Why Did Employee Engagement Win Out During a Cruise Ship Debacle?

You’ve most likely heard the story of the paralyzed Carnival cruise ship, The Triumph. The cruise ship that lost power last week and had to be towed by tug boats slowly back to port.

As an avid cruiser, I’ve been on around 12 of them, I can’t even imagine how I would have felt if my vacation turned into a sweaty, smelly, vile mess. OK I can; I’d probably flip out (the free booze was a good idea, Carnival.)

If I were a crew member I’d probably also flip out, though the crew of the Carnival Triumph has been praised in the media and by guests, for remaining attentive, friendly, and professional. That’s not something you might expect from a massively diverse group of underpaid and standard overworked employees.

How customer service triumphed on the Triumph 

As an OD and diversity practitioner, I always make it a point to chat up the crew when I cruise. My last cruise had 48 nationalities represented and the majority worked on average of 12-16 hour days on a 6-9 month rotation with weekly tips around $68.

Amazingly, they all seem to get along, always have a smile on their face, and keep the guests happy – and this is under normal conditions.

In the case of Carnival Triumph; stranded in the middle of the ocean with no electricity, no air conditioning. Limited warm food. No working toilets.

Improbable conditions, basically. Yet, through all of this, the crew of the Carnival Triumph upheld high customer service and literally made lemonade out of lemons.

From the high-level organization development lens, it would appear Carnival has a culture that facilitates high employee engagement that delivers a high-level customer experience for guests. However when you dig deeper into the data, I’m left scratching my head.

Mixed reviews from current/former employees

Though Carnival has won some past accolades for their training and development programs, and of course have received some good reviews from current and former employees, they’ve also received some mixed reviews.

From a Solution Specialist (Former Employee), Colorado Springs, CO – October 16, 2012:

“Carnival used to be great … Before the Company President position was changed the company was customer service oriented. It was a fantastic company to work for. The changes have made it almost impossible to keep customers happy. People are threatened of their jobs if you go above your position to help a customer. Customer service is priority, something they have forgotten.”

From a International Sales and Marketing Admin Assistant (Former Employee), Miami, FL – November 3, 2012:

“It was a wonderful company to work for until the reorganization took place… I loved working for Carnival Cruise Lines, unfortunately we had a massive reorganization that poorly affected so many of us. My co-workers were fun to be around.”

From an Analyst (Current Employee), Doral, FL – February 5, 2013:

“WORST WORK EXPERIENCE… Port visits, great cons: lack of direction, management does not communicate with employees. Management lack communication skills. Employees are very unhappy which lead to high turnover. Management also lies on employees to get out of trouble.”

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Great work against all odds

Additional reviews express employee dissatisfaction with the somewhat new CEO. They say that Carnival is not the most innovative organization, they are slow to adapt to changing trends and embrace new technologies, are not ahead of the curve with employee recognition and engagement, they don’t have a people focused culture, and have high turnover.

I also looked at customer satisfaction. In many instances guests also don’t give Carnival an overly favorable rating. Glancing at some of the responses – it was difficult to find a rating above 2 stars out of 5.

Doesn’t sound like a happy place to work or play, does it?

Yet against all odds, the company is financially viable and the crew of the Carnival Triumph held it together, barely at times, to ensure the customers onboard were as happy as they could be given the circumstances. My hat’s off to them!

Why not a little recognition from Carnival?

So why do you think the crew of the Carnival Triumph acted so bravely given some of the data regarding employee and customer dissatisfaction?

  • Perhaps it was just another “day at the office” for them?
  • Perhaps when you’re stranded at sea – your survival instincts kick in?
  • Perhaps they were afraid they’d get fired if they didn’t fulfill their duties?
  • Or perhaps Carnival owes that crew a raise!

This is an opportune time for Carnival to serve as a model for employee engagement and recognition. Carnival has said the Triumph workers will receive normal compensation and be sent to other ships or offered vacation if they had some scheduled soon – if they had some scheduled.

C’mon Carnival, many are already in awe of the stellar job this crew was reported to have done under the circumstances. I think they deserve a little recognition, and some time off, perhaps on land! Carnival’s competition is building several new ships, and I’m sure they’d love to snatch up some dedicated and professional staff.

Here’s hoping Carnival recognizes their work!

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 


3 Comments on “Why Did Employee Engagement Win Out During a Cruise Ship Debacle?

  1. I think this post paints a puzzling picture of where good customer service comes from, and asks some intriguing questions. Surely there’s a great case study here. From a great distance I would say that this looks like Basic Work Process — 101. Neither designed nor desired, this is a sudden setting in which the tasks at hand are meaningful, clear and concrete, cross-trained veterans work alone or form and dissolve teams, management of mixed skill can’t or doesn’t get in the way, and feedback is likely instant and multi-sourced. It would be great to know what the participants thought they were doing.

  2. @ere-ef0917ea498b1665ad6c701057155abe:disqus the intent of this piece was to get insight from others regarding the situation, so thank you. The way the crew handled the situation given the way some describe the culture seems to be opposite of what would be expected. As Carnival releases more information, pending what becomes public, I intend to keep an eye out. From a case study perspective it remains intriguing. What I left out of the piece, as you mention process, is what lead to the technical failure to begin with…process, communication, leadership issues? Something contributed to the mechanical problem being over looked, ignored, not reported, or not repaired. Something somewhere is broken, and it isn’t just the Triumph’s engine! @twitter-267763666:disqus Thank you, and I’d welcome having a crew like that on a vacation any day.

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