Unpopular Changes vs Customer Expectations: Lose-Lose?

So I follow Carnival, no big secret. It’s something I enjoy, cruising; and fun to watch a brand I like do some things right (and wrong) in the webosphere of PR, social media-ness.

Us. Them. The Silent Minority?

This week’s news is the forthcoming change to Carnival’s smoking policy. To sum up: Balcony cabins are going non-smoking. If guests smoke, they’ll pay a cleaning fee and risk being asked to leave, per violation of the microscopic legal gobbledygook in the contract.

Well the people are speaking to Carnival. A review of the posts to their Facebook page, this change is getting mixed reactions to say the least. customercaredemotivator

  • Yay! Plenty of people would prefer ocean breeze to second hand Marlboro when they enjoy their balcony cabins, so they’re happy.
  • Boo! Hiss! Plenty of people seem upset, ranging from “I’ll still cruise but shame on you” to “NEVER. AGAIN. $*^@*&(# Carnival!
  • Smart Feedback. And questionable advice.
    • Speak with your wallet. Cancel bookings. Switch to other cruise lines.
      • These excellent suggestions have been appreciated by almost all, with various “Amen!” or “Good Riddance!” comments.
    • Define “majority.” More than a few ‘loud minority’ suggestions that it’s only a few who so strongly dislike the smoke that they avoid the cabins, casinos or cruise line all together.
    • Other smart commenters know it’s all about the money: If the ‘majority’ really wants that, do it. Then see how it impacts alcohol sales and gaming revenues, not to mention duty-free cigarettes profits.
    • Run the risk. Can’t say this ‘live dangerously’ attitude is wise, risking the cleaning fee or being kicked off the ship.
    • Make one side balconies smoking. They charge by location anyway, only catch is how to price and arrange the non-smokers around the smokers. It makes some sense but then, that’s gonna require selecting a smoking or non cabin at booking, more work for the hotel operations.
    • Manage Your Expectations. They really can’t please everyone, so stop asking.
      • Why not a booze free ship, for people who don’t like loud drunks? If that was me, my bad.
      • Why not a kid free ship, for people who’d prefer an adult getaway? I did that in April, sailing when almost every kid on the planet was in school. An adult-only pool .. that’s spot-on.
      • Why not a rain free vacation, for people allergic to common sense on how weather works? Even the Disney bubble breaks sometimes.

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Get Your Messages Straight.

Quick sidebar. While the language suggests this change is to placate guests per customer feedback, other comments refer to the important fire safety issue. Hard to sell customers on an unpopular idea with mixed messages.

See also, oblique references to upgrades the public spaces reserved for smokers. Taking away without giving, not usually a smart move.

Their ‘unofficial’ social guy John Heald doth attest that TPTB really do take heed of feedback. Doing his best, he’s engaged about as much as he can on this issue. Alas the official engagement from Carnival has been limited, and what I’ve read has that icky ‘copy and paste’ vibe to it.

Data mining social media.

One of the biggest mistakes any company – global brand or small business – can make: ignoring what others are saying about them online.

Comments and feedback can offer great insight, let a brand know what’s working and what’s not, provide suggestions for improvement. Even more so as I’ve shown here, they can answer the most important questions, those qualitative X factors you can’t automate: WHY. WIIFM.

WIIFM to stick with one brand over the other? WHY do people upgrade to balcony cabins? Reviewing the comments (possibly reflecting a noisy minority), one big reason: to smoke. If that’s the case, it’s a major revenue stream and hate to say it, the half/half ship idea isn’t a bad one.

My takesocial, ‘crisis’ or marketing-proof. I hate that I keep coming back to that but – there it is. When people start comparing other cruise lines, other inclusive vacation alternatives my bet it is that many will be back and in the end, Carnival will gain more than it loses.

Your take: How do you announce a big change? What’s the best way to sell an idea that’s sure to be unpopular with some of your most loyal customers? At what point do you bow out gracefully, let the discussion die?

Photo credit: the smart folks at Despair totally get it. 

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6 thoughts on “Unpopular Changes vs Customer Expectations: Lose-Lose?

  1. What a tough issue just as the side of the aisle one sits on.

    If I was on the Carnival teAm I would back up the new policy with research.

    “In a survey if 5000 Carnival passengers administered by blah blah 90 percent said no to smoke.”

    With that to back them up it would help w the announcement.

    1. That’s something Jayme.. comments have been HEATED to type the least. The FB page of the blogger, he’s had to delete whole threads b/c it has been off the chain. I read a lot of it but don’t recall any stats to back it up. Which is why I suspect it’s the ‘loud’ vs the ‘many’ in cases like this. No one knows for sure; would have been nice to see that packaged in a list of the many reasons for this change. Along w/ detailed plans of what improvements they’ll make to the public smoking areas.

      Seen this kind of thing before, never got around to blogging it. Brands use ‘customers’ as the excuse but when you catch the comments, you realize it’s a business move. Still great idea about the numbers, Jayme! thanks.

  2. I’m a smoker and frequent cruiser, especially on Carnival because they allowed balcony smoking. My husband also smokes. We just cancelled our next cruise and won’t cruise again. We don’t like big brother taking away any more of our rights by modifying their rules and the cruise lines’ policy is extreme at this point. There should be a happy medium and there was, until now. Why not have a smoking only cruise? Non-smokers can be confined to a couple of bars on board or tossed overboard if they don’t smoke. Really? Does that make any sense at all? If not, we’re on the same page. Well, we’re done…stick us with a fork…we’re done cruising.

    1. It’s your choice Hilary – by all means, do what you want when, where, and how you want. It’s your vacation, do what makes you happy.

      They’ll lose some business (and a chuck of their more profitable margins) with this move, no doubt. But in the end, I think the balance of people who relent and book anyway plus the return of avid-non smokers may tip the scales in their favor. Time will tell, FWIW.

  3. Davina,
    Let me preface my comments by saying I am totally in favor of smoke-free cruising. Every time something changes, there will be complaints. It’s that simple. You can’t please everyone, and perhaps Carnival is not trying to please but rather is making a business decision. I am not sure what Carnival’s rationale is but they could be trying to differentiate from other cruise ships (and there will be people who go on a smoke free cruise) or maybe they are trying to lower their insurance (smoking can lead to fires, etc.) or maybe like the airlines, the second-hand smoke is found to be a hazard to the crew (and may impact their health insurance and health care costs). So yes, you should monitor your social media comments, but perhaps, what they need is to better present their case.

    1. That’s it exactly, presenting a better case (seriously, what you wrote reads better than what I’ve seen). Unilateral decisions (even ones I like) are just that, and you’re right – they’ll always be reaction. End of the day, much like everything else that’s gone the way of no-smoking, this too shall pass. Thanks for stopping by.

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