“Your website isn’t the center of your universe. Your Facebook page isn’t the center of your universe. Your mobile app isn’t the center of your universe. The customer is the center of your universe.” ~Bruce Ernst, V.P. of Product Management at Monetate

How crazy would it be if every business owner, manager, supervisor and employee had to live with his or her customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? What could they learn? What type of relationships could be cultivated? How long before the police were called in?

Well, not to worry, because no one would be foolish enough to try it, right? Actually, no that’s not right. As a Cruise & Entertainment Director onboard some of the largest and most luxurious cruise ships in the world, that is exactly what I have been doing for the past 25 years. Whether you are taking a 7, 10 or 14 day cruise (or longer), we are all living together in a floating hotel in the middle of the ocean. We cannot get away from each other, no matter how much we would like to. Building solid relationships is the key to creating a solid foundation.

Add to this special dynamic that you are also living with your co-workers. At the end of the day, when you go home, your co-workers are living in the same corridor with you. And eating in the same crew mess, relaxing at the same crew bar and working out at the same crew gym. In some circumstances, because some crewmembers share a room, your roommate may be the one person you don’t get along with.

In fact, the cruise industry is one of the very few industries where this phenomenon takes place each and every day: living with both internal and external customers.

So the question I have to ask:

Could you or your company survive if you had to live with your customers, your clients and your co-workers? 

The answer needs to be “Yes” if you want to stay in business for any length of time, and I’m happy to say it’s easier than you might imagine if you have the right policies, procedures and principals in place.

With that in mind, here are 9 lessons I learned living with my customers and co-workers which can be applied to every business on land:

  1. Respect. This is where it all starts, having respect for your customers and your co-workers no matter what the circumstance might be. More importantly, it starts with having respect for yourself. Countless situations may arise with your customers and co-workers, and having respect for yourself will dictate your course of action. Always remember—make your parents proud!
  2. Learn names and be friendly. One of the sweetest sounds to anyone’s ears is the sound of their own name. So try to learn as many names as possible. While it is impossible to learn the names of over 3000 passengers every week, I do try and learn as many as possible. I always carry a little notebook, and after having a conversation with a guest, I will write down their names, which makes it much easier to remember. Many guests have been very impressed when I met them on the first day of the cruise, and called them by name on the 5th or 6th day when I saw them again. Being friendly should be one of the easiest tasks to achieve. It always amazes me when some employees start a conversation being unfriendly or even miserable. I understand they may have personal difficulties that can make then unhappy, or possibly the last customer was being a jerk, but you should never take it out on the next person in line. It builds walls, makes everyone defensive, and starts the relationship out on a very bad note.
  3. Be visible. A manager cannot manage, and a supervisor cannot supervise sitting behind a desk or in an office all day. Get out into the real world, where your business is being conducted. And make sure you are approachable. (See above for learning names and being friendly.)
  4. Be consistent. One of the things that drives me crazy is when a manager or supervisor is up one day (being friendly, joking around, having fun), and then down the next (miserable, in a foul mood, griping at people). Being consistent in your demeanor will make it much easier on the people you lead, and make it much more enjoyable coming to work every day. Being consistent also applies to your policies and procedures that affect your customers and employees. Make it an enjoyable experience coming to work and to be around you.
  5. Take ownership, be accountable, keep your word. I’m not sure why this continues to be a problem with some companies in general, and some people in particular, but it certainly seems to be that way. If you say you are going to do something, than please do it. It is that much more imperative when you are living with your customers and co-workers because they are right there with you, but this should be a core value of every individual.
  6. Follow through. Much like #5 above, if there has been a problem or concern, it is important to follow through to make sure all objectives have been met. For example, onboard our ships, if there was an A/C problem, or the toilet didn’t flush, after the problem has been fixed, we make to give a follow up call to make sure the guest is completely satisfied. Send a little something extra their way to make up for the inconvenience.
  7. Empower your employees. There is nothing more frustrating than having a problem with a product or service, explaining it to the customer service rep either in person or on the phone, and then being told they cannot help you and will have to pass you on to a supervisor or manager, when you again have to explain the problem. Arrrrgggghhhh. I understand you don’t want your employees giving away the business, but empowering them to take care of the most basic problems will go a long way to keeping your customers coming back. It is also a major benefit to your employees, as it will give them a sense of purpose and empowerment. Set limits for them, but give them the authority to make their life, your life, and your customer’s life that much better.
  8. Positive reinforcement and praise. You know the old adage: Praise in public, reprimand in private. There can never be enough positive praise, as long as it is sincere. Everyone, and I do mean everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job and that their contributions are noticed and appreciated. Don’t be stingy with your praise.
  9. Have a sense of humor. Life is much more enjoyable when you can laugh and have fun in your work environment. And please remember it is imperative that you are able to laugh at yourself. Once you are able to not take yourself so seriously, life for you, your employees and your customers is that much more enjoyable.

It is probable you will never have to live with your customers or your co-workers, but if you want repeat business and customer loyalty, following the suggestions above will be a great place to start. Business is all about building relationships, which is what we do onboard our ships. Make sure the relationships you build with your customers will keep them coming back and make them raving brand ambassadors.

This, of course, is a partial list. What other attributes can you suggest to add?

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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