Service Par Excellence

July 13, 2023


How uplifting are our delightful service experiences, the kind that surpass expectations.  Not only do they deliver a smile to our faces but leave us with a warm sense of feeling valued and appreciated.  Even if our days have gone all wrong to that point, great service can bring momentary relief to our circumstances and restore faith in the integrity of mankind during that instance.


My wife, Cindy, and I recently had the privilege to cruise the straits of Alaska.  It also marked the milestone occasion for our now having set foot in all 50 US states.  The tour of Alaska was a wonderful journey made even more pleasurable by the opportunity to share it with close friends.  Aside from the spectacular scenery and experiences was the excursion vehicle, provided by Viking Cruise Lines.


From inception the ship’s onboarding procedure was remarkable denoted by clockwork efficiency and precision.  Not only were employees on board attentive, but permeated a genuine warmth, allowing us to feel immediately welcomed and confident we were in good hands. 


Sleeping compartments were meticulously cleaned and straightened each day, yet with gentle regard for our personal effects.  Common areas reflected the same orderliness, arranged in such a manner to promote coherent flows allowing community for some and privacy for others, if that is possible.  Spa and workout facilities offered state of the art and contemporarily interesting equipment, that promoted immersion. 


Dining and meal options were superb and of high standard, enhanced by a full range of options ranging from the traditional excessively sufficient smorgasbord offering to the more elegant service expected in more refined establishments.  Not only was the staff professional, but engaging, quick, and appropriately jocular.  In my observations, strong organizations support a culture that is not only unified, but that allows an opportunity for their staff’s uniqueness and personalities to be amplified. 


There were two interactions on board the Viking in particular that were impressionable.  One occurred mid-voyage.  After seven days at sea, soiled garments required laundering providing opportunity to take advantage of our ship’s washateria, whose technology deserves mention in another story.  Following laundering and drying I neatly placed our articles on our bed and scampered downstairs for our 6 pm supper appointment. 


Upon return later that evening, not only had our bedding been turned down and the schedule of the next day’s activities posted, but our clothing had been meticulously folded, organized, and neatly positioned in a bedside chair.


Sebastian and his housekeeping assistant Baby Rose, I appreciate that more than you know.


Ever more curious as our cruise continued as to what drives values at Viking, I had the occasion to interact with Edgar, the ship’s Beverage Manager.  Our conversation began innocently with a question as to what the uniform stripes on employee jackets symbolized.  Not merely providing a response to that query, Edgar proceeded to explain ranking order not only in food and beverage, but related to housekeeping, guest services, engineering, and operations.  He further addressed the company’s approach to staffing.


“We hire first according to who demonstrates a passion for service.  It is essential that in order to become a member of the Viking team an individual must not only have a commitment to meeting customer needs, but to want to figure out ways to exceed that expectation.  In addition, the company is committed to advancing employees from within and to a large extent relies upon input from customers as to who demonstrates the highest levels of excellence.”


Edgar further went on to say, that Covid has had some effect on diminishing performance standards, but things have more recently “been on the rise.”  To me, perish the thought of what it was like before 2020.


Extended time upon these watercrafts, though charming at first glance can be difficult.  There are weeks and months away from home and family.  These employees are always at the worksite.  Even when disembarking for a moment at the various ports of call, they remain easily recognizable and are “on the clock” for their patrons. 


Returning home I’ve given considerable thought to what qualifies for induction into the customer service Hall of Fame.  I thought of some attributes and instances.


·       Distinction.  Years ago, Commanders Palace in New Orleans, besides preparing exceptional dishes, demonstrated a synchronistic pattern to table service practically worthy of a show in and of itself.  Literally where one employee brushed crumbs between courses, another staff member instinctively swooped in to collect them.

·       Customer-centricity.  I’ve written before about Aztec Cycles in Stone Mountain, GA.  Their credo is to “repair bikes not to their standard, but to the customers.”  Upon repair, the client will always be asked to test ride the cycle first, to assure it exceeds the standard.

·       Connection.  Again, many years ago a server at a restaurant in Hawaii delivered our family a riddle midway through the main course each evening.  It served to stimulate thought and conversation among our household.

·       Caring.  In my work with sports, it is common to receive communications from member institutions prior to the event.  One, that I saved for years was from the Sports Information Director at Pittsburgh University E.J. Borghetti.  A caring gesture to me as few colleges were acknowledging a “lowly” statistician at that time.  E.J. is now the Executive Athletic spokesperson at Pitt.  E.J. I still appreciate you!

·       Courtesy.  Ambrosia restaurant in Inlet Beach, FL has built a culture bathed in professionalism.  There is an aura that permeates from the moment the customer sets foot in the establishment which sets a tone that the experience is going to be special. 

Our cruise to Alaska was a joyful and memorable experience as well as being a time to be away and reset.  Along that journey, however, I also hope I was reminded of some things about what it means to deliver exceptional service and the essential elements required to exceed expectations.  For those of us in the service business, I aspire to live up to the challenge and the bar set by Viking and other fine organizations. 


How ‘bout you?


The Seed Sower