When it comes to business development success, who is the most important person in your business? Your CEO? Your Managing Director? Your Sales and Marketing Director? No, none of these … the answer is ‘your customer’! 

Businesses who understand the power of this clichéd truism and who place the customer and ‘their’ needs at the centre of every decision, are the ones who will grow, prosper and have a long-term successful future. One business who totally ‘gets this’, is Crystal Cruises, a six star ultra luxury cruise line, who I was lucky enough to travel with recently, onboard their award winning ship the Crystal Serenity. 

Having written, spoken, broadcast and advised businesses of all sizes and sectors about concepts of excellent customer service for the last 30 years, I regard it as my duty to shout loudly about any organization who not only talk about high standards of service in the boardroom, but who actually make it happen. What I experienced on my 9 days Crystal Cruises trip from Istanbul to Venice was quite simply a ‘masterclass’ in customer service. With this in mind, I want to share some of the simple things they did, in the hope that other businesses, in any sector can model their corporate mindset, strategy and practical actions. 

Let me mention three basic customer service issues and concepts that all businesses need to address and then look at examples of how Crystal demonstrated their mastery over all of them: 

  • How is the customer made to feel? 
  • Dealing with unexpected challenges. 
  • Getting the simple things right. 

How is the customer made to feel? 

Like a guest and not a customer! Great customer service should be experienced as a positive emotional reaction or response and have a favorable influence over how a customer ‘feels’ about the service, product or brand. Virtually everyone I spoke to on the Crystal Serenity, talked not just about the high quality onboard facilities, food or destinations but about how they ‘felt’ genuinely looked after, pampered and welcomed. 

A contributory factor is of course, the all-inclusive nature of Crystal Cruise’s business model. Once you have paid, most things are included, such as drinks and wines, ice creams, entertainment, gratuities and all food including the specialty restaurants. Prior to the cruise, I looked at the benefits of this, purely from an economic standpoint, in terms of value. However, once the cruise was underway, I saw it had a much more profound effect. It changed the dynamics of the relationship between the passengers and Crystal to one of ‘guest’ and ‘host’, rather than a permanent transactional one, of ‘victim’ and ‘hungry business’! This was transformational in terms of the overall atmosphere and customer experience. 

Dealing with unexpected challenges. 

How well a business is able to deal with unexpected problems when they do arise, is a hallmark of real customer service. The art of this lies in communicating well with customers over problems; managing their emotional state positively and leaving them with the feeling that ‘their’ interests and not the businesses are understood and being put first.  

Crystal Cruises were tested with such an issue on the last port day of the cruise. We were supposed to arrive into Venice by 9 am, however as a result of very thick fog, Venice cruise terminal was shut and we did not arrive until 3 pm. Of course the fog was not Crystal’s fault, but nevertheless they still had to manage around a 1000 disappointed people, some of whom regarded Venice as the highlight of the cruise. Many also had tours and other plans cancelled. So how did Crystal handle this situation? 

Firstly, they kept in frequent touch with the guests, through regular announcements. Secondly, they organized extra activities on the ship and when we did arrive 6 hours late, without regard for the cost to them, they organized a free shuttle service in and out of Venice from the cruise terminal. All in all, this was a classic example of a company being seen to put the interests of their customers first. As one passenger told me, “I am pleased they did the right thing”. 

Getting the simple things right. 

Some months ago I interviewed Philip Ordever, Crystal Cruise’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Philip told me, “it is the small and almost ‘intangible personal service’ related issues that make the difference. People recognise it when they experience it!”

He is right and I did! Let me give you just a few examples of little service related things that just happened, without fanfare or fuss, that were just seamless.
– by day two of the cruise, staff in the restaurant knew our names.
– by day three they anticipated our wine preferences over dinner.
– when coffee was served I was asked was I right or left handed? This was so the waiter could decide which side of me to place the cup?
– the mini bar was stocked with diet drinks, as we had mentioned that one of us was diabetic .

 

Great customer service is, in itself, nothing more than common sense. The problem however in business, is that such standards are sadly not always that common!

All too often, businesses overlook these issues because they seem trite, clichéd and unsophisticated, to the high-powered corporate strategic thinkers. The ultimate business development truth however, is that nothing trumps great customer service and it is the ultimate success and business development tool. 

Mastering customer service, however doesn’t happen by accident. It is the product of    smart recruitment; really looking after your staff, great sustained training and the right corporate priorities and mindset. Let me conclude with the words of Rick Spath, the Crystal Serenity Cruise Director, who I put on the spot, when I asked him what it was that differentiates Crystal Cruises from other luxury cruise lines? Without missing a beat Rick told me with absolute conviction,  “because Crystal crew treat their guests like family”. 

With this approach in mind, it is easy to see why Crystal Cruises has been a serial winner of industry awards and ranked as number one, or thereabouts, in the world for the last 18 years, in the ultra-luxury cruise category. 

If you want to know more about Crystal Cruises and their destinations check them out at: 

www.crystalcruises.co.uk 

© Ian Cooper 2014