Viking River Cruises Wins The Financial Times Guide To Business Development Blog First Outstanding Customer Services Award

Let me ask you a really simple question. 

Can you instantly name three occasions in your life when an organization you’ve done business with, has massively exceeded your expectations? I don’t just mean delivered on their promises and done a good job, but consciously given you a positive and excited feeling that they have gone way past what you expected. 

Have you immediately got three names in your head? Actually have you got one? 

Despite the clichéd mantra of many corporate leaders and executives, “that we strive to exceed customer expectations”, when I have asked people this question, very few have been able to quickly come up with three really great examples. 

To be blunt, it is a business development truth, that exceeding customer or client expectations is not as common as it should be, regardless of the fact that it really is the holy grail of sustained business success. If, as a business, you can consistently exceed customer expectations, then subject to market factors you are able to charge premium prices in your sector; get very high levels of repeat business and fantastic word-of-mouth referrals. 

By the way, I can’t immediately think of three answers either, but I can think of one. My wife and I recently took a holiday to China with a company called Viking River Cruises. No prizes for guessing what business they are in! Not only was the overall trip as good as we had hoped, but it totally exceeded our wildest expectations in every possible respect and was an absolute ‘masterclass’ in customer service. This was not just my opinion, I spoke to a very large number of other passengers who felt exactly the same. Not only did they deliver the holiday they had promised, but every single detail had been meticulously planned from the customers’s perspective.

Many businesses these days seem to try to get away with giving you as little as they can for the money. Not so with Viking River Cruises. They did the exact opposite and demonstrably set out to do as much as possible for guests. 

Now before I get too carried away sharing my personal holiday experiences, my interest as a business writer is in how Viking River Cruises manage to achieve what so few businesses are able to do. What is the strategic thinking and activity that make these high business aspirations a reality? What lessons can other businesses of all types learn from them? With these questions in mind I spoke to the company’s UK managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith. 

She gave me several answers, all of which can be conceptually modelled: 

“We track feedback on everything, even the small details. For example, we spent a huge amount of time recently just reviewing and discussing the quality and appearance of our crockery and cutlery”. 

“We deliberately don’t oversell in our brochures, in fact we consciously undersell. We want people to be surprised when they get even more than they had expected”. 

“We find the best people, look after them and pay them well. Excellence starts with recruitment. We identify people at the outset, who are prepared to go the extra mile”. 

“We like to keep control over every aspect of what we do and we never give anything out to third parties. All elements are controlled and staffed by Viking River Cruise trained people, even if they are based locally”. 

“The overall Viking ethos is about exceeding customer expectations and in training we are massively passionate about customer service”. 

There are two other factors I would like to mention that show how seriously this company takes this issue and committment. Firstly it communicates and builds its aims into its branding. With its registered strap line … Viking River Cruises … The World’s Leading River Cruise Line … By Far, it immediately and very publically establishes, both externally and internally, high standards to move towards. If you set such standards and targets in the first place, you are more likely to achieve them than by setting no standards! 

I was also intrigued and impressed, with their passenger feedback sheets given out at the end of the trip. Gone were the usual questions and boxes to tick, inviting holidaymakers to select … excellent, good, average, or poor. The whole of Viking’s evaluation process was based around questions, which matched their branding and ethos. They ask passengers to indicate whether the experience was … ‘far above expectations’, ‘above expectations’, ‘as expected’ etc. etc. 

What can you learn from all this, that you can use in your own business development? For more information about Viking Cruises visit their website – click here