Against All Odds: How Can You Improve Employee Engagement and Improve Customer Service?
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Against All Odds: Why Did The Carnival Triumph Crew Demonstrate High Employee Engagement?

Against All Odds: Why Did The Carnival Triumph Crew Demonstrate High Employee Engagement?

And…how can you improve employee engagement and improve customer service?

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.  Not something you might expect from a massively diverse group of underpaid and standard overworked employees.  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.  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 :

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

“Carnival use 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.”

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.”

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


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.”

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. And hat’s off to them!

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!

So what do you think?  Why did the Carnival Triumph crew demonstrate such high levels of customer service and employee engagement?  What can we, here on land, learn?

Comment below, tweet us, or comment on our Facebook page and let us know your thoughts.

Update 3-19-13: Carnival Cancels More Cruise Sailing to Inspect and Repair Fleet 


About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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