A Reason to Celebrate

Research shows that when people experience inferior customer service, seven out of ten will spread the bad news to any and all who will listen – the “brand assassins.” When people experience exceptional service, only three in ten spread the good news – the “brand promoters.” Fair or unfair, this discrepancy is the reality that every business needs to accept and, as a result, be passionate and committed to building the depth of loyalty that leads to the consistent broadcasting of good news.

My partner, Cheryl, and I recently enjoyed a vacation aboard a Celebrity Cruise ship. It was twelve days of sailing the Mediterranean and visiting some of the most famous cities in the world. We rated our experience at the end of the voyage as excellent.

Now, I do not own any stock in Celebrity Cruise Lines and the company is not a client, so my purpose in sharing our experience is to stimulate reflection and ideas for how this commitment to excellence might be replicated in your own organization.

If you are familiar with my book, Be Your Own Brand, you might understand that I cannot help but look at my own customer experiences through both personal and professional eyes. After all, our work at TransForm is helping companies build strong brands.

In the world of Brand, there is what is called the five “Ps” of marketing: Product, Pricing, Promotion, Places and People. Strong brands pay close and consistent attention to each of these categories.

Rightly or wrongly, therefore, I was constantly assessing the environment, shipboard protocols and procedures whilst, at the same time, observing the interpersonal interactions between passengers and crew. My filter was whether or not the customer was clearly the centerpiece around which the overall cruise experience had been designed.

So why did we rate Celebrity so high?

First, it is important for you to know our expectations. They were high. This was our first cruise together and we wanted a first class experience. Through how Celebrity promoted its product, the pricing and the itinerary of where the cruise would take us (the first four Ps), we made our choice. Would they, however, live up to all those “promises” they were making? Here are my observations.

First impression: The embarkation process and procedures were seamless – a model for how to blend efficiency with friendliness. The on-boarding experience could also not have been better – warm, friendly and genuine.

Second impression: Our room which had a balcony overlooking the ocean (highly recommended) was ready shortly after embarkation and we were delighted when the environment and appointments lived up to the video representation on the Celebrity website.

Third impression: As we explored the ship which would be our home for the next twelve days, the size was breathtaking. The décor of the ship aligned with what we would describe as classy – a tasteful blend of the contemporary and traditional which reflected our values. We were also delighted to discover that, even with approximately 3000 passengers, one could find a quiet place to read or be alone.

So far so good, as everything was measuring up to our expectations.

Subsequent impressions: The highly touted food experience throughout the trip lived up to its promotion. The choices, variety and consistency of quality were admirable. The dining experience was also praiseworthy in that there were many different eating environments that allowed either formal or informal dining.

In regards to the first four Ps, one more observation. Besides the many fascinating places we visited and the excursions taken, the entertainment on board left us believing that if a person was bored, it was entirely their fault. Great lengths were taken to accommodate a variety of interests and tastes.

What weak brands share most in common is the failure to execute on the fifth P – People.  It is people who deliver on promises and the effects of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars spent on advertising, are severely diluted because of failing to recognize that fact.

So we now come to the fifth P in regards to Celebrity and the final reason our evaluation made it into the excellent category – their People! Was everything perfect? No! For example, there was dining room glitches which appeared to be teamwork and communication related. But, most importantly, the staff sensitively responded to our concerns and solved our problems.

Another example was in a couple of the bars where the bartenders (in many ways very entertaining) appeared to be more focused on their own “celebrity” than observing who was waiting to be served. However, these experiences aside, the members of the staff that failed to impress were few and far between. Clearly a culture of being of service was the norm. With a multi-ethnic, extremely diverse workforce from all over the world, that was quite an achievement.

So some closing thoughts: In our business, we are constantly intrigued by how companies disproportionately allocate their marketing dollars. Enormous investments are made in the first four Ps in order to attract the customer and miserly budgets are provided to “keep” the customer.

However, the truth is that no matter how well companies execute on the first four Ps, marketing or brand strategies will fail to gain traction unless the promises made are kept and delivered through People.

It was Bob Levoy who said: “The proof of the pudding is not in the tasting, it is whether or not people come back for a second helping.” And that is the bottom line of what I have shared with you. A second helping of Celebrity is a strong possibility in Cheryl’s and my future.

For more information on “Be Your Own Brand,” click here.

About David McNally

David McNally, CEO & President of TransForm Corporation
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