“Thank you for calling customer service. If you’re calm and rational, press 1. If you’re a whiner, press 2. If you’re a hot head, press 3”  ~Randy Glasbergen, Cartoonist

Those of you familiar with my background know that I have grown up in the Hospitality industry for over 25 years. More specifically the Travel industry, and in particular, the Cruise industry. I have witnessed incredible changes over the years during which I have had the extreme pleasure working onboard some of the largest and most luxurious cruise ships in the world.

Those of us in the industry know when the economy is tough, vacations are the first area where consumers tighten their belts. With a choice of paying the mortgage or going on a vacation, most people opt to pay the mortgage.  Which means the trip to the resort with the kids or the cruise for a week will have to wait until next year.

Therefore, when you do welcome guests or passengers paying their hard-earned money for a vacation, you want to make sure everything goes according to plan. Your goal should be to “create such an exceptional experience that exceeds expectations,” so that your guests will book their next vacation with you, before they leave for home. That is the supreme compliment, and a great benchmark to see if you are in fact exceeding expectations. Once you get that small deposit for their next vacation, there is a 98% likelihood they will be loyal to your brand. That should be your ultimate goal, no matter what your business.

Add to this scenario a very interesting dynamic: as a crewmember onboard a cruise ship (from the Captain on down), you live with your guests for their entire vacation.  There is no getting away in the middle of the ocean. If your product or service does not live up to expectations, there is nowhere to hide. Of course problems may occur (toilets may stop flushing, air conditioners may stop blowing, or your room key may stop working, hopefully not all in the same day), so your customer service cannot just be good, very good or even great. If you want to “wow” your customers, and make sure they stay loyal, you must have more than perfect service. You must anticipate needs and correct any problems in a timely manner with a great attitude.

Not too much to ask, is it?

And if that’s not enough, throw into the mix that in addition to living with your customers onboard a ship, you are also living with your co-workers, sometimes up to 6 months at a time. In addition, it’s likely you’ll have a roommate in a dorm size room. Working, eating, relaxing and socializing with the same people in the same place. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week.

Living with your customers as well as your co-workers? What could possibly go wrong? A lot, actually. And it does.

On one cruise, we lost all power on the ship during the Christmas/New Year’s cruise. That was fun. We had one couple get married, and un-married during the same week. No, that was not an episode of “The Love Boat,” that actually happened. They just weren’t meant for each other. We had one couple with a 9-month-old baby insist their Travel Agent told them we would provide 24 hour babysitting for their child for the entire week.  And they wanted it complimentary! (By the way, we love Travel Agents, and know they would not give out misinformation like that!)

You get the idea. Unique circumstances and problems land in your lap and it’s up to you to make it right. Knowing that you still have to live with them for the rest of their vacation, while trying to provide that “exceptional experience that exceeds expectations”.

That should be the goal of every business, no matter how large or small, and no matter where in the world you are located. Your goal should be to “create exceptional experiences” so that your customers will not think of switching to your competitor. Studies have shown that consumers will pay more for a product or service if they know they will receive exceptional service. That is why people will shop at Nordstrom, or stay at the Ritz-Carlton. They know they will have their expectations exceeded, and if for some reason it’s not, it will be made right.

By the way, during the power outage we made all guests comfortable with food and beverages provided throughout the day until power could be restored, and they received an onboard credit. Luckily the plumbing kept working! We helped with the married and not-so-married couple by giving separate rooms and offering extra assistance until one member flew home, and for the last problem, we arranged for a few nights of babysitting so the couple could enjoy romantic dinners alone. Not the ideal solution, but they were happy with the resolution.

So if you had to live with your customers, as well as your co-workers, while still providing more than perfect service, could your business survive?

What are some of the unique experiences you have survived in your business?  Feel free to comment below.

These are only a few of my stories of survival. With the experiences I have lived through, trust me; you can’t make this ship up®!

To learn more about the More Than Perfect™ Customer Service program, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com or visit PaulRutterSpeaks.com

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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