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Dazed and Delighted with Difficult Clients

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I do love being at sea, and I love the boats, being more of a seadog than an hotelier, but it seems that the service aspect aboard has become one of the driving factors in the yachting industry today, certainly aboard motor yachts, and now aboard sailboats too.  This ability to drive a vessel according to schedules rather than sea conditions, while delivering unparalleled service to discerning clientele in exotic ports, has become a critical qualifier.  I have done charter work, although many of my mates, staunch sailors all, have seen far more than I in this regard. They have defined their careers by satisfying extraordinary requests and discovering that guests and owners can be the most challenging and interesting aspects of the job; obstacles we must hurdle as smoothly as a following sea. This is part of what we signed on to do in accepting the responsibility that a charter yacht Captain assumes with command.

Someone recently asked me how one deals with exceptional – read difficult - clients.  While some requests may be considered aberrant or challenging on occasion, some people are simply seeking novelty or distraction. There is usually a solution for all things and I remind myself it is just part and parcel of the level of service we provide. Like a sloppy sea, we do not prefer it; we just deal with it as best we can when it cannot be avoided.  It is often a simple matter of defining and satisfying people’s true desires, uncovering their expectations and exceeding them, or attending to a slew of other human traits that can be easily discerned and dealt with through attention to detail. Cosmopolitan and well-lived individuals, as most senior crew tend to be, can quickly recognize preferences, or uncover them through diplomatic discussion and direct effort. 

Some folks seek sanctuary and serenity when they step aboard; others prefer an open palace, a Romper Room or an unlimited funfest. At times, in the same group you may encounter diverse expectations and we must strive to satisfy all without compromise or conflict, maintaining our professional demeanor and decorum. It is therefore vital to work closely with the charter agent and have candid chats with the client prior to their arrival in order to establish these expectations and prepare the vessel and crew accordingly.

As professionals, we strive to excel in all aspects of hospitality and performance to satisfy most requests but, despite our extensive contacts in prime ports and beyond, there are limits that each Captain has to determine aboard his vessel. We must let the crew attend their specific areas, conscious of these standards, although open communication with your team and daily discussion with the Charter guests are key to maintaining a feel for the dynamic aboard throughout their stay. Truth be told, I have not met many difficult clients. Many are a pleasure and some become friends. Even when demanding, they have usually been rather reasonable, eventually, but it is the exception that presents a challenge.

We are not in the business of imposing a morality on others, but must certainly be crystal clear as to what is allowed aboard, or not. I have heard of clients spraying champagne throughout the saloon, or running rampant through the boat or in their cabins in a state of ecstasy and, although it requires substantial work to put things right thereafter, it is only a matter of time, money and effort. This is what sanctuary is: a place to live out the excesses one dreams about yet cannot exercise during the daily existence.  If the client is willing to pay for their excesses, it is our job to support them, happily, I think. 

And it would not be the first time a Captain has had to assuage authorities due to clients’ public pleasures. But again, if they are willing to suffer the costs of restitution, to set things straight, it is up to us to manage and arrange as required. As Captains, our support is often presumed by the clients, in all things, on or off the vessel, and our experience in this arena is indispensable. I think that as long as the crew and vessel are not compromised, clients are free to do as they wish, aboard or ashore, and should expect the full support of our resources and rolodex, whether it be arranging rentals, posting bail, making introductions or sharing advice.  Of course, these excesses place exceptional demands on the crew, and are certainly beyond most operational parameters, but generous tips usually suffice to restore smiles and renew energies for the next adventure.

Having said that, it is important that guests also understand from the start that this is an exceptional platform, one where they can sleep in till late, order an organic fruit milkshake with vodka and redbull, stay out till early and come back for a bowl of fresh, exotic delights from the galley, while wearing rabbit slippers and a funny hat.  We are there to provide sanctuary and discretion in a professional and friendly manner. So it is not so much a matter of difficult clients, but more about fulfilling expectations, and providing amply in what follows.  I like the idea of that, and enjoy the resulting smiles. One of the finest compliments I’ve heard was told to Captain Danny Graham of the MV Tilac by a dazed and delighted departing client:  ‘They should make a bronze statue of you Danny!’.  May we all have bronze busts lining the dock in St. Tropez one day ... but I would rather hear the stories, names withheld, for the full pleasure of it! What are yours I wonder?  I just know that when we get together now, the stories are not so much about a crossing or survival at sea, but about how we got through a rocking season of charters…

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