We’ve already discussed the lack of consistency in the quality of the experience when we questioned if there was a reliable brand in the dive industry. Let’s figure out how we can fix this problem to foster better customer satisfaction and increased profitability. We’ll see that real quality assurance and reliable branding are among the tools we have.
1. Link Between “Consistency in the Quality of the Experience,” Quality Assurance & Branding
As we’ve seen with the adventures of Fred and John in the dive industry, lousy customer service and miserable experiences turn people away from scuba diving. Nobody “needs” to dive – unless it’s your job, but we’re talking about consumers, here.
If scuba diving comes with hassles, people will turn away. Some divers want excitement, adrenaline, and challenges. That is different than making them jump through hula-hoops (hassles) to get what they want. People can get what they want (fun, adventure, relaxation, etc.) in many other activities.
Even worst, if a scuba diver feels like he risked his life when doing a scuba tryout, they will run away from us. At that point in time, convincing them to come back becomes extremely difficult. Yet, in our opinion, we create just that, every day, in our tryout scuba experiences and entry-level diving courses.
We have very little quality assurance in the dive industry. Yet, real quality assurance is the single most powerful tool to ensure consistency in the quality of the experience at all locations displaying your brand flag. Branding is what should tell customers what they can expect at that location.
In that regard, we do not have reliable brand names in the scuba diving industry. Because quality assurance is not thoughtfully implemented.
2. Current Quality Assurance in the dive industry
This is the continuation of a discussion we started under the title “Is There A Reliable Scuba Diving Brand?“
Let’s look at dive training agencies and scuba gear manufacturers.
Quality Assurance & Dive Training Agencies
I can hear you saying that training agencies have a quality assurance department. True! But what do they check?
It seems to me that by their structure, they are reactive, not pro-active. Real ‘Quality Assurance’ requires that you are proactive in ensuring the quality of the products and services offered under your brand name.
Training agencies react when surveys send to your student-divers indicate a problem with the way the course was though. Or they respond to other instructors ratting you out. In such a process, many sub-par performances are never uncovered. Furthermore, this process is focused on training standards. There is a lot more to customer satisfaction that the respect of training standards.
Training agencies don’t have (or have very few) standards on how you should operate your dive center to ensure customer satisfaction. You can have over-flowing garbage can at the front door, a month-old leftover pizza on the counter, and still maintain your affiliation with the training agency. Your process to get client-divers to a dive site main require that they jump through a dozen hula-hoops while walking on their head, and you’ll keep your Brand X dealer status.
Imagine if McDonald’s and Starbucks had to wait on other McDonald’s or Starbucks franchisees to report that your restaurant is full of cockroaches. It’s a ridiculous idea. Imagine if a McDonald’s franchisee decides that you have to flip the meat patties yourself without any hygiene protection. Well, it’s roughly how we operate in the dive industry. It’s a free-for-all with only a handful of unprofessional dive professionals getting caught.
Quality Assurance & Dive Gear Manufacturers
Dive gear manufacturers have standards you are supposed to meet to carry their brand of products. But have you read them? It’s usually 1 or 2 pages. Very few dive shop owners have read them – with no consequence.
Most dive gear brands require that you operate a “real dive center” before carrying their branded products. It means that you have to offer all six lines of scuba diving products and services – which is, in itself, an outdated concept and we’ll discuss that in the article about Redefining the Dive Center.
Otherwise, scuba gear brands have standards requiring that you have trained service technicians. How many dive centers have a “trained” service technician for each brand they sell? Very few, it seems. Besides, who offer scuba diving service technician training courses? Dive gear manufacturers provide training sessions about the particularities of their regulators. Good. But who provides the necessary training to become a dive technician? Nobody that we know of, in North America. We will come back to this topic when discussing how we can (and should) redefine dive centers.
3. How to fix the lack of consistency in the quality of the experience in the dive industry
We can’t expect a miracle. It won’t fall from the sky. We need somebody in a position of leadership in the dive industry to have a good enough vision of the future to make it happen. Rewards will come, just not in the short term.
