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.