Cruising to Success: Creating Raving Fans

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 6, 2014

This past week, we met with our friends and colleagues to review our business plans and revisit the latest trends that are happening in our industry. Since it is much more effective to get out of the office and away from day-to-day matters when doing this kind of strategic thinking, we decided to go big this year and go on a European river cruise.

After checking many river cruise packages, we settled on a Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River. We were not disappointed. It was an absolute amazing experience from start to finish.

Viking gets the concept of providing an exceptional experience to each and every passenger. I have not seen such engaged, happy employees who worked so well together doing whatever they could to help each other to deliver great customer service.

Each crew member gave the impression that they loved their job and wanted each guest to have the best experience possible. At all levels, the room attendants, the wait staff, the maintenance people and the management all worked in collaboration to ensure total guest satisfaction.

I wanted to understand how they were able to create such a customer focused culture. I interviewed a couple of the senior managers and a few of the staff who were excited to tell us what a wonderful working culture they had.

This amazing culture is based on the belief that their most valuable asset is knowledgeable staff with positive attitudes. The philosophy is that if they hire and train the right managers, who treat the employees with respect and dignity, the staff will in turn ensure all customers have an excellent experience.

I also interviewed our friend, Janelle Barlow of TMI, who is delivering much of the training. Viking understands that creating a constructive culture starts with every new employee going through an in-depth orientation program where they are indoctrinated into the values and the vision of the organization.

They share a strong and compelling vision of what the “ideal customer experience” looks like with a focus on making that vision a reality, and a plan to grow into that vision one small step at a time through intensive, on-going training and continuous feedback.

Through all this training and professional development, many staff become “overqualified” for their jobs – and yet they still stay. In fact Viking has the lowest attrition rate of all cruise lines. The work is seasonal, but over 95 per cent of their workers return year after year even though they do not pay as much as many competitors.

I also found it interesting that management does not provide individual recognition – it is all team based. Any singling out of an individual is done by the team themselves directed at contribution to the team success.

Employees have confidence that their manager and their team mates are always looking after their best interests, professionally as well as personally. The staff actually enjoy coming to work every day. One staff member said, “We’re like a family. We take care of each other and make sure our guests are smiling.”

As a result, the guests are ‘raving fans’ and Viking’s greatest marketing ambassadors. Viking will be launching ocean cruising in 2015 and I have no doubt they will excel in the crowded ocean-cruising marketplace.

My question is for managers this week: “What are you doing to develop a constructive culture where management and staff work together to create raving fans?”


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