Customer Satisfaction Research and the Cruise Industry

Posted by John Grafton on Jan 27, 2012 8:00:00 AM

Sometimes it takes a disaster to show how companies deal with crisis situations.  In the aftermath of the Costa Concordia cruise ship tragedy, the industry association TravelAlliance reported that 37% of travel agents report being contacted by clients booked on 2012 cruises.  Of those customers, an estimated 10% have expressed interest in canceling their voyages.

In the cruise industry, January is known as ‘Cruise Wave Month’, the biggest booking month of the year for cruises.  Although 20% of travel agents reported that the incident has negatively impacted their bookings, 68% say it has had no noticeable impact on their bookings so far.

So, who should be assuring customers that cruising is safe?  And what should they be telling them?  The phenomenal growth of the cruise industry has had a lot to do with the public’s perception that cruises are safe and hassle-free, however, does this incident show that perhaps cruise lines are more concerned with providing the best customer experience (satisfaction) with a cruise instead of the safest customer experience?

Since 70% of cruises are booked through travel agents, they are the group that consumers look to first in times of crisis.  Surprisingly, instead of cruise lines publicly touting the actual safety record for the industry, most have chosen to remain silent, thrusting travel agents into the role of ‘crisis managers’. 

Although Carnival Cruise Lines issued a statement assuring passengers that the line was safe, most industry insiders saw this as a rather weak response to a horrific incident.  At this time, the number one concern is the safety of cruising in general – especially among first-time cruisers.  Carnival has decided to go another route by suspending its broadcast, digital, and direct mail marketing for its namesake line, Carnival Cruise Lines, for an unspecified amount of time.  Are they more concerned with their brand than their customers?

And the impact of this incident won’t solely be felt by cruise lines. Citigroup is forecasting a 6%-10% decline in cruise bookings following the disaster. The ports that cruise ships frequent will also feel an economic downturn if consumers, not content with cruise lines promises of safety, decide to put off or cancel cruise plans.  This includes everything from hotels to eating establishments to gift shops in the ports.

The cruise industry is counting on consumers’ short-term memory to get through this crisis, but will that memory lapse continue?  Already Seattle, a major port for West coast and Alaskan cruises, is fearing a ‘ripple’ effect that will significantly dampen the area’s economy.

So, could a basic, annual customer satisfaction survey have helped ‘control’ this incident?  Probably not.  But could a regularly-conducted customer satisfaction tracking research program have helped?  You bet! 

Knowing what to do in the wake of a crisis by quickly gauging and addressing consumer concerns through research is a function of a good customer satisfaction program that companies can ill-afford to be without,  since there are very few industries that are immune to crisis. They may not be fatal as this one was, but if not handled correctly, it can still lose customers if there’s not a plan in place to react to these types of disasters. 

An on-going program of customer satisfaction research that tracks consumers’ perceptions and concerns will be invaluable in reacting to unforeseen situations since the research will have shown what customers expect and that can be translated into immediate, actionable plans to address those expectations.

Did the Costa Concordia sinking change your opinion about cruising?

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Topics: customer satisfaction, customer service, customer satisfaction research