Cunard Line customers demand a full refund after the liner hits a sea wall and the ship's operator makes itinerary alterations; analysts caution against trying to please everyone.
Posted Jan 23, 2006
Some passengers aboard the Queen Mary 2 are threatening a sit-in to protest last-minute changes in their itinerary, according to the ocean liner's operator, Cunard Line. The vessel, which left New York City on January 15, hit a Florida sea wall three days later, damaging a motor. The liner then reduced speed. The trip is 38 days long and terminates in Los Angeles, according to published reports. The ship, now en route to Brazil, is carrying roughly 2,500 people and is running with three of its four propellers. Carol Marlow, Cunard Line president, said it is unknown how much time the ship would lose. As a result, Cunard eliminated stops at Barbados, St. Kitts, and Salvador, Brazil.
The company offered 1,000 passengers who had been scheduled to disembark in Rio de Janeiro a 50 percent refund as compensation, but that did not appease some passengers who met with the captain to discuss it, according to Eric Flounders, a Cunard Line spokesman. Flounders told the Associated Press he did not know how many passengers might participate in the planned sit-in to demand full refunds when the ship reaches port in Brazil, but published reports put the number between 30 and 100. "[Passengers] are on board, they're enjoying all the facilities, all the food, the entertainment, and so on," Flounders said in one report. "So, while we very much regret they're missing the ports, we feel the 50 percent compensates for that."
The cruise line may be taking the wrong approach, according to Adam Sarner, a principal analyst at Gartner. People pay tens of thousands of dollars for the experience, so price is less important than service. "They want to fulfill a need of a dream or a lifetime goal. You need to fill the service gap, not the price gap," Sarner says. "Their goal wasn't fulfilled. It was a mismatch of core value proposition." A better idea may have been to offer them an alternative excursion or to let them disembark when the accident happened, so they would waste less time, he suggests.
Marlow told the AP it is not Cunard's intention to let any of the passengers go away unsatisfied, but it makes one wonder just how far a company should go to please its customers. Leslie Ament, director of customer intelligence research for Aberdeen Group, wonders if some of these passengers may be taking advantage of the situation. "Having tried to book a cruise myself, contract language is very specific. It says if there are accidents or acts of God, they are not liable. And passengers are able to buy insurance," she says. "I'm sure people are disappointed, but offering 50 percent off the price of the cruise is a very standup thing to do."
On the more technical side, Ament points out that business processes and workflow are embedded in CRM systems to help decision-makers determine the best solutions to such unplanned problems. Any company with the desire for repeat customers and brand loyalty, according to Ament, should have contingency plans in place. Doing so helps organizations know the next steps to make customers happy based on decision trees for various scenarios. Businesses also may want to consider surveying customers ahead of time and using their attitudes to help build those trees. "Ask the customers so you know exactly what they're thinking and what they'll accept, and maybe you'll get that sit-in group down to two people," she says.
It comes down to accepting that it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, and sometimes it isn't worth trying to do. "Happy, satisfied customers are the best equity a company has," Ament says. "In the end, you don't want these people talking badly about you to their friends, but you may not want these people and their friends as your customers."
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