What Could a Small Business Possibly Learn From a Giant Cruise Ship?


What Could a Small Business Possibly Learn From a Giant Cruise Ship?

Most sensible people, when they go on a cruise, leave work way behind them.  That was what I intended to do when I took a 4 day cruise recently. A group of old schoolmates decided to celebrate our school reunion (I’m not saying how many), by getting together for a short holiday cruise. 

We had a wonderful time, reconnecting after many years with lots of laughs, stories, and the odd glass of wine. This was my first ever cruise so I didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. I did, however, find myself thinking about work. 

Anybody who has followed my writing will know the passion I have for putting robust business systems into place. It is my firm belief that no business can reach its potential without documented business systems that are appropriate for the business, and are used by all team members. 

“No business can reach its full potential without documented business systems that are appropriate for the business, and are used by all team members”.

What I observed on the cruise ship were systems on steroids. Every business owner should aspire to run their operations as efficiently and smoothly as that ship did.

There were over 1500 guests on board – all wanting to be pampered, fed, watered and entertained with absolutely no effort on their part at all. And that’s exactly what the staff did – well they did for our party anyway. 

I observed this huge vessel morph into almost a living being, with all the systems and the people using them interacting to make my journey enjoyable – the first of the lessons I took away with me.

Make the customer journey smooth

From check-in to our final departure, everything was made easy for us. Luggage delivered to our cabin, daily notices of activities available, choice of restaurants and food types, entertainment, shopping…  Whatever I requested, it arrived with good grace and timeliness. We did have a little hiccough with one of the restaurants, but the staff were extremely apologetic, and made amends quickly.    

I can only imagine the activity hidden behind doors and below decks, but we saw none of it. If there were disasters happening, they were completely hidden from us. 

Systems are essential

Keeping over 1500 people fed and entertained in a confined space could be a disaster. What if they didn’t order enough food? What if they didn’t cook the meals early enough? What if they ran out of wine?

As we disembarked, fork lifts and trucks were already preparing the ship for the next voyage –that afternoon. Every person I watched and talked to knew exactly what their task was and how to do it, and did it the same way every time. There were no surprises.

There is absolutely no way that cruising could be an ongoing success without every little detail having been documented, tested, implemented and constantly adapted. It’s the same for any business. 

Be prepared

While we had a seamless experience (except for that one glitch), we discovered there actually had been a couple of incidents on board. One of our number (a travel agent) explained that the ship is prepared for all eventualities – even with a jail and a morgue on board, and all the appropriate specialists. In fact the first thing we did once we all boarded was an emergency drill. No use thinking of teaching us how to use our lifejackets once the ship was going down.

Know your costs

The cost of our mini-cruise was extremely affordable, given the experience that we enjoyed. How could they run that huge ship and still make money? With the depth of systems operating on board, I guarantee that every detail had been costed to the nth degree. That allows the company to offer what I considered to be excellent value. 

After wading through my email backlog back in the office, I sat down to reflect on my experience, and wrote 3 questions for myself:

  • Am I making the journey for my customers smooth, where they simply have to make a request and, because of the in-depth research I have done, I know exactly what to do to meet that request?
  • Have I really considered as many possible business setbacks as I can, and put systems in place to deal with them?
  • Have I updated my financial reporting so that I really do know my current costs – and be profitable while providing value to my clients?

Have you considered these questions for your business?  Maybe some time away on a cruise would be the ideal opportunity.

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  • Patricia

    Great read, and your business mind interpretation! I was on that cruise and must admit the behind the scenes logistics and issues were never seen or felt! Treat yourself to 4 days, and only use electronics to photo the whales!!

  • Bronwyn

    Good advice there Pat!

  • Geoff Anderson

    Thanks Bronwyn, now that I am back on shore I concur. I was amazed at how systemised everything was. Especially the on board spending opportunities. Once on board they have a captured audience and make most of the cream from the on board spending – massages, botox!, orthotics and of course the casino. The margins are quite healthy.
    But as any successful small business knows, it’s easier to sell to an existing customer that establish a new one. So I would ask small business owners to consider what upsell opportunities can they offer their existing customers – preferably opportunities that add value.

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