Wow Customer Service, 100 Miles From Shore: 'Wedding Ring Overboard!' And More

Micah Solomon – August 13, 2018

My definition of a “wow” customer experience is a moment when a customer service provider, through their own creativity and initiative, goes beyond fulfilling basic customer expectations. When you succeed in connecting with a customer this way, it changes the story the customer is telling herself about your business, your brand, in a way that can linger in the customer’s memory and that’s likely to be shared with the customer’s friends online and off. It’s a way to create ambassadors for your business, who will from that point forward do your marketing for you, happily and on their own initiative.

Recently, I've been taken with how Seabourn Cruise Line, a Seattle-based operator of high-end cruises, manages to pursue “wow” hundreds of miles from shore, where resources are more limited and the challenges more pronounced perhaps than they are ashore in the stories I've shared previously in these pages about the pursuit of wow on dry land–at hotels, retailers, B2B operations, technologies, banks...

Richard D. (Rick) Meadows, the president of Seabourn, tells me, “Our mission at Seabourn pivots on one key word, and that is the word ‘moments.’ Moments are those connection points where we interact with a guest. These are our opportunities to excel and to provide something that’s beyond what our guests would expect. This approach is at the core for us; it’s something we're wired to do across the board, on all ships. And it’s also something that we're conscious of doing across our crews. In other words, exceptional moments happen among crew members as well when they interact with each other.”

What and I call “wow moments” (and what Meadows simply calls “moments”) can be small and subtle–“on Seabourn, we make use of our time guests as an opportunity to figure out how to anticipate their wishes and tune in to their cues in lots of small but appreciated ways”–and they can be large and dramatic. There have been occasions, says Meadows, when a guest’s shoe failed and a crew member polled her colleagues until they found a pair that was just the right size for the guest to borrow. “And then there’s the night when a guest of ours who was on her way to a celebration dinner when her dress had a malfunction, all the way up and down the back. And very, very quickly, the suite stewardess rallied the tailor. They sewed her into her dress, as quickly and delicately as they could, so that she could go down to dinner and not miss this event.”

(Don’t worry; they got her back out of the dress as well when the evening was over; of course I had to ask.)

Wedding Ring Overboard!

Meadows then hit me with one final example of a “wow” moment in the Seabourn customer experience that was neither small nor subtle.

“We had a guest who was heading out for a shore excursion with her husband, putting on hand lotion as she left her suite. As she walks out to the gangway she’s rubbing the lotion in, and her wedding ring flies off–beyond the gangway and into the water.

Micah Solomon: That seems pretty final.

Rick Meadows: “It looked pretty final. These are deep waters. So our guest’s very upset, distraught even. And it happened that the captain was on the gangway for another reason. So he told our guest, "look, go on your excursion. When you come back I'll make sure that we do all the reporting with you to make this [insurance replacement] process as easy as possible.”

The minute the guest was out of sight, however, the captain sprang into action with another plan entirely. He took it upon himself to contact some divers in the waters nearby, and asked them to find the ring for him. Which, incredibly, they were able to do. When the ringless guest came back to the ship, a crewmember called her suite and asked her to come to the ship’s common area, “to fill out the paperwork.” But as she arrived, the captain came up to her and said, "I think I have something for you, is this what you're looking for?" and held up the ring.

Creating “wow” customer experiences at your own business.

It’s important to realize that these great stories represent the end of the wow process, the result of all the work a great organization does to promote opportunities for wow. If you’re looking to create an environment at your own business where wow is likely to flourish, concentrate on the following three pieces of the puzzle.

Hiring: Selecting prospective employees with the right personality traits to be attuned to wowing customers is an essential. Here’s an article of mine on employee selection and hiring for customer-facing work.

Training: Even the most naturally attuned employees need instruction and guidance in picking up on cues from customers and using them to create wow. Customer service training–which should start right at onboarding (orientation) and continue through their tenure with the company–is essential.

Empowerment: A desire to create “wow” and knowledge of how to go about it aren’t enough without another essential ingredient: Empowerment. Employees need to be empowered to use their creativity and initiative in favor of customers, or it won’t ever happen; they’ll be too focused on day-to-day checklist-type tasks and too fearful of stepping outside the lines.