The Value of One Man

One bad apple can quickly erase the long-term efforts of a group of others.

The Value of One ManAugust 6, 2014

Customer Relations / hospitality / Leadership - By: Bill Pasha

During the past week, I was treated to an executive level, advanced course in Customer Service. The week wasn’t supposed to be a learning experience for me. In fact, I was supposed to be nothing more than a willing participant in a long anticipated few days of rest and relaxation.

I work with one of the finest five-star hotel groups in the world. I deal regularly with people for whom guest service is a way of life, but it took a concierge onboard a cruise ship to demonstrate how one man, and one man alone, can make or break your company or mine.

His name is Francis. He is a native of a Pacific Rim nation, who came to the United States to work at sea, serving well-heeled customers in hopes of contributing to his family’s future. He spends as many as six consecutive months at sea, living in shared quarters like a college student, using Skype as his only lifeline to his wife and darling daughter. That doesn’t make him special, though, because many immigrants, legal and otherwise, come to the United States to work and benefit from our generosity.

What makes Francis different from the rest is that he singlehandedly changed my mind about an entire company.

My first cruise experience was aboard a ship owned by the same carrier as the one I booked this time. That first experience was good, mostly because the ship was new and, miraculously, I had been upgraded into one of the ship’s finest and most spacious cabins.

My second experience was on the same cruise line, on the highly prized Alaskan Inside Passage itinerary. That trip was less than mediocre. Hot food was often cold, cold food was warm, and the staff was indifferent to customer concerns, at best. In fact, a port representative requested my government documentation, walked away, and never reappeared. When, finally, she was located, she had lost the document (“Mislaid” it), and never recovered it. What a great way to start a vacation. The experience proceeded down the wrong road from that point. Dirty cabin that was two categories below that which we had paid for and confirmed, poorly maintained restrooms, an invisible room attendant, and, worse, tight slot machines in the casino, were just a few of the issues.

Needless to say, being associated with the industry, I wrote the company about the lost document and ship conditions. I left out my gambling losses as those were of my own making and, actually, might have been the most fun I had aboard. I levied my concerns about the other issues as diplomatically as possible. I never received a response. Not even from the CEO’s office.

I swore off the company and took my rather substantial travel and vacation dollars elsewhere, to Disney, Celebrity, and any other cruise line, as long as I didn’t have to return to the source of that bad experience.

Then, by chance, I somewhat grudgingly accepted a booking on the line. I wasn’t happy about it. I did it simply as a filler; A vacation because nothing else was available. I almost canceled at the last moment, but I didn’t. I am glad about that decision.

Had I canceled my reservation, I might never have met Francis. Two weeks before my vacation, Francis emailed me to introduce himself. I was sure that his company made a habit of this formality for some of the suckers who purchased bigger cabins.

A week later, one week before my vacation was to begin, I heard from Francis again. Surely, this must be some landlubber who writes on behalf of the poor fool who would really do the work, right? I dismissed this second email, although it inquired as to which excursions might interest me. I purposely did not provide any meaningful information. Two could play this cat and mouse service game, and my mission was to be the difficult passenger.

On the Monday before the Friday on which my cruise was to begin, I received a telephone call on my cell. It went something like, “Hello, Sir. This is Francis, sir, your concierge for your trip, sir, and I am very worried that you may not have yet decided, sir, on which of the excursions and dining options you might enjoy, sir. Sir, may I help you because your cruise is just a few days away, sir.”

Come on, get real. Okay, I was four days out, so why not throw the book at the guy?

“I’d like a nice cabana on your private island day, please,” I said, knowing full well that these book way in advance and he would be forced to drop this polite charade and ask me who the hell I thought I was. He didn’t.

“Sir, I anticipated that you would be the type of traveler, sir, who would like such a thing, sir, so I have already taken the liberty of reserving the finest cabana at our island, sir.” This guy was good, but I was ready.

“Really?” I asked. “Well, my travel agent suggested the steak specialty restaurant at about 8 PM on the evening of the departure, with a table next to the starboard window, because the view of the sunset will be lovely.” I almost laughed out loud as the words came out.

“No problem, sir,” said my concierge. Francis was now beginning to be too good to be true, so I thanked him and hung up the phone, eager to recoup my senses and mount another attack at a later time. I just needed a better strategy, I thought.

One bad apple can quickly erase the long-term efforts of a group of others.

Two days before my cruise, Francis called me again. I learned that he was concerned that I might not enjoy waiting in line with the commoners on Departure Day, so he had devised a plan.

“Sir, I hope that I am not disturbing you, sir, but I wanted to ask you if it might be possible for you to tell me when you plan to arrive at the cruise terminal on Friday.”

Ahhhh, here it comes, I thought. “Sure! How about right at noon?” I asked. The sail time was set for 4 PM, so I wanted to try be among the first onboard.

“Sir, if it would not be too inconvenient, sir, I had hoped that I might be privileged to spend some extra quality time, sir, getting to know what you enjoy, so that the experience for the next week will be better for you, sir. Would you consider boarding between 10:30 and 11 AM, sir?”

He thought he had me. Clearly, he thought I’d decline the earlier time and then he’d be home free. This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I said, “Sure, Francis, old pal, I’ll be there with bells on at 10:30.”

