The first part of this post was a personal report on our recent travels. In this second part, I want to share what I learned about our industry’s “best” practices along the way. More specifically, I want to describe some of the HRM practices that Regent Seven Seas uses to deliver a consistently high quality customer experience on board their cruise ships. We took this cruise because of the great itinerary, heavily discounted and all-inclusive pricing (to include airfare, tipping, open bar etc.), but Ron and I aren’t likely to sail on one of these largish ships (700 guests on the Mariner) any time soon because of our dislike of mass market travel that so affects the experience of seeing new places. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Regent and the lovely Mariner to anyone for whom this type of cruising — upscale, gracious accommodations, fantastic service, wonderful food, country club ambience and crowd, and well-organized but larger group tours without benefit of any onboard cultural/educational programs — would be just the thing.
The first thing we noticed when our taxi arrived at the Mariner’s dock in Istanbul was the speed and graciousness with which we were greeted — and the complete lack of tipping. Porters appeared to handle our luggage, a ship’s officer appeared to welcome us aboard, and we were greeted with champagne flutes as we joined a well-organized flow of boarding passengers in the theater for “on-boarding.” As soon as we had been “processed,” in what was a very efficient and again gracious manner, we set out, ship’s deck plans in hand, to find our suite. Yes, suite. All the cabins on this ship are suite-like in their size and amenities, to include our own balcony, walk-in closet, full size head (bathroom to you landlubbers), seating area, desk, etc. Great first impression.
Within minutes, our luggage arrived, our cabin stewardess had introduced herself and asked what else we might need to settle in, and someone else appeared to let us know that luncheon was being served at our convenience. By then we had interacted with a dozen or more staff members of various responsibilities, and everyone had a smile — a real smile — and seemed genuinely happy to see us. And because there’s no tipping, we felt entirely comfortable interacting with everyone without the eternal barrier of having each such interaction be a financial transaction. With tipping removed from the equation, staff become colleagues very quickly as we collectively get ready to sail. As our trip progressed, I couldn’t help but notice that the excellent level of service NEVER failed. From line handler to maitre d’s, from cruise director to the laundry person into whom I nearly bumped, no one on the Mariner team ever seemed overly tired, frustrated, distracted, ill-trained or wishing they were somewhere else. And I was never fobbed off on someone else when I asked for something. Whoever was the recipient of my request, even when they were obviously not the right person to resolve it, saw the matter through to closure, calling on their colleagues as necessary. Wow!
This was a level of customer service the likes of which I’ve rarely seen, and the fact that it was consistent for ten days and shared by every other passenger with whom I spoke, was almost too good to be believed. So, with Bill Kutik as my spirit guide for skepticism, I began asking a lot of questions about Regent’s HRM practices, believing that the magic began and ended with HRM — and I was right. Here’s what I learned about the HRM practices of Regent Seven Seas, to include from many crew members who had worked on a wide range of other cruise lines with quite different practices:
- Crew are well-compensated compared to other cruise lines, to include what crew would get via their tips on these other lines.
- Crew greatly prefer the no tipping policy because it removes a barrier to their interactions with customers, making them guests rather than customers, so there’s much less awkwardness not only about requesting service but also about delivering it.
- Crew accommodations on a Regent Seven Seas ship are about twice the size of those on more mass market cruise ships in space per crew member and house fewer crew members per cabin with even the lowest level (in terms of the type of work and compensation) being housed comfortably.
- Crew meals are also superior on Regent Seven Seas ships and are eaten in more comfortable surroundings and on better schedules.
- When in port, many to most (depending on the port, weather conditions, length of stay in port, the nature of a crew member’s assignment, and many other factors), crew members do get enough time off to explore, and there appeared to be low-cost or no-cost transportation provided in several of the ports where local circumstances required the ship to be at anchor or docked some distance from the town.
- Regent schedules crew leaves, where possible, with an eye on the distances from home their crews must travel and what time of year might be best for a visit to those home countries.
- Promotion from within is very common, e.g. our housekeeper/cabin steward was training (and boy was she talented) to become a member of the evening entertainment troupe (there was a special evening show that showcased the talents of the non-entertainment crew called “Crew Capers,” and it was wonderful), one of our waiters in the very elegant French restaurant on board had been promoted recently from wait service in the main buffet restaurant, and the bios provided on senior crew all spoke of their promotion through prior roles with Regent Seven Seas.
- Cross-training is also very common, e.g. the crew person who served drinks one afternoon on the upper sun deck appeared later that afternoon as wait staff for early diners, the deck hands piloted the ship’s tenders when we anchored out, and the reception desk staff handled everything from financial matters to emergency preparedness.
- With dozens of countries and even more languages represented among the crew (which is common in the cruise ship industry) and English the required lingua franca, language lessons are not only provided but also scheduled to fit the many different shifts needed to achieve the 24/7 service levels needed on a cruise ship.
Regent Seven Seas is considered by all the crew with whom I spoke — and Ron will tell you that I was “interviewing” everyone I met — to be a “best place to work” if you love the cruising life. Reflecting on what I learned about their organizational design, staffing strategy and execution, total compensation approach, opportunities for advancement, work environment programs, crew development and many other aspects of HRM, there’s such an obvious connection between the wonderful cruising experience they deliver to their customers and their engaged, high quality and satisfied workforce. What employer could hope for or use HRM to achieve more?