I must be SICK.  How many people do you know who write blog posts aboard a cruise ship?  Well, when you find a lesson, you write about it.  And boy, did I learn some lessons on this trip!  First a very brief bit of background.  I live in Greenville, South Carolina and I’ve been engaged with the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives for about 4 years now.  It started out as a speaking gig where I eventually would find my life’s passion…working with Chambers of Commerce and Associations around the world.  As most State Associations do, CACCE has an annual management conference, normally in one of the member cities.  This year was a bit different, though.   They’re doing the 2015 conference RIGHT NOW aboard the Carnival Fantasy during a 5-day trip to the Bahamas.  We’re on our way back to Charleston now, but we’ve had 4 great sessions with Kyle Sexton plus several other really solid “classes”.  But today, I want to talk to you about one class in particular.  Kyle was setting up his talk on “The Innovative Membership Organization” when he asked a great question.  He wondered if any of us had an experience from this week’s cruise that would affect the way they saw their Chambers or their membership…or that would affect how they do their jobs.  I’d like to share some of the answers with you today, and hope that you’ll enjoy some of these lessons as much as I have.

Dan Meyer of the Boone Area Chamber in NC started us off talking about towels.  The housekeeping staff came into our rooms each night while we ate dinner and made these cool little sea animals out of common hand towels.  We’d walk in and find them looking up at us from the bed after the evening’s festivities.  Dan’s lesson about those towels was quite revealing.  He said that even though the towels (our resources?) might have been the same each night, how they were utilized produced a completely different result each night.  I challenge you to find new ways to use common resources to create exciting new things that delight your members.

I believe it was Jennifer Walters of the Litter River Chamber in SC who commented about something I’d witnessed myself.  She said that she’d asked her room steward for a bucket of ice on the first night, and that she got it.  Every day…every night…twice every 24 hours…that steward made sure she had a freshly-filled ice bucket in her room.  In fact, I had the exact same experience, which tells me that this was NOT a coincidence!  Jonna Turner of the Cherokee County (SC) Chamber mentioned that HER steward learned her name as well as her husband’s, and used it frequently throughout the trip.  The lesson here is simple, and I challenge you to employ it at your organization.  Improve upon your customer service skills and show them off at every chance.  People notice and they LOVE it!

I can’t recall who said this next one, but it was a GOOD one!  She mentioned that two other attendees had invited her to sit with them at lunch one day.  Another, Tamaka Hudson of the Polk County (GA) Chamber mentioned that her husband was asked by a random stranger if he would like her to take a picture of him at a particular point of interest.  Another simple one, right?  People often remember the little things you do when you go out of your way to do them more than they do the things you ALWAYS do because they expect it.  Go do something little, unexpected and outside of your normal routine for someone today.

Again, I apologize that I didn’t catch who said it, but one Chamber leader asked who among us had ventured out into Nassau the previous afternoon and stumbled into the Straw Market.  If you’ve ever been to Freeport or Nassau or pretty much ANYWHERE in Mexico or any other tourism-driven countries, you’ve been to someplace LIKE the Straw Market.  It’s full of stall after stall after stall of the exact same knick-knacks and souvenirs and at the entrance of each stall is a VERY aggressive saleswoman working very hard to get you to come in to HER shop.  She offers all sorts of compliments and tells you that she’ll work you a very good deal as you’re her very first customer of the day.  The lesson here certainly wasn’t lost on me.  All the spam marketing and “in-your-face” sales tactics in the world won’t win you loyal fans.  One-time sales?  Perhaps.  I challenge you to go out and work on building one REAL relationship today…and EVERY day.

Rick Childrey of the Greater Smithfield-Selma Area (NC) Chamber mentioned that he’d been in the casino at some point when the pit boss offered everyone at the table a free cocktail.  Now if you’ve ever been to a casino, you know that’s not uncommon.  But on board a cruise ship, free cocktails don’t just show up!  Either way, the casino understands that a player who’s drinking is more likely to stay at the table longer, bet a bit more aggressively and spend more money.  They know their data, and so should you!  Do you know what your overall retention rate is?  What about your first year retention rate?  Your penetration rate?  Your revenue per member?  If you don’t know these things, and if your staff doesn’t know them, you’re simply shooting from the hip.  Let me challenge you to learn these numbers and commit them to memory.  You have a CRM tool like Chamber Nation, Weblink or Chamber Master that can make collecting the information painless.  Know your numbers!

sharkLastly, I’ll give you my OWN lesson.  I got SCUBA certified back in August in preparations for this trip.  I hadn’t dived since then, and even THEN it was at Lake Jocassee back home.  As excited as I was to do this, I was the first one to hit the water.  I was ALSO the first one to rush right back to the boat.  My weight belt was slipping off of me.  My mask wasn’t sealing properly.  The waves were blasting me in the face and I was sucking in salt water.  In short, I was panicking because of the conditions on the surface.  Fortunately, as ready as I was to call it quits and admit defeat, my dive master pulled me back on board the boat, helped me readjust my equipment, fired me back up and got me right back in the water.  It was still intimidating being in that rough surf, but I submerged.  And guess what I found!  The deeper I went, the more calm I became.  I relaxed.  The waves were gone, and instead I was swimming in and through ships that were resting 70 feet below the surface.  I swam with 6’ Caribbean reef sharks, sat on the floor beside a giant sting ray, took amazing pictures and videos of millions of blue fish and yellow fish that I haven’t identified yet…and had an incredible time.  My take-away?  When it seems rough and choppy and difficult at the surface, dive deeper.  That’s where you’ll experience real growth.  That’s where the greatest experiences happen.  I challenge you, finally, to go dig deeper and find what’s below the surface waiting for you!

Until next time…