On the day before departure, I received a text message and email to remind me of the time, and he asked for my cell phone number again, so that the contact might be easier.

On the morning of departure, I received a 9 AM call.

“Sir, I hope that I have not awakened you, sir, but today is the big day! Sir, will you still be at the terminal at 10:30?” he asked.

“I might be fifteen minutes late,” says I.

“No problem, sir. I will simply wait outside the terminal for you for your arrival. I will be wearing a blue jacket and pants and a white shirt, sir. I will meet you. Sir, please, sir, do not enter the terminal without me, and please, sir, call my cell phone when your taxi enters the lot.”

This guy was good. He was plotting the old ‘Get-em-hooked-upfront-and-then-pass-them-off’ strategy. But I called him as I entered the lot. People from the previous week’s cruise were still streaming out of the gangway through Customs. A baggage handler met my taxi and, before the first bag was out of the trunk, an attractive man of an indeterminate age said, “Sir, I am Francis, sir.” He stuck out his hand to greet me.

“Follow me,” Francis said. Within two minutes, I was the first in line at the just opening Guest Services counter, where they took my picture, gave a cursory glance to my passport, issued my SeaPass, and it was Francis leading the way to the ship.

We passed the security guard with a nod. There would be no gangway climbing, no cheesy entryway pictures, and absolutely no hassles as he whisked me to my room via a private elevator. Who knew that ships had private elevators?

Each day, Francis became more and more valuable to me. He reserved and canceled and, sometimes, reserved once again, dining, excursions and activities. I watched as he moved about the ship easily, taking advantage of the friends he had made onboard, in an effort to help me. He introduced me to the captain, chief engineer, the finance officer and the shopping specialist. He made sure I met other passengers, so I wouldn’t be lonesome over a sunset libation or dinner. This guy simply grew more and more impressive.

The best part of the Francis story is that I was not the only passenger who felt this way about him. I met two couples that actually follow this guy around from ship to ship as he moves. They take multiple cruises with him every year! I discovered that Francis is the Pied Piper of the cruise world!

Then it happened. By chance, I ran into Francis’s boss a day or so before the end of the cruise. He looked spiffy in his uniform. Jaunty in his cap. He was picture perfect for the man who supervises Francis. Except he wasn’t. I took advantage of this meeting to count the many ways in which I had personally been affected by Francis’s knowledge, goodwill, service and drive to make my vacation perfect. I told this officer, this man who is responsible for making sure that I travel with the cruise line as often as my wallet allows, that he had a good man and that Francis had converted me back to this cruise line after more than a decade and a half away.

“Yup. He’s good,” said the supervisor.

“You need to be careful,” I responded, rather good-naturedly. I know a few five-star hotels that would hire this man in a minute. I might have to make a call.”

I continued to smile, but I hoped I had sent the message.

“He’s not going anywhere,” said the supervisor sourly, as he walked away with barely an acknowledgement that I had been there.

The supervisor, in addition to being a self-righteous goon, was dead wrong.

Francis will leave that ship and that cruise line. All those passengers will know where he went because he has a contact list like a New York PR firm. Francis and his family will soon make more money than he ever imagined because he figured it out. All by himself, clearly with no help from his bosses, Francis learned and implemented every skill necessary to be “that guy.” He is the one who converted me back to his cruise line. All he needed was a crack in the door and he stuck his foot clear through it. Francis is now “my guy” for cruises.

Francis: The Invaluable Man. Employee of the Year. My New Friend. (I even like the selfies he photo bombed on me.) Francis is the face of the cruise line to me.

At least he is when I am not thinking about his boss.

You may think that this story is about Francis and his value as one man. In some ways, I guess, it is. But the real story is about the supervisor and his value because, well, he is worthless to that company. He is demotivating, unengaged, and lacking in the very skills that his employee possesses. As a business owner and manager, I cannot imagine what possible skillset this man claims that would ever qualify him to manage a professional like Francis. In my company, such a lack of regard for a customer’s opinion would be reason enough to make him walk the plank.

The value of this supervisor, this one man, was to boldly illustrate how one bad apple can quickly erase the long-term efforts of a group of others. What if there had been no Francis? What if my cruise had been impeccable in every other way, except that I had met the supervisor? I assure you that I would never consider the line again.

Oh, by the way, if you believe that Francis is simply a very smart guy whose service stopped at the gratuity, you’d be wrong. On the final morning of the cruise, he had breakfast ready for me, waited for the ship to be cleared, said his goodbyes as we exchanged our personal information, and he walked me off the ship with a few other passengers…first. And our bags were waiting in the terminal to pass through Customs.

So, ultimately, I was wrong. Francis is the subject of this article. Francis may very well become a part of my life, because if none of my hotelier friends hire him, my clients may soon be speaking to Francis to book everything from our consultants’ telephone time, to reserving our seminars, to asking him how to engage their customers, because I have never met anyone quite like him.

Sail safely, my friend.

Post by

Bill Pasha

Bill Pasha is President/CEO of The MBMI Companies, LLC., the parent firm of MultiBrand Media International, Maximized Brand Marketing International and Valoriant Safety. Before joining the entrepreneurial world, Bill was recognized as one of the top Program Directors in America and as an authority on consumer consumption of media. He continues to consult broadcasters around the world.

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