Transparency is a foundation of good customer relations. But is it possible to mess up transparency? Carnival Cruise Line’s recent promise to disclose crime statistics indicates that it is comfortable with its historical communication approach.
Carnival might be thought of as the George Costanza of the cruise industry – a good policy might involve watching what they do, and then doing the opposite:
– Being transparent as a standard operating procedure builds the trust necessary to weather a crisis
– Public statements of remorse need to be focused on the damage done to customers, not to the company
– Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned; social media means the corporate ‘everything is ok’ statements are just not enough anymore
The Poop Cruise
A YEAR OF CRUISING DANGEROUSLY
Carnival has had a world of trouble recently – much of it self-inflicted as it conducted itself publicly:
– most tragically, the Costa Concordia capsizing in January 2012
– so far in 2013 (a sample): the Triumph’s infamous 4-day no power, no toilets ‘Poop Cruise’, the Dream stranding passengers due to generator failure, and the Legend’s problems causing a cruise to be cut short
– Following Concordia, Chairman Micky Arison went underground at Carnival’s HQ in Miami, granting no interviews and delegating public statements to the CEO of Carnival’s Italian subsidiary.
Carnival’s reparations to its customers (including meager refunds and future cruise vouchers) were of questionable sincerity. As a result, not all prior customers have been actively evangelizing the brand (some amazing tales of woe can be read here).
Carnival’s public statements have tended toward defensive rather than disclosure:
– “I want to emphatically state that all the ships in our fleet are safe” (statement to Wall Street)
– “It’s still the safest form of transportation” (go-to industry non-statement based on a 1990 study – – Yes, we’re glad that we won’t die, but what are the stats about sewage exposure?)
– “The relative percentage of incidents for our cruise lines (versus competitors) is almost the same. Unfortunately for us…we’ve just been hit by a run here (in the year post-Concordia) that has been very unfortunate.” Carnival Vice Chairman (in a masterful ‘we are the real victims’ performance).
Evidence suggests that Carnival takes a ‘lowest cost option’ approach to maintenance and customer satisfaction, which, based on its general positioning as a lower-cost cruise line, is a perfectly reasonable option – – as long as things are working.
However, as a result of recent events, a Harris Interactive poll showed sharply decreased opinions of not only Carnival (its quality scores were down 28% vs. pre-Triumph), but for the industry overall.
Carnival’s most decisive move? Firing its advertising agency, of course.
CRIME ON BOARD
Now this week, Carnival announced (along with 2 other cruise lines) that it would be ‘voluntarily’ publishing crime statistics for its ships, apparently bowing to political pressure. A sample:
– From Oct. 2010 through June 2013, Carnival reported 121 incidents of thefts of over $10,000, assaults with serious injury, rape or sexual assault.
This was served up with predictably defensive statements:
– “…we are doing this voluntarily to remove all doubt about the relatively low level of crime on cruise ships especially when compared with comparable land-based crimes. It is important to highlight that what is being posted are allegations of crime. The majority of these are never substantiated as actual crimes after the initial investigation.”
– “I believe it showcases that cruising is safe, especially when you consider we have some 10 million passengers each year cruising with us. I think the crime stats on board for our four North American-based cruise lines would be an average of 41 alleged crimes per year.”
So now, in addition to sewage and engine fire fears, we get to worry about onboard crime. And it seems there’s a lot of room for crime beyond the very serious categories covered (who brings items worth over $10k on a Carnival cruise, anyway?). And there are huge questions about the comprehensiveness of the database – – by claiming an crime number, they are practically begging to be challenged.
Maybe more importantly, I want the company to pledge to minimize crime, not tell us that a certain amount of crime is acceptable.
Carnival has made many statements over the last 18 months, so one could claim they are being transparent. But what’s important is not necessarily the frequency of statements, it’s being proactive, honest and customer-centric.
Carnival’s current course has it in constant danger of running aground.