Last year I published a series of articles about how cruise lines mishandle customer complaints and ruin their reputations in the process.
Part I of "And the Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem" series focused on the ways that Carnival and Royal Caribbean managed to botch customer problems and tarnish their images.
Part II took a look at Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), which usually avoids the pitfalls of its larger competitors. But in this case, NCL refused to refund the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the same day as the cruise. The guest notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise. NCL said no. He asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish) so a child with cancer could enjoy a once in a lifetime cruise. NCL said no.
Then NCL re-sold the cabin to another couple. NCL got a double profit due to the death of a guest. Ugh.
Most of the time the right thing for your corporate image is exactly the right thing to do for your customer. But some cruise lines can’t seem to get it right, which brings us to part III of the series.
Last week the Connecticut Watchdog newspaper published an article "Stranded By Princess Cruise Line." The story involves a newlywed couple from Connecticut, Diana Benne and Adam Gompper. Both seems like hard working conscientious types. Diana owns a popular hair salon and Adam is a police dispatcher.
They purchased a Caribbean honeymoon cruise with Princess Cruises. Things started out just fine with the couple enjoying the cruise and a stopover in San Juan (photo below). But it seems like Princess Cruises didn’t inform them of a last minute itinerary change resulting in the Caribbean Princess cruise ship leaving St. Thomas early. Even though the cruise ship was still tied to the dock, the captain would not let the couple aboard and abandoned them in St. Thomas. It must be a sick feeling to stand on the dock with only the clothes on your back and watch your cruise ship heading out to sea. What a way to start your marriage.
When the couple tried to discuss a resolution to the problem, Princess blew them off.
When I read about problems like this, I think of how easy a happy resolution would be. Refund the couple their money or give them a free cruise. In return, you will have dedicated fans of Princess Cruises for the rest of their lives. The proverbial "win-win" situation. But ignore or engage in a petty quarrel with a honeymoon couple you left in a port outside of the continental U.S.? You have earned an enemy for life.
Princess Cruises left the couple in St. Thomas of all places. St. Thomas has one of the highest murder rates in the world. You can read about the sad story of a 14 year old girl who was killed last year during a cruise stop-over in St. Thomas here.
Princess Cruises spends tens of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as the ultimate in romantic cruise getaways. It is known for its wedding packages and the famous "wedding cams" which you can watch online. It is, after all, best known for the "Love Boat" television series.
But when things go wrong on the Love Boat, issues like this are not resolved by the smiling faces in the marketing department. They are shuffled down to the customer relations and risk management departments whose job is to deny, delay and defend.
Last week, I emailed Princess and asked for its side of the story. I hoped that I would hear good news, like it decided to reimburse the honeymoon couple their cruise fare. Then I could write a story with a happy ending. Instead, I have heard nothing, which seems to be the problem in the first place.
July 16, 2011 Update:
Princess Cruises is receiving alot of bad press about situations like this. Read: "Eunice Gayle Needed a Blood Transfusion, So Why Wouldn’t Princess Cruise Lines Let Her Off the Boat?"
Here are a couple other articles about Princess Cruises’ approach to dealing with customer complaints:
Photo credit: Courtesy of Diana Beene