How likely is it to come from one of the current players in the dive industry?
It’s improbable that the current major players in the dive industry start innovating on that front. They never did it, despite numerous opportunities to do so.
Innovation, in many industries, comes from smaller players or new entrants.
Imagine if a currently well-established dive training agency or scuba gear manufacturer decided to raise the bar with much higher operational standards, with a strict quality assurance program. It would lose many of their current dealers. Most people are resistant to change. They would jump ship and pick another brand.
The Need for a New Brand
Therefore, the best way to introduce higher operating standards in the dive industry is to create a new brand. It could come from one of the current players, but it would need to be marketed separately, like Toyota and Lexus. And in this automotive example, Toyota was already a trusted name. In our case, we don’t seem to have trusted brand names. It would need to be a separate brand to have a chance at creating an impact.
When interacting with your brand, dive customers go through a journey of numerous touchpoints. If you ignore most of the touchpoints, how can you ensure that your brand is valuable to clients? These touchpoints happen inside a local dive shop, in the pool with an instructor, at a dive resort, etc.
In other words, dive training agencies and scuba gear manufacturers leave to luck, all the touchpoints with their brand.
The Need For Real Quality Assurance
Quality Assurance is not rocket science. It’s part of business and marketing 101. Just look at any other industry.
We need to establish operating, marketing, and customer service standards & processes. Then, we need to ensure they are applied, using mystery shoppers, mystery divers, and all the tools used in other industries. We don’t need to innovate much. It exists, already.
To push it further, why not implement ISO 9001 in operations of that brand? It would help communicate the consistency in the quality of our activities. ISO 9001 “provides guidance and tools for companies and organizations who want to ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements and that quality is consistently improved.” (Source: International Organization for Standardization.)
The needed innovation is in implementing quality assurance in the dive industry.
The Need for Consolidation and Integration
Otherwise, when we discuss how we should redefine the local dive shop, the way we provide scuba diving training, and how we distribute and sell dive gear, we conclude that we need further consolidation in the dive industry.
To produce consistency in the quality of the experience all around the world, we should look at consolidating a training agency with a dive gear manufacturer and a chain of local dive shops & dive resorts. In such a niche industry like scuba diving, we won’t have much of an impact if we raise the bar only at one of the dive industry stakeholders.
Similarly to what we see in other industries, this new consolidated brand could own only a limited number of dive centers and leave the other ones to franchisees or affiliates. But managing a few of them is the best way to develop operational standards and be in a position to convince others that it can be done.
We’ve seen some consolidation in the dive industry over the last few years. Mares bought SSI. Huish Outdoors acquired a bunch of high-end dive brands. But we haven’t seen much innovation – just integration. For instance, they’ve reduced overhead charges in each one of the companies they’ve purchased. In most cases, merged companies are using the same sales representatives. It’s all about reducing costs, it seems.
We haven’t seen any innovation putting them on a track to creating consistency in the quality of the experience across all of their brands, around the world. And no innovation to bring more value to the client. On that front, it seems to be business as usual.
In the case of SSI, our opinion is that it may even be worse. After the acquisition by Mares, it seems like they strictly focussed on grabbing more market shares out of PADI. It works in the short term, but ultimately, it leads to the same cliff. The pie is shrinking.
Where’s our visionary dive industry leader?
4. What’s Next?
It’s not easy to implement consistency in the quality of the experience under one brand name, all over the World, because it takes time. And, nowadays, most investors are focused on the short term, especially when they are a publicly-traded company or if they are managing money for others, like private equity firms. They have to show improvements this quarter. And if you come short of your quarterly objectives, pretend it will be better next quarter even if you have no real plan!
Therefore, what we need to offer consistency in the quality of the experience under a brand name in the dive industry is visionary leadership mixed with investors wanting to get a better ROI than what they get by simply cutting costs. In other words, we need to develop and implement a Blue Ocean strategy for the dive industry.