There are very few people that actually believe ‘the customer is always right’ and the people that do are usually the ones who think they are entitled to whatever they like. Thankfully, there are not so many of these but working with people means I have come across a fair number of them. Most of the more difficult customers are people that simply don’t understand what is going on.
During my time working on the cruise ships, there was a story I heard many times that involved somebody asking a crew member ‘do the crew stay on board or go home at night?’. Obviously not a well thought out question considering we are usually thousands of miles from land. Anyway, the story goes that the crew member answered that ‘we get a helicopter home every evening’. Then the next day the passenger complained that the noise of the helicopters kept them awake all night.
I am not sure if this story is true or just cruise ship folklore (along with ‘how do I know which photo is mine’ ‘it’s the one with you in it’), but it is true that we had some extraordinary guest interactions. Deaths onboard are incredibly rare, as people need travel insurance to sail so anyone ‘uninsurable’ doesn’t travel but every single cruise there is a rumour that 12 or 15 people have died. When it is pointed out that is untrue, we are always met with ‘well, you would say that wouldn’t you?’ which then fuels the gossip of a cover up further.
A particularly fraught time is embarkation day. People have travelled since early morning and are highly stressed and exhausted. This combination led to complaints of seasickness before the ship had sailed and somebody screaming that they booked a sea view room and all they could see was the car park. Then there was a man who couldn’t work the balcony door mechanism and got stuck outside. Rather than shouting or knocking, he phoned the coastguard leading to a 90 minute delay of departure.
One of our more useless tasks was manning the library. We had a barcode reader that was used to scan the books into a computer database. We then asked for names and cabin numbers. Trouble was, that vast numbers of the books were not in the database and the database was not linked to anything (it wasn’t even on the network) so there would have been no way to check if books were returned or stolen. It was a total charade. Anyway while playing along, we had a lot of time to fill so in 2008, my colleagues started a list of the odder guest interactions they had.
There were a surprizing number of people who wanted a specific book but didn’t know what the book was. ‘I think it might have a red cover, or maybe blue’, ‘the one that woman was talking about on TV last week’ or ‘my husband thought it was about a family a bit like ours, do you know what he meant’. There were also very specific requests ‘I heard a story on the news about the foot sizes of the ancient Egyptians, where is your section about this’? I bet even Amazon doesn’t even have a whole section on this obscure topic.
I am glad my colleagues kept the list, I would have forgotten these gems:
- “Can I ask why the number 13 has only been called in bingo three times this cruise?”
- “So you are from England, My sister in law went there once, is it possible you have met her?”
- “Does a banana skin count as paper and plastic?”
- “Why is it Sunday in Victoria?”
- “Do you have a dictionary? I don’t want to use it, just wanted to see if you have one”
- “Will the port side and the starboard side both go under the bridge?”
- “Why didn’t this book mention Sarah Palin?”
- “Did the engineers on the Titanic have purple between their stripes too? I didn’t notice that detail in the film”
Of course, the vast majority of people are lovely, funny and polite but it is the others that we remember. One day the world will reopen and I will, once again, explain 20 times an hour where the toilets are. I can’t wait.