The obvious choice for a Rhine River Cruise was Viking – I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few commercials for the brand. Having only been on one Ocean cruise I had preconceived expectations until we arrived in Basel, Switzerland and boarded the Viking cruise ship. Passengers attend a welcome session first thing. The crew announces what we should expect in the way of service. They are almost boastful when they proclaim their sole purpose is to exceed expectations, and they promise they will do whatever it takes. They set the bar extraordinarily high.
As in every other service culture it starts at the top. I was struck by the involvement from the “hotel manager”. This person is in charge of lodging, food and beverage service throughout the trip. A high-energy sort, he greeted us every day and made himself available to address any concerns and requests no matter how small. Clearly he walked the talk from the moment we stepped foot on the ship.
On our first night on board, we ran into a guy from the corporate office. I was curious to know about his role as we engaged in a conversation. Essentially he is responsible for quality assurance and efficiency. He was on the cruise for a couple of days not necessarily to evaluate but to work with the crew to discover efficiencies that would allow the team to spend more time engaging the guests. I found it interesting that this gentleman’s background is in engineering. Good service companies are always looking for ways to improve – not through cost cutting but through enhancing the customer experience. Clearly that was his objective as directed by Viking.
The team members reflected the energy and enthusiasm the hotel manager. They aren’t shy about telling you they will do anything they can to make your trip more enjoyable as long as it’s legal and supports the company’s values.
The food service team is from all over the world. We had two gentlemen and one young lady who served us most of the time during our voyage. The 3 of them went out of their way time and again to make sure we had everything we needed. Roy and August are from the Philippines and Plamena, our female server, is from Bulgaria. Each of them has their own unique service personality. Mind you this is no easy gig. They are part of a select group. Viking interviewed 300 people for these service positions and hired 70. These 70 agree to an 8-month contract, so many of them spend 8 months out of the year away from their families. In Roy’s case he has two young children and a wife living in the Phillipines where decent job opportunities are few and far between. He checks in with them as often as possible via Skype but that’s challenging because of his schedule and the time difference. Somehow they manage and he maintains his positive disposition for his guests. August, the consummate professional, is a soft-spoken, diligent server who anticipates his guest’s needs.
Plamena is a joy to be around. Her smile and warmth made each dining occasion extra special for all of us. She instantaneously gravitated toward my father-in-law which was just what the doctor ordered. Paw Paw is all there except for his hearing. I mean he’s sharp as a tack, when he can hear what you are saying. Plamena just basically fell in love with him for the 7 day cruise. It became obvious the feeling was mutual.
The food was good but it was these 3 individuals who made our meals extra special.
I get that cruises are different when it comes to customer service. Typically guests are pretty laid back and happy to be on vacation. The service people have an opportunity to get to know their guests and what they like and don’t like over the course of 7 days. This is unlike a guest in a restaurant who may visit once every other month. However, there is one excellent lesson to be learned from our Viking experience.
Their mission is clear. They are willing to do whatever it takes to exceed the expectations of their guests. What makes them unique is they share their mission with their guests, then hold themselves accountable to delivering it. When was the last time you walked into a restaurant and the manager greeted you and said, “Welcome to Bill’s, tonight it’s our goal to exceed your expectations!” Why not be bold and share your mission with your guests? Let them know your standards are high and your goal is to deliver service that goes above what the guest expects. Meeting expectations isn’t good enough these days. If you don’t believe me just give Viking a call.