why the switch

Why the switch?  Simple, customer service.

By Mike Poggione

I was never asked to write an article about “Why the switch?”.   But this is a question I got asked a lot in 2016.  The folks at ITI (International Training Inc. the parent company of SDI, TDI and ERDI) headquarters never asked me to write this article.   Don’t get me wrong – they did ask me to write an article.  This article (the one you’re reading right now) is a response to that request.  I certainly didn’t carve out a couple hours from my day to sit at a computer because I like to do that (I don’t, I hate this, it feels like homework).  I did it because people that I respected asked me to. They asked me very nicely and there were very patient; because it took me 6 months to produce something.

It was just a simple request, “Hey Mike, it would be really cool if you would write something for the tdisdi.com blog.”  I said “Sure, I can do that, sounds fun.” In the back of my head, I was screaming do not agree to this dummy, when you have to think another word because spell-check can’t figure out what word you’re trying to use, you’ll be cursing the fact that you agreed to this!  No one specified what the article should be and they certainly didn’t try to persuade me to write anything particular.  ITI’s President Brian Carney during a discussion regarding the dive industry suggested I should write something about the value and importance of dive centers, since it was a topic I made clear that I had a strong opinion on.  Other than agreeing with him whole heartily – I haven’t done much else with that idea.  Cris Merz and Shawn Harrison suggested to me that I write an article about my experience with SDI and TDI.  Although not explicitly asking me to give a report on how it may differ from dealing with other agencies… that was where my head went.  I could have written that article.  It would have been short.  I would have simply put this:

When I call SDI, a real person answers the phone and then that same person can help me.  It’s crazy!  I simply need to dial 10 digits on a phone and within 30 seconds I will be talking to a real live human that will not only know who I am, they will also have the answer I need or will put me in direct contact with the person who will. Crazy.

Although short, it’s pretty powerful. The concept of talking to someone that can offer you a solution immediately is something that is very rare in today’s world (and the sport of scuba is certainly no different).  That would have made a pretty short article and I’m sure the folks in Stuart, FL would be mumbling something about Mike doesn’t really know how a website blog works.   So, the suggestions that had been made to me were solid but I wasn’t going write them.   I decided I would just answer the question that I get asked the most by the regulars at Motor City Scuba (my dive center).   In 2016, I switched my dive center from a PADI 5 Star facility to a SDI & TDI 5 Star facility.

Why the switch?

Here’s why the switch was made, customer service and customer service.    I did repeat myself, I switched because of the customer service I receive from SDI/TDI and from the customer service it allows me to provide to individuals that choose Motor City Scuba.

Customer service is in the detail.  A bold statement of commitment to customer service is great and it’s really easy to make.  It’s a whole other thing to cater to the needs of the one specific person you’re dealing with at the time.  A good diver center does this.  Making sure your customer service is detailed, making sure it is geared to the attention of the individual or to the treatment of a subject is of utmost importance.   This is what I try to do every time I start the conversation with “Hi! what can I help you with today at Motor City Scuba?”

They paid attention to the details

I think I have already made a good observation of the customer service level at ITI with my previous point about how they actually answer their phone and can take action.   It’s worth noting again without any word play: The staff at ITI have delivered an excellent customer service experience to me personally and to all of the members of my team.  They delivered this to me as an individual before I even started the conversation of switching my dive center’s affiliation.  They paid attention to the details.  One of my first conversations with Cris Merz was framed by him noticing something on my backpack and being able to use that to make sure our discussion was relevant to me.

I have been an SDI/TDI instructor since 2004.  I jumped at their Solo Diver program when the opportunity was presented to me.  I thought that is was an innovative program and something that divers wanted.  It’s all about helping people get underwater, on their individual merits.  If this program is something people wanted – I was going make sure I could offer it to them.  So SDI’s innovations and service were not foreign to me.  I always knew they were good folks and like me, worked to help people get underwater and enjoy it.

As to the individual that made the decision to come into Motor City Scuba; they had other choices, but they picked my dive center and it is my job to earn their trust. I do this through customer service – real detailed customer service.  My partner Chuck and I work every day to make Motor City Scuba the stop one destination to meet the needs and wants of anyone that is looking to visit the underwater world.  We are committed to providing great customer service.  In today’s world that is the only advantage Motor City Scuba has over the boundless number of options divers have online.

We love what we do, we pay attention to the details and we think it shows.

