shouldn’t they expect a reasonable level of service and courtesy?
This is especially true when you consider the fact that for many students, inland dive centres are their first proper experience of scuba. A friendly word or gesture from the centre staff could go a long way to helping make them feel comfortable and less nervous. This could even result in some of them sticking with the sport longer than they might otherwise do. At a time when the dive industry in the UK is struggling, doesn’t that make sense?

So why is this the case? Is this only an issue with the dive industry or is it more widespread?

One theory is that many people go into the dive industry without the appropriate skill for dealing with the general public (and it is a real skill). Divers are passionate about their sport and this can lead to some of them deciding to make their passion their career as well. After all, why not do a job you love? This is just fine, but being a good diver doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good dive centre operator. Now it doesn’t mean that they won’t be either, but it is something anyone should really consider carefully before undertaking such a career.
As I mentioned before, I am a freelance graphic designer (a fairly solitary occupation) and not a dive centre operator. But I do know that if I decided to run a dive centre, I would employ someone else to be the public facing part of the operation. Why you ask? Simple, it’s because I can be a real grumpy sod at times and that isn’t the kind of person you want dealing with your fee paying customers. Not if you want them to come back that is.

For some of the dive centres, maybe it is a lack of competition that is the issue. After all, if you are the only game in town, why try harder? But this is a dangerous attitude to take.

Going back to graphic design, back in the 1990’s desktop publishing was just taking off. The industry standard was QuarkXpress. It was the only game in town as no-one had been able to come up with anything to rival it. However Quark was a horrible company to deal with. They were arrogant and unhelpful and they exploited their position by charging high prices. Every designer used their software, but every designer hated the company. So when Adobe (they of Photoshop fame) came out with a program that was as good as Quark, everyone jumped ship almost over night. Quark are a lot nicer to deal with these days, but only because they aren’t busy so they have a lot of time on their hands.

So, the lesson here is; just because you don’t have to be better, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be better. If another inland dive centre opens up anywhere nearby I, like many others I suspect, will be eager to try it out. And if it is even only as good as the less friendly dive centres out there, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a lot of divers voting with their feet (or fins).

Perhaps a better way to illustrate the point is to describe what happened with Ryanair recently. Ryanair were notorious for being one of the most customer un-friendly businesses, not just in the low fare airlines sector, but in any sector. They seemed to equate low fares with poor, uncaring service.

But recently they decided to try a different strategy which was; ‘what if we were nice to our customers’? The result of this change in attitude has been a significant upswing in business.

So, being nice to your customers seems to work. Let’s hope some UK dive centres take note, for all of our sakes.