On the face of things, Hanna Kielczewska would seem to have one of the most difficult, if not downright frustrating jobs onboard the Statendam. Everyone knows that working in customer relations is a big challenge, but it’s one that Hanna seems to thrive on.
“A lot of people think my job involves handling a never-ending stream of complaints all day, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Actually, only about 50% of the guests I deal have issues that need to be resolved; the rest simply have questions or need information that will help them better enjoy their cruise.”
Hanna says that she loves her job mainly because it never gets boring. “It’s something new and interesting everyday,” she told me. “I love having my finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening around the ship. There’s very little that doesn’t go through my office, and I just love being in the loop. The job never gets boring because every single day onboard is different.”
As guest relations manager, Hanna is in charge of the front desk operations, as well as those of the concierges in the Neptune Lounge. “I empower my people to handle just about any situation that could come up, but I always encourage them to send passengers to me if they feel they can’t handle them. I just love resolving problems, and no matter how difficult a passenger may seem to be, I usually can calm them down and get to the root of any issue that’s upsetting them.” And it’s her upbeat, cheerful attitude that is the key. She’s also not afraid to delegate. “I don’t set foot in the Neptune Lounge that very often,” she told me. “The concierges up there know their jobs and they don’t need me telling them what to do. They are the ones most familiar with the needs of their Suite guests, so I only get involved if they have something they ask for my help on.” “I believe that people will only take full ownership of their jobs if you give them your full trust and guidance. This helps them to develop confidence in their ability to do their jobs because they know you have confidence in them and their abilities.”
Hanna says that her secret to resolving problems is to carefully listen to the guest to find out what is wrong and what it will take to make it right. “There is no such thing as a chronic complainer or even a ‘difficult’ guest,” Hanna explained. “There is just a guest who has a problem that I am here to resolve. That’s my job. So, I deal with them from a foundation of sincerity and honesty in order to do that. I let them know that I am on their side, and I deal with them one on one, person to person. I want them to know that I am not ‘the cruise line’ against them, but rather someone who genuinely wants to resolve any issue that may be standing in the way of them having a great cruise. I also try to get out from behind the desk,” Hanna added, “I don’t even want that desk separating me from the guest, and I encourage my people to do the same thing. It makes interacting with guests far more enjoyable.”
Hanna is probably so passionate about her job because she honestly enjoys it. “I really like dealing with people,” she told me. “It’s all a matter of reading guest emotions, and then dealing with them from a similar viewpoint. I take the same tact when dealing with the people who work for me as well.”
Holland America employs an exclusively Filipino front desk staff, though supervisors and management staff are European. Hanna got her start in guest relations working for Celebrity Cruises on their front desk. She then served as a concierge onboard that line for two contracts. After a short stint back on land, she began her career with Holland America Line, as a Guest Relations Supervisor onboard both the Westerdam and the Oosterdam. After three full contracts on the Vista Class ships, she was promoted to Guest Relations Manager onboard the Rotterdam, before moving to the Zaandam, and after that to the Statendam this past September. “I started on the biggest ships in the fleet,” she explained, “but moved on down to progressively smaller ones as quickly as I could. I always was interested in working on small ships where I can get to know our guests, as well as my co-workers, a bit better.”
“The front desk is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Hanna told me. “Everyone works an eight hour+ shift, split with a break of several hours in the middle.” Hanna works similar type hours, which she seems to enjoy. “Of course, my hours are not rigidly held to eight hours a day. Some days I may work eleven hours, while on others I may work only seven. It all depends on how busy we are and whether we are in port or at sea.”
Hanna says that longer sailings, such as this one, are far more challenging for her. On longer cruises, we have the same guests onboard day after day. Of course, we handle any issues as they come up, but generally things smooth out over time, however, mind you; the same people always might appear again at the very end of the cruise, so you have to remember names, faces and stories up to the very last minute! The shorter cruises, with guests changing every seven or so days, can get a bit more hectic with a constant flow of challenges. Keeps things hopping, which is just the way I like it.”