To do this, we need tools.  We need to use the latest and most effective tools.  We need make sure our trips are diverse and to fun destinations that the diver wants to go on.  We make sure the equipment we sell is awesome and reliable and not just some junk that will make its way to a bag in the back of a closet.  I think we have the best wreck diving in the world right here in Michigan and I’m thrilled to take a diver out in Lake Huron and show them why it’s a GREAT lake.  I try to make education fun and engaging.  I understand that people have different needs when it comes to the learning process – I try my best to facilitate that and create divers, real divers.  I pay attention to the details, I’m going to teach this individual person how to breathe underwater.

I’m a good scuba instructor.  I think any instructor that doesn’t think they’re good – shouldn’t be teaching.  Because I’m a good instructor and I make sure I fill my dive center with other good instructors, I know that we’re going to demand great tools.  When it comes to education, the tools are the materials and media you use to support the goal of the lesson plan.  PADI has great tools, SDI and TDI have great tools. Just because I want to make sure we have great tools, doesn’t mean I need to be told how to use these tools.

I teach scuba most of the time in the Detroit area.  I sometimes needed to adjust my classes to my environment. I had what appeared to be a great tool as a resource, but the tool required such specific use it sometimes was less affective, making it not so great anymore.  I’m not necessarily talking about one specific class, I needed to be able to detail all my classes.  I know my location, I know what needs to be done and if I’m doing my job, I know my student too.  Someone in Florida or California, can understand the basics of what is needed to teach scuba, but they can’t know the details.    It’s not that what I was using was in error and certainly nothing was unsafe.  Just from a customer service standpoint the class didn’t always work the best in my specific location with an individual.   As an educator I needed more control over the details.  When a skill needed to be done – that should be my call.  When I could introduce a particular topic – my call.  I recognized that deficiency; I’d knew if I was going to stay true to my level of commitment regarding customer service, I would need a solution.   The SDI system allows me to adjust the details of the class to my student.  I am proud to offer the full curriculum of SDI and TDI programs.  I also recognize that some divers will want PADI dive courses and that is why Motor City Scuba is still a PADI Dive Center offering the range of PADI courses too.  It’s about what the individual wants and needs.

If I did my job I helped someone enjoy their time underwater.

It’s a simple statement but a complicated reality.  We have not evolved to be underwater creatures.  We need to bring artificial air spaces with us to survive and enjoy the underwater world.  First a mask, then all the other stuff (it’s a long list and I’m getting tired of typing).  To get an individual to choose Motor City Scuba as their source, I need to provide great customer service.  I need to make sure that the tools I am using allow me to cover all the details.  The people at ITI, provided me great customer service and they made my job of offering great customer service easier.  These people paid attention to the details and gave me the ability to pay attention to the details.

So at the end it all – it simply came down to customer service and customer service.  Customer service is something that can’t be provided by a screen, it has to be real people.  It should always come down to people.  I strive every day in Motor City Scuba to help people connect with the underwater world.  I use many avenues to do this: travel, equipment, education and local dive opportunities. And I try to never forget the details.

PS

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I swore a lot when I wrote it.

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1 reply
  1. Carlos Aguilar
    Carlos Aguilar says:

    I’m glad you decided to write. Contributing to scuba community is a good thing and continues to be an important aspect of the perspectives I look for when I read these articles.

    I guess I got a little confused because you switched, but then you said you still offered PADI. I’m guessing you’re saying that you’re no longer a PADI 5-Star Center…

    I think the move to the core of SDI/TDI was a good one, but not sure why you would continue the overlap and continue to pay for PADI when you don’t need it. I understand that from a marketing perspective, their name is the first people think about, but as a non-PADI independent instructor, my job is to teach students, and in my experience, PADI does not do the job SDI/TDI does in any capacity. The overall marketing of scuba I leave to those at headquarters…

    I’ve only had one prospective student ever tell me that they needed to have a PADI referral and when I asked why, it was clear that they had been fed that line by the shop whom would have received them as a referral. How does that benefit the student?

    I think from the marketing perspective your choice makes sense, however, financially, it’s a bad decision. You’re spending money on an association that is only one sided.

    I’ll give you an example. When I left the SSI shop I was associated with in 2013 to become independent, I called SSI Headquarters and talked to Doug McNeese about my options. He flat out told me that I wouldn’t be successful as an independent instructor without a dive shop. Not only have I been more successful, but not giving him my annual dues makes me feel really good! The acquisition of SSI and the subsequent (and ongoing) exodus of it’s instructors and employees was no coincidence. Dropping SSI was not only easy, but I later looked back and wondered why I waited so long.

    Drop the dead weight, buddy! I can guarantee you that once you wash that proverbial “stink out of your wetsuit,” that rash you’ve been getting will go away, too.

    😀

    Cheers.

    Reply

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