5 lessons learned about customer experience on a cruise

Our very good friend Steven is as hooked on cruises as much as we are hooked on flying.  He can tell you the size, weight, capacity and features on almost any cruise ship just from the name of the ship!  For quite some time, he’s been encouraging us to “give it a try”, and so we decided to take a “taster cruise” of 2 days to see what it felt like.  I thought I should blog about what I learned from a cruise ship customer experience (CX), so here’s my 5 CX observations.

Help the customer engage in your experience:  From when we booked our cruise quite some time ago, through to disembarkation at the end of the cruise, we were completely in Steven’s hand.  All communication from the cruise company happened via phone or email, and required lots of downloading and printing off of documents.  There were no options to use apps, and even at the ferry terminal, no online terminals to access your information.  Without Steven explaining how things worked, we’d have been at a loss of what to do and when.  Even in the cabins, we received a daily paper summary of events, offers, excursions and activities.  Customer effort is a real differentiator, especially with experiential experiences, like going on a cruise.  This cruise was aimed at first time cruisers, and I’d really have expected a lot more information to help me make the most of my experience, and what to expect.  By the end of the cruise, I still felt confused and unsure of the “model” CX I was supposed to consume.

Hygiene factors really matter: Every now and then, the press highlight horror stories of whole cruise ships of passengers becoming sick.  Trapped on a boat with vomiting and nausea, it’s the worst kind of PR for any business.  Good cruise lines REALLY focus on the hygiene factors.  Maintaining spotless cabins, restaurants, pools and bars with over 2800 guests and 1200 staff is not easy, but really matters. And the hygiene factors (considering the Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) also extend to the way the service is delivered.  Where you might expect everything to be spick & span in your cabin, the attention to detail of making your stay absolutely fabulous made a great impression.  The crew maintaining the cabins work tirelessly, pandering to every whim, always charming and smiling, and really make you feel special.  On the people front, cruise ships deliver a flawless & human CX.

Personal experience at scale is a challenge: Although the onboard crew deliver an exemplary experience, where things start to feel less personal is what you do & when.  From embarkation to disembarkation, cruise liners focus on the tasks, rather than the events, and you can end up feeling like a number rather than a person.  Where you luggage goes, when you board the ship, how you get to your cabin, where & when you eat your food, which bars and restaurants you can access, what is & isn’t included in your cruise package are all strictly controlled.  Only the highest status loyalty scheme members have a less constrained experience. Given the first point I raise about helping new customers to understand your experience, there’s a risk that “not knowing the rules” as a newbie customer turn you off signing up for another cruise.

Cross-sell focus can impact your baseline experience: Onboard a cruise ship, you have a captive audience.  Very quickly this becomes apparent, with the endless onslaught of opportunities to upgrade your cabin or drinks package, buy excursions, upgrade your dinner offering, make purchases of luxury goods, participate in art auctions, have your portrait taken, sign up for future cruises at a discount and of course gamble the night away in the casino.  It’s not very subtle, and at times, it feels quite hard to escape from the cross-selling and “deal promotions”.  It’s a fine line to maximise revenue from happy and engaged customers, without efforts to increase the spend per passenger becoming invasive.  I’m not sure that the our cruise got the balance right.  Due to the first point and the last point, I felt at times that I wasn’t achieve value on the core experience before I was being encouraged to spend more, and that felt a little off-putting as a virgin cruiser.

Use technology to the max: You might assume that the average age of those on a cruise ship tends towards a maturer demographic, but even amongst the 60+ age group, we noticed that EVERYONE has a smart phone.  During embarkation, at the pool bar or at the dinner table, all ages were checking emails, taking selfies and looking at their phones.  The lack of online CX (coupled with very expensive wifi onboard) suggests that cruise ships are missing a trick.  Some of the obvious advantages include the free marketing from the selfie posting; the ability to push custom messages and promotions right to someone’s smart phone via an app; time, paper and resource saved by letting people complete details online and setting up nudges and prompts to ensure people are in the right place at the right time (dinner or spa reservations, excursions when docked in port, check out process.)  Even if the ship was to restrict wifi access to the internal network, customers would still happily connect to the wifi and access an app or website.  As a virgin cruiser, the ability to access ship maps, check FAQs on what to do and how to do it, check my bill and understand the complex process of disembarkation would have made my customer experience much smoother.

So would we go on another cruise?  Yes, we would!  Next time, we’d be more thoughtful about destinations, cruise length, which cruise line to travel with, and of course, ensure that our expert cruise friend, Steven, joins us! It was overall a great experience, where the crew aboard really made the difference.  But with regards some of the experience gaps, you might want to reflect if your customer experience could do with a few tweaks and refinements!

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