Friday, 6 January 2012

When Good Service Turns Sour

My mother is a fan of Lite Shipping. Travelling between Plaridel and Tagbilaran City when two vessels were still plying the route, she always prefers Lite Shipping over Palacio Shipping lines. Reasons? Many.
Lite shipping is much cleaner.
It is a newer sea craft than Palacio’s.
Its crew are much more efficient.
It always arrives earlier than the other boat, departing on time, and arriving much earlier.
As she goes to Bohol to visit his favourite son every month (as there is no other), I always hear her good comments.  The fact that Lite Shipping’s vessel arrives at 10 in the evening in Tagbilaran from Plaridel after a short stop at Larena makes picking her up much bearable, as compared to Palacio’s that arrives at around 1 to 2 dawn.  This makes me love Lite Shipping too.
My family (wife and two kids plus a nanny) went home to Calamba, Misamis Occidental, my hometown, to spend Christmas after almost two years of not being able to visit the place.  The last time we went home we rode on a plane from Cebu and this time around, my mother’s admiration of Lite Shipping (and of course the associated costs) convinced me and my wife to try going home using their vessel.  We could not purchase tickets early on, as they said we are only allowed to do so five days before departure.  We also can not purchase cabin tickets, our preference, even five days before departure and were told that this had to be arranged with vessel crew during the day of travel itself.
Tickets were bought. Bags were packed. The day came and we went to the pier at around 7 because the vessel was to leave at eight.  Unfortunately, the vessel has not arrived yet. It was good that there is a canteen in the pier where my family, my kids particularly, can rest comfortably.  I was patient, not because I normally am but because it was the Christmas season. You can not afford to get disappointed at the beginning of a holiday trip.  But the more we waited the more I had the feeling that I might be dissatisfied with the company that my mom was a solid fan of.
Around 830 in the evening, the vessel arrived. We made our way to the vessel.  It was no longer true that Lite Shipping is much cleaner, unless Palacio really looked awful like the Tagbilaran wet market.  It’s newer, yes, but the air-conditioning unit at the tourist class is unable to cool the room packed full of people and luggage of all sorts.  Its crew were no longer efficient, as they were even unable to control and manage the crowd getting into the port and gave preference to some incoming passengers that did not fall in line.  And it departed late, and arrived late, much to our dismay. 
The vessel should have arrived Plaridel at around 6 in the morning, thus there was no need for the company to serve breakfast.  Because we previously knew that Lite Shipping departs and arrives on time, we did not bother to bring food with us.  But we were still in the boat 8 in the morning when my kids already got hungry. Thanks to Skyflakes……we were able to manage. But the vessel management never seemed to care.  Probably, they think that delay is good for their canteen business because people were competing for what was left of cup noodles and biscuits that they had for sale. We arrived in Plaridel at around 10 in the morning, already famished.
What went wrong? 
Maybe, it’s the competition that was no longer there that made Lite Shipping management relax its standards.  A few months before, Palacio Shipping stopped servicing the Plaridel to Cebu via Larena and Tagbilaran route. This is the danger of a monopolistic competition, consumers can not complain as this is the only option they got (except when you would opt to go for more expensive and less convenient substitute goods).  It’s just like our government; complains oftentimes fall on deaf ears as leaders can opt not to care.  It’s the only government we have, and there is no convenient and less costly alternative available. During that night in the vessel, our departure was far delayed because somebody complained to the Philippine Coastguard that the vessel was overbooked as they had no bed in the tourist class. The purser scolded the people at the tourist class accommodation for having done this, rambling his rants to everyone, telling us that if you complain, all of us can not leave.
Maybe their service standards are unable to satisfy the requirements of a peak season when vessels are overbooked.  Again, this is like our government, which fails to offer good quality service on occasions of rampant need – 1:20,000 hospital bed to population ratio, 1:4,500 policeman to population ratio and more.  The number of service providers is too thin as compared to customers. During that night in the vessel, cleanliness was sacrificed, twice the electrician was called because the power system failed twice and there was no water in toilets. 
The great challenge for service providers, whether it is Lite Shipping, airline, hotel, buses, markets, or even governments, is to ensure that at the end of every transaction, the customer leaves satisfied.  Apparently, my experience with Lite Shipping did not satisfy me.  Will I ride the vessel again?
Probably.  Because I have no other choice.  If there are more people like me (which surely is the case), then Lite Shipping can go on business for eternity as demand will always be there.  This reminds me of a patient I interviewed at the provincial hospital who despite of the poor service he complained of, kept coming back still. He said, “Only rich people have the choice.”