Alex Zeits, Director of Customer and Employee Experience at Virgin Voyages, joined the Guest Experience Show in episode 103 to talk about Virgin Voyage’s culture and how they provide guest experiences that stand out from their competitors by using technology, focusing on guest and staff wellbeing and more.
From calling their guests and employees “sailors and crew members” to using technology to reduce friction at every point in the guest experience to their robust diversity, equity, and inclusion program, Virgin Voyages does things differently.
But one thing is certain: they’re serious about guest and staff satisfaction. Read on to find out all the details!
Differentiating the guest experience
At Virgin, guests are called “sailors” to feel more deeply embedded in the voyage experience. It is inclusive, and it is fun. Also, to strengthen the culture and differentiate Virgin Voyages from other cruise lines, they refer to all their team members as “crew members.”
A few other things set Virgin Voyages apart from the rest. Firstly, Virgin Voyages is “adult by design,” with no guests under 18 permitted onboard. Also, Virgin provides an all-inclusive, elevated experience, including specialty dining options onboard (which are often upcharge meals on other cruise lines), and Broadway-caliber performances!
Ensure staff is treated well
Alex also discussed how guest and team member experiences are directly connected. He references Richard Branson, who says that you must take care of your team so that they will take care of the guest.
So during orientation, new crew members are sent to restaurants owned by Virgin Voyages partnered with chefs to immerse themselves in the experience fully. Aside from providing the crew with an enjoyable experience, this also helps team members deliver better guest experiences after seeing the experience through the lens of the guest. Virgin also encourages crew members to take voyages themselves by offering complimentary cruises.
Technology must reduce friction and evoke emotion
Virgin Voyages developed an app to help guests reduce friction in the guest experience, as Virgin believes that technology is used best when it makes incredible moments feel seamless.
When guests walk onboard the ship, whether first boarding or returning from a port stop, they pass through a fragrance designed explicitly for Virgin Voyages, creating a pleasant familiarity with the ship. Then, upon checking into their rooms, guests observe the blinds opening and lights coming in in a way that amplifies the excitement of arriving in their room and creates a phenomenal first impression.
When discussing the intersection of guest experience and technology, Alex says, “When we do our job well, no one knows who we are, and no one cares who we are. As soon as we don’t do our job as well, everyone is focused on what we didn’t do and how we didn’t deliver.” Technology allows you to take care of many aspects behind the scenes to reduce friction in the guest experience. For instance, when guests arrive at the terminal, the app allows them to be quickly identified, and all they need to do is present their passports. Their credentials are verified, creating greater efficiency at the beginning of their journey.
The app allows guests to gain information digitally about activities onboard the ship and at each port, making it easier to determine their activities and reducing the time to make decisions.
Additionally, when sitting on the pool deck, guests can use the app to “shake for champagne,” a quick way to order beverages to their lounge chair without waiting or flagging down a server. And for guests who don’t want to use their phones, all the information is available in non-digital formats, so it is a “best of both worlds” situation.
How DEI impacts the sailor and crew member experience
Most companies score 40-45% when employees are surveyed on their sense of belonging; however, Virgin Voyages regularly scores between 85-90%, showing that authenticity is a critical factor in company culture.
Alex co-leads Virgin Voyage’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program, which Alex believes positively impacts the crew member experience and the guest experience. Virgin Voyages is passionate about employing people with diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and religious beliefs, members of the LGBTQ community, and those with non-traditional personal preferences such as unique tattoos and hairstyles.
Alex stresses that Virgin Voyages encourages crew members to bring their authentic selves and sense of expression (barring anything that is inoffensive and does not conform to health codes) to the guest experience. He states this makes the guest experience so much richer as, for instance, when a server passes a plate to a guest, they can focus on facilitating an exceptional guest experience rather than trying to conceal a tattoo or something that might be against standards in similar organizations.
Alex states guests can sense the emphasis on DEI within the crew members, which also translates into a positive guest experience. Virgin Voyages strives to make these initiatives apparent to guests by staffing vessels with as close to a 50/50 gender split as possible and empowering crew members to engage with guests authentically.
Seamlessly connect with your guests
When asked to summarize his thoughts on the guest experience, Alex says, “People should know we’re there. People should feel us, and we should be connected to them, but it should be something seamless that happens behind the scenes and happens naturally.”
Check out these resources to help you further improve your staff and guest experiences: