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Enhancing Customer Experience:
Scuba Diving

            Scuba diving is a sport practiced by millions around the world, with PADI, a major scuba diving organization, having certified over 27 million divers globally since 1967 with over 6,600 dive center and resorts. It is considered a high-end sport, due to its expensive nature (a dive can cost $25-200+) and the technical expertise required. Scuba diving and liveaboard businesses provide a wide range of goods & services such as scuba dive gear rental, operational support and certifications to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. The Scuba Diving Series is part of a deep dive analysis of the industry that aims to provide insights and recommendations to enhance the quality of services provided by dive shops and liveaboards around the world.

            The customer experience surrounding scuba diving, extends beyond the actual dive itself, it starts as soon as the client researches the name of the shop and ends with a follow-up e-mail after a completed dive. The whole experience can be summarized into 4 distinguished stages: client’s first contact, base interaction, the diving experience and post-dive interaction. Below is an explanation of each stage along with analysis and recommendations.

First Contact

            Traditionally, scuba divers do not simply walk into a dive center without knowing anything about the business. Due to safety concerns and expectations related to the whole experience, a majority of clients first come into contact with dive shops in three different ways: online research, referral, or window-shopping.

  • Online research – for many individuals, the first time they hear the name of a dive shop is through an online search. Divers often look for information such as reputation, experience, rates, dive sites, safety, and quality of rental gear. Understanding how to create a digital footprint and enticing a positive image in the client’s mind can be essential to secure their business.
  • Referral – Customers will sometimes use word-of-mouth to select their preferred dive shop or hire a business intermediary that will either guide them to the scuba shop or take care of the process on their behalf. The creation of partnerships with business intermediaries such as hotels, restaurants and tourism agency can be imperative to long-term success.
  • Window Shopping – Some customers enjoy the ‘window shopping’ experience and in such cases, will sometimes look at dozens of shops to reach a consensus. Understanding the visual appeal and face-to-face marketing tactics can help businesses increase sales. Visual appeal does matter, in that sense, it goes without saying that a dive shop in which the gear is scattered all over the floor does not translate into a very trustworthy environment.

Base Interaction

            After the first contact is finalized, unless a business intermediary finished the deal on the scuba shop’s behalf, base interaction defines whether or not a dive shop will secure additional scuba divers. Base interactions are simply related to any physical user experience a client may have from the moment they first lay eyes in the dive shop to the moment they leave the dive shop. Most base interactions will cover the following areas: visual appeal, staff friendliness, price structure, sales pitch, money transaction, paper signing & measurement.

  • Visual Appeal – People have unconscious biases that are created in the first few seconds of interaction. For a store, the interaction starts with the front of the store. Does it look clean and tidy? Are the walls themed with scuba diving related stuff? Are there any red flags regarding professionalism and safety issues? The business needs to keep their entrance unobstructed and keep the environment professional despite the overall “brand” chosen by the business. For instance, having a relaxing “vibe” does not mean that things do not need to be organized. Customers want to feel at ease for their safety and that can unconsciously translate into how professional the dive shop is.
  • Staff Friendliness – A positively and warm welcome can help clients feel comfortable engaging in conversations with the staff and fellow divers. Making the customer feel welcomed and part of the conversation can assist them in construing an overall positive image of the business. In any interaction with the customer, it is important to keep the basics in mind: eye contact and smile. Even when a customer first comes to the dive shop, before they buy anything, it is important to understand that customer service must be provided throughout the entire process even if the customer is simply browsing for now (s/he might come back later).
  • Price Structure – Ensure that the price structure is easy to understand and list what is included in the relevant packages. Look for ways to provide discounts for divers willing to do over 4-5 dives with the business, that is unless the business expects peak season to have close to 100% allocation. Create add-on options such as nitrox where the business can have a higher profit margin.
  • Sales Pitch – Go over some of the sightseeing that the dive sites have to offer, discuss what marine life is expected to be seen at that specific time of the year. Don’t assume that clients know the dive location, it is not their responsibility. Explain to them the importance of safety for the company, and ask about the last time they dived and confirm whether they have the relevant certification to do some of the more specialized dives (e.g. 30m, shipwreck dives, etc). Remind the client of specialized dives that the business can offer, ensure that they have the relevant training and if not, talk about the training offerings and the benefits that come from them – careful not be perceived as trying to push many services as that may discourage some clients.
  • Paper Signing – Ensure all papers associated with liability are signed by the clients before the dives.
  • Money Transaction – Ensure that the money transaction occurs before the dive, unless there is certainty that the individual will pay at a later time (e.g. recurring clients), have records of the transactions. Provide the client with different methods of payment such as cash, VISA, Mastercard, AliPay whenever possible since a majority of people do not walk with $200 in cash. Take into consideration the cost of the different payment methods when deciding which one to offer and remind the client of the cost that it may have on them (e.g. credit card may have a 3% fee added afterwards). If cash is the only option, advise clients on the closest ATM, preferably with a map to help them get situated.
  • Measurement – Customers are usually measured a couple of hours, or a day before the dive. This will ensure that the size fits and the client is comfortable with the equipment. Confirm that the material is in order before shipping it to the boat and have a couple of extras on the boat in case someone needs to change.

Dive Experience

              This is the most exciting part for some clients, for others it can be scary. Make sure to read the room and try to look for cues related to the client’s body language to better cater the experience to their expectations. Sometimes, the staff is so accustomed to getting on a boat and going for a dive that it becomes something trivial to them, however, they must remember that clients are most often excited for the opportunity and staff can build on this excitement to make it a more enjoyable experience. During the dive experience, keep the following in mind:

  • Divemasters – Should spend time mingling with their divers, take the time to explain the dives, safety measures, method of entrance, method of exit, and any other relevant material, including questions the client may have.
    • Every dive can be a special experience, but try to not over-inflate the client’s expectations to not cause undue disappointment.
    • Divemasters are encouraged to create an estimate of when they expect their team to reach a certain amount of air (70-80), it is also their duty to keep an eye on the team to ensure things are ok. Top quality divemasters will help point to unique marine life and natural formations.
  • Safety – Ensure that the teams under the divemaster have done safety (buddy) checks before entering the water. After entering the water, make sure to follow scuba diving best practices, keep an eye on your ‘buddy’ and team to ensure no one gets lost and, most importantly, always check your surroundings and how much air is left in the tank. At the end of each dive, make sure to follow the divemaster’s exit protocol. Dives are fun and enjoyable when all parties do their part to ensure the safety of the team.

Post Dive Interaction

              To ensure long-term business success, it is important to have happy clients eager to do more dives with the shop and wanting to share their experience with their peers, allowing for increased conversions. Here’s how dive shops can increase the likelihood that this will happen:

  • Client Bonding– Divemasters should look for ways to further bond with the team and for the business to continue the relationship with the customer. For example, after the dive, divemaster’s should ask the client about their experience, talk about something special that the team saw, help the customer fill-out their logbook, offer drinks to help the client stay hydrated, among other things.
  • Digital Footprint – The dive shop should have a website and create a social media footprint to help advertise their business. Divemasters can help the shop by reminding clients of the shop’s social media profile, asking for online reviews and inviting customers to stay connected with the shop. Some easier dives also have a few moments of down time, it would be a courtesy if the dive master could take one or two pictures of the group underwater and share it in the business’s social media. This practice can also build goodwill with clients and increase recommendation rate. Pictures outside of the water also count!

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