How I’d Handle Carnival Cruise Lines Differently

On February 10, 2013, Carnival Cruise Line’s Triumph suffered a contained fire which launched a chain reaction of on-board service failures. Thousands of passengers were stranded on board with little food, no climate control, and poor sanitary and living conditions. It was no vacation.

The firm’s CEO, Micky Arison, quickly apologized (good move) but, in my opinion, didn’t think hard enough about the ramifications of this event on his customers or his company. Carnival’s situation may be similar to Tylenol’s–but without the loss of life.

To share a better version of how to handle this situation, I’ve put myself in the role of newly-hired Chief Experience Officer for Carnival and written the following press statement. it is intended to be delivered from the deck of Triumph several days after it arrives in port. These views are my own.

Triumph outdoor living_2013
Photo courtesy of Mirror, 18 February 2013

———————— Statement to the Press ————————

First, on behalf of my new employer, Carnival Cruise Lines, I apologize to the passengers, crew, friends, and family who have not only lost a vacation but have been uncomfortable, inconvenienced, and well, just angry at us—with due cause.

While we,and I, apologize to over 3,000 guests, I also want to extend my thanks to the over 1,500 crew members who followed their training and performed their duties so well. What happened at sea could have been even worse.

Please remember that although there was heartache and despair, there was no panic, no widespread sickness, no loss of control—and no loss of life. For all that, we are all extremely grateful to the crew and to the staff who, with limited facilities and amidst failing ship systems, performed so admirably.

Three days ago, I was placed into a newly created position called Vice President of Customer Experience. There are only two parts to my job.

#1) is to make sure that this poor quality of response never happens again, and

2) is to strengthen the Carnival Cruise Lines promise and raise our game in the face of adversity.

My first duty in this new role is to share a plan with you—which has already received verbal approval from the Board. I welcome your comments—and specfic ideas—on how to make it better.

1. While there’s no substitute for a lost vacation, we are tripling compensation levels to travelers from a refund, a free same-class trip, and $500, to a full refund plus airfare, an upgraded trip on Carnival for the passenger and a companion, or a same class trip on any other cruise line for each passenger only. Carnival also commits to refund, dollar-for-dollar, inconvenience expenses to return home paid within 15 days, counseling sessions for anyone requesting services, and $2,500 per passenger. We will also pay for any physical damages with an expedited claims process, which I will personally oversee.

2. For the crew—and thanks again for all you did for the passengers—we are offering an extra week’s pay paid immediately and an extra week of vacation, to be taken on a mutually agreeable schedule as we understand the impact of rebooking passengers over the next few months to other ships. We have the full support of our other employees to take up the 30 man-years of slack before this calendar year is over.

3. For the cruise line, the ship, and for future passengers, we will conduct a system-wide audit of emergency and contingency procedures to hopefully prevent occurrences like this one in the future—and to be prepared to respond more quickly if they do happen. This may including re-commissioning one of our older ships as a standby vessel and keeping it on standby in the Bahamas—to support any similar incident with Carnival or any other carrier.

4. For the Carnival brand, it will be my unwavering commitment to not just return passenger’s trust in the brand to shareholders, but to use this incident as a catalyst to make this brand stronger within four years. And by stronger, it means keeping the fun in cruising, providing a better value for passengers, and retaining investors’ confidence. After we first take care of our passenger and crew, then learn the root causes of what happened, I will personally host a series of meetings with passengers, crew, investors, travel agents, and the media to find out how we need to be better. Before Thanksgiving, I will host a second news conference from the bow of this ship, the Triumph, to share specific operations, marketing plans, and other details with you.

Experience makes us smarter and stronger and, after this event, we will, and I promise this, all be smarter and stronger! Thank you for your time, your understanding, and your support.

About the Author

During 25 years in 25 countries with 400+ companies, Mike and his clients have co-created over $1.5 billion in measurable impact with his guidance on their experience and business designs . Under the Storyminers brand, he helps retailers design and deploy Store-of-the-Future initiatives that create new business opportunities and rekindle investor interest. Mike is a top 25 customer experience influencer (as ranked by SAP and MindTouch), a global speaker, and founding member of Global CX Panel and the CXPA.