Sabotaging the Industry from Within
Simon Pridmore argues that the poor treatment meted out to new scuba divers could be a significant factor contributing to the industry’s recruitment and retention problems.
At a time when the scuba diving industry is facing recruitment and retention challenges, to such an extent that it is asking divers to make a special effort to introduce their friends and colleagues to the sport, (something most divers do anyway,) perhaps the industry should be looking closely at its own procedures to see if the recruitment and retention problems are partly self-generated.
I say this because a number of folk have recently told me that, despite being fit, healthy and good swimmers, they had tried scuba diving once and decided that it wasn’t for them.
Let’s examine that more closely. In other words, these people were sufficiently attracted by the idea of scuba diving to pay money for a course of lessons or a scuba experience. Then the dive centre and individuals concerned in delivering the product somehow managed to put them off ever doing it again.
Deliberately Providing Poor Service
This was in my mind the other day when I was chatting with a dive centre manager. Watching some of his customers getting ready to do a pool session, I remarked on the poor condition of the rental gear that his operation issued to beginners. “Of course,” he said, “we do it deliberately. It encourages them to buy their own equipment later.”
I was stunned. His thinking is about as wrong-headed as you can get. If new divers are comfortable and have equipment that works well and facilitates easier learning, they will enjoy the experience more and they will be more likely to want to do it again and again. And, indeed, they will go on to buy their own equipment; probably the very items and brands that they used and became familiar with on their course. If, on the other hand, the equipment they are given is old, uncomfortable and awkward to use they are less likely to have a good time and they may well just decide not to pursue the sport and take up another activity instead. Scuba diving will have lost yet another customer.
The dive centre manager I spoke to is not alone in his thinking. A few years ago, I was consulting for a hotel chain that was looking for a local operator to run their on-site dive centre. One applicant, a very well known company with many branches, invited me and one of the hotel chain’s directors to go diving with their flagship dive centre in order to impress us. The hotel director was a new-ish diver with sixty logged dives but did not own his own gear. “No problem,” the operator said, “you can use ours.” All the equipment was pretty shabby but it was the fins that particularly drew our attention. Where the foot pocket joined the blade there was a wear line and you could easily bend the blades up and down beyond 90 degrees. In the water the fins just flapped around uselessly. Needless to say, the operator did not get the job!
Examples abound. Dive centres frequently give new divers shorty wetsuits to use, even though they will be spending much of their course time kneeling on the pool bottom or seabed. The centres would rather have divers with badly chafed knees than have to replace full-length wetsuits when the kneepads wear out. One lady told me that for her first pool session with a very large and successful dive centre in the Caribbean, she was not offered a wetsuit at all and ended the day with knee and elbow scrapes that almost brought her to tears.
In her case, she was also left with sores on her upper body caused by the straps of her ill-fitting BCD and encountered a host of other equipment issues. The depth gauge on her console did not work and when this was pointed out to the instructor he just said, “it doesn’t matter, we are in a pool; we know how deep it is!” She was not given a dive computer or watch to use and, as she was being taught how to execute a five-point descent, she was amused to be instructed to stare uselessly at her empty wrist when she came to the “check time” point in the procedure.
She terminated the course after day one but, luckily for the industry, she persevered in her quest to learn to dive, found another dive shop and instructor and now does over 100 dives a year all around the world. But she is an exception: we rarely get a second chance at recruiting someone to the sport if we mess it up first time.
This Does Not Compute
The issue of dive computers seems to be a particular problem for many dive centres. We live in technological times: there are a number of very good dive computers on the market that dive centres can buy wholesale for a fraction of what they charge for a beginners’ course and no diver with any experience would ever consider diving without a computer. Nevertheless, many operations refuse to give divers a computer and teach them how to use it in their beginners’ course. Neither do many resorts offer computers for hire, despite the fact that they could easily make back the cost of a rental unit in only a few days. When divers enquire, they are often told that they do not need a computer because their guide or instructor has one.
Try It Yourself!
Instructors and dive centre owners should perhaps try diving with the equipment that they give beginners. They should experience for themselves how uncomfortable and difficult it is to use and maybe then they might have some sympathy and improve the quality of their service. Those who do not give EVERY one of their divers, no matter how inexperienced, the means to record depth and time on EVERY dive should reflect on how naked they would feel diving without a computer.
I can just imagine the excuses that dive centre managers might come up to explain why they do what they do pleading financial and time constraints or complaining about competitors that force them to cut corners. But there is no escaping the fact that service quality in many areas of the scuba diving industry, in particular the sector that deals primarily with introducing people to the sport, is sadly lacking.
A final point for reflection: successful businesses in every field know how important it is to look after new customers with special treatment and services. What do we do in the dive industry? Make them feel uncomfortable, unappreciated and disrespected. We should be grateful that any of them stick around!
Read more from Simon in his latest release Scuba Professional – Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations and his bestselling book Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver, both available from Amazon in paperback and e-book versions.