Straight Talk Runs Deep

by Chris Bjorklund

Clear communication is crucial for any business…even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Chris Bjorklund ©2018

I was lucky enough to travel to Alaska recently on a small ship adventure. The Wilderness Discoverer cruised from Sitka to Juneau through the Inside Passage, an archipelago that was created by glaciers. With only 76 passengers and 25 crew members on board, it was an intimate experience. The activities ranged from sea kayaking and bushwhacking to snorkeling and meadow meanderings, all of which provided chances to both see Alaskan wildlife and get wet and muddy. There was even a polar plunge for some!

The Captain spoke to us every day, mostly via intercom, as did the Expedition Leader and Kitchen Steward. We received updates on the itinerary, how choppy the waters might get and why dinner would be late. Communication was clear and frequent, so all of us had the right expectations. 

One night, the Captain’s voice took a more serious tone. “We have lost one of our two engines, so we’ll have to limp along on 50 percent power.” He went on to say he had notified the U.S. Coast Guard while the ship’s engineers were working feverishly to troubleshoot the problem and make the repairs. Everyone stayed calm and continued to enjoy the Dungeness crab feed.

A few hours later, the Captain updated us with the news that the exact problem had been identified, but a replacement for the defective part wasn’t readily available. There were only four in the entire country and it would have to be flown into a remote airport by seaplane and then ferried to our ship to be installed. “As a result,” he said, “it’s necessary to modify our itinerary. Be assured that we’re doing everything we can to get that engine running at full power again.”

The next morning, a few of us were out on the back deck of the ship when we saw a motorized skiff arriving with the part. We cheered and applauded the crew who had worked through the night to troubleshoot, locate and order the part, and get it installed. Before long, we had full power and were headed for a glorious day in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (photo).

We subsequently learned that the trip’s grand finale in the national park had in fact been in jeopardy because government regulations wouldn’t have allowed the ship to enter Glacier Bay with reduced power. But thanks to timely and clear communication, as well as aggressive actions by staff and crew members, the last leg of the cruise was rescued with minimal distress to the passengers.

The cruise ship is a small business and the passengers are its customers. Like any business, sailing into the wilderness is risky and things can go wrong. But being prepared, professional, and proactive in communicating the situation honestly and promptly keeps customers informed while building their trust in the business. Honest and straight communication is the core of quality service.