Hanna works under six month contracts, with six to eight weeks off in between. When on leave, she loves to go home and spend time with her family. Hanna was born in Poland, and today her family resides in Holland. “I have an identical twin,” she told me. “Her name is Anna – we were always Anna and Hanna growing up.” Hanna’s father recently passed away after a period of illness, so there’s only her mom and sister left. “Neither my mom nor my sister have ever been onboard a cruise ship,” Hanna told me. “My mom hasn’t even been on an airplane yet. So over the holidays they’re going to be joining me onboard the Statendam for a vacation. My mom had a rough last couple of years, taking care of my father who was ill, so I want this to be a really special trip for the both of them. I booked them into one of our suites so that the cruise will be a memorable one. It’s a Caribbean sailing with a lot of ports, so I am trying to arrange my schedule so that I can work while they are out exploring the ports and then be available to spend most evenings with them.”
It’s a challenge to be away from one’s family while working extended periods of time at sea, but Hanna doesn’t seem too troubled by it. “I honestly enjoy just about everything to do with my job,” she said. “I love the work that I do, dealing with people. I also love my work environment. Being at sea means there’s something new everyday. Your environment is constantly changing. You sail into new ports, in entirely new regions of the world, on a regular basis. The weather is different. The scenery is different. You get to see new places and experience new things. “And also in this job -- issues, solutions, goals and expectations might change overnight and it is always your capability to adjust that keeps you moving. You can’t ask for better and more empowering working conditions than that.”
I asked Hanna what itinerary she most loves sailing, and she seemed to have difficulty answering the question. “I’ve been pretty much everywhere except Asia and a few other countries in that region, and I guess I enjoy them all. But if I had to choose my favorite itinerary, at least here onboard the Statendam, I would have to say Alaska because it’s so naturally rugged and beautiful. But I also like it because we did that itinerary over the course of a solid three months. When we do the same itinerary every week, there is no pressure to get off the ship and see the various ports. You know that if you don’t get a chance to see Sitka this week, there is always next week or the week after that. With this Hawaii/South Pacific sailing, there is only one, and we are visiting so many incredibly beautiful places that you hate to miss seeing even a single one. So that adds a lot of pressure to free up at least a few hours to go out and explore every day we are in port. That sort of thing can be very tiring because it means I feel the need to think a bit more about time scheduling as well.”
Hanna has a small cabin overlooking the bow of the ship. I told her that it would seem to me that she has one of the best cabin views onboard the Statendam. “True,” she laughed, “but then I guess I should also mention that my cabin is directly above the show lounge. Getting a mid-afternoon nap was difficult at first since there are rehearsals going on in there just about everyday. But after awhile I learned to just tune out the noise,” she added.
I asked Hanna where she sees herself in five years. “Probably in the same place I am right now,” she answered. “I really enjoy my work and while it’s possible I could be doing a similar job for a large hotel, I honestly prefer my life at sea. So, since I’m still pretty young, five years from now will probably find me still working on a ship somewhere.”
Hanna freely admitted that when she is not at sea, she misses it. “I went back home after working two contracts for Celebrity. But I didn’t stay there very long. The lure of life at sea was just too much for me. So I began applying for jobs and Holland America was the first company to get back to me. They offered me a position to start almost immediately, and I’ve been here ever since.”
I’ve had occasion to deal quite extensively with Hanna during this cruise, and I can say without hesitation that from the first time I met her, I was impressed by her upbeat and positive nature, and by her sincere desire to be of assistance. It’s no wonder the guests here onboard the Statendam love her. She really bends over backward to ensure their happiness. Hanna facilitated this entire CruiseMates blog, and without her assistance it would not have been anywhere near as comprehensive as it turned out. She coordinated interviews, set up appointments and made herself available to meet all of our needs. She even went to the trouble to arrange a private bridge tour for representatives from both CruiseMates and Cruise Critic. And the amazing thing? She would do just about the same for any guest. That’s just the type of person she is – Holland America at its finest.