March 4th 2009

A Tale of two girls

Maria and MinervaA tale of Maria. Customer service in the trenches.

I have to tell you this customer service story. Norwegian Cruises has “freestyle” dining. You do not have set times or places for dinner with no set table, as a result, one could lose the chance to get acquainted with one’s waiter/server during the cruise. You eat when and where you want. Without this certainty the dining room staff could pass into a faceless pool.

Maria Fe Sanchez, Sr Waiter did something about this. We met her on the second night of our trip. Her impact was immediate, as she greeted us more fully and warmly than any other waiter on any trip. She took the time to find out where we were from, how we were enjoying the trip and what we liked personally about food etc. including possible allergies and preferences.

She made sure to immediately learn and use our full names that night and we learned her full name as well as that of her diminutive assistant Minerva. Maria and Minerva switched places getting the meal selections from the galley, making sure that we were talking often to one of them. There were no long stretches when we did not have someone chatting to us. They did this while serving 6 separate tables. Maria suggested that we may want to ask for her section the next night (a good idea as the maitre’d shifted the servers around different sections every night).

Of course the next night we asked for Maria and when she saw us her whole face lit up with delight. She remembered every little thing we had asked for. (Wine selection, green tea, sauces, horseradish, walnuts with the dessert, lots of water). Later I found that she “stocked” her station with whatever her “guests” had requested, going so far as to travel before her shift to other galleys several decks away to be sure she had the “treats” on hand before we asked.

As the trip continued, she would (with Minerva) share parts of her life and what home in the Philippines was like. Her education that lead to this this career choice which she has enjoyed for 8 years. We laughed about the similarities in family behaviours ( She is no 7 of 10 children – single – would like to get married, went to college in Manilla – hotel management ), parental pressures to get married. Internet dating and so on. She created a bond with us in sharing these aspects of the human condition.

If her station was too busy (all tables taken) , she told the hostess to seat us close to her and she would add us as an extra table. If they still placed us at a different section she would seek us out in this 500 person dining room and bring us the tea & walnuts she had set aside for us. She whole heartedly adopted us. We found out that she was the only one who still had our green tea secured away (quite often in her pocket) after all the other stations had run out.
Maria went out of her way to make our meals a bit more special and in doing so created friends among her guests. She did this with no expectations and ultimate friendliness. We will never forget her.  She made the system work for her and ourselves.

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