National Customer Service Week

By | Category: Travel rumblings

This week is the annual week where customer service and, by inference, customer satisfaction is to the fore.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Ecstasy cruises off Cozumel, Mexico. Carnival brough in extra staff to process refunds. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

Usually surveys appear telling us whether satisfaction and service levels have gone up or down.

Not this year can any comparison work be done in many industries because COVID-19 has affected us all.

But in one industry, travel, customer service has been woeful this year.

The way which tour operators, travel agencies and airlines have handled refunds which they are legally bound to do has been slow and lamentable. Now we are finding that those in the cruise business whether they be specialised cruise travel agencies or shipping lines have also been dilatory.

Last week Planet Cruise was the subject of a BBC report as it had taken more than ninety days to issue refunds. In the USA there are similar stories about Norwegian Cruise Lines. Carnival Cruises initially only offered a credit refund to be set against future sailings as did Celebrity, Costa, Cunard, MSC, P&O and Disney to just name a handful.

In most cases these policies changed to refunds when the length of the shutdowns became apparent.

Norwegian, for example, has just announced thatit has suspended some cruises until the end of November and some others until March 2021. It has offered a refund payable within 25 days for those who want it. That is much better consumer service that it seemed to be providing in May this year so at least one cruise company has altered its approach!

In fairness to the travel industry they were in a difficult position. To refund monies with staff furloughed meant that there were insufficient staff to process the refunds. Secondly, paying out all the monies they had taken in meant they experienced cash flow problems as money had been used for maintenance and other costs.

These arguments though cut no ice with passengers wanting their money back due to either their own financial situation or because they might have believed that their provider might be around to honour any vouchers.

When the ATOL system was extended to vouchers that helped but even then the travel industry was slow to learn its lesson.

That lesson was that passengers need to be told what is going on and to be told of the difficulties. Explaining a problem often brings people back as a supporter. It all depends on how a problem is handled

Communication with customer seemed sadly lacking. That is what travel companies need to learn But then so do governments which seem not to understand just how badly and for how long the travel industry could be affected.

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