Cunard Breaks the Rules
On Sunday, Feb. 7, I opened the New York Times Travel Section and found an amusing piece by book critic Dwight Garner. The title: "Seven Days on the Queen Mary 2." One memorable paragraph:
A crossing on the Queen Mary 2 is the sort of thing people put on their bucket lists. More than a few passengers on our crossing seemed perilously close to kicking that bucket. The QM2's dance club pulled a frantic young crowd after midnight. But the average age on our crossing, I'd guess, was well over 60. There was an abundance of wheelchairs, walkers and canes, so many that if everyone had tossed theirs overboard at once they would have created an artificial reef.
Garner ended his 2,800-word travelogue with these two lines about his fellow passengers:
They all looked as if they would make this crossing again in a heartbeat.
So would I.
It sounded like a hoot. I'm up there in years. Peggy is considerably younger, but this was Our Crowd. We signed up with an online cruise company for a westbound transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2—Southampton to New York.
We were looking very forward to a glamorous week with Cunard, a company renowned for coddling ocean voyagers for 173 years.
The cruise company told me to register on the Cunard website.
After signing in, I was taken to the "Voyage Personaliser" landing page.
Here is what greeted me—in gray mouse-type. These are the very first words to me—a paying customer—from Cunard.
Terms and Conditions
Welcome to the Cunard Line ("Cunard") Voyage Personaliser. We hope you find it useful and enjoy your visits here. In order to help us make this the best web site we can provide for you, we have established some ground rules (Boldface mine) to maximize your experience. Cunard is a trading name of Carnival plc.
I'm 77, for Pete's sake. I have just spent several thousand dollars with these people and I am being talked to like an unruly teenager.
What followed were 1,318 words of legalese by a company suffering from serious paranoia and in thrall to nasty lawyers. A sampling (Boldface theirs):
3. THE MATERIALS AND INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE ARE PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ANY WARRANTY FOR THE ACCURACY OR RELIABILITY OF INFORMATION, SERVICES, OR PRODUCTS PROVIDED THROUGH OR IN CONNECTION WITH THIS SITE AND ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY OR NONINFRINGEMENT. Some jurisdictions do not allow the exclusion of implied warranties, so the above exclusion may not apply to you.
It Gets Weirder
Three weeks later, a 25-page, 8-1/2 x 11-3/4" full-color, personalized booklet arrived from London via Royal Mail. The title: Pre-Voyage Documentation
I eagerly opened the brochure. On the inside cover was a nine-line welcome note from Peter Shanks, president and managing director.
It was set in seven-point sans serif mouse-type.
Ever the marketing geek, three inviolable rules popped into my head:
"Type smaller than nine-point is difficult for most people to read." —David Ogilvy
"Serif type [in text] is easier to read than sans serif type." —David Ogilvy
"A letter should look and feel like a letter." —Dick Benson
I have never in my life received a letter in seven-point sans serif mouse-type.
Actually, all the copy throughout the booklet was seven-point sans serif mouse-type. It was only readable at all with my 77-year-old left eye by removing my glasses and holding the pages three inches from my nose. [See the second image. To read it, a magnifying glass is required.]
Amid the mouse-type I found the address for the ship terminal in Southampton. Nowhere in the brochure—or on the Cunard website—could I find the time of day the ship was to sail.
Nor was I able to find what kind of electrical outlets were on the ship—two-pronged American or three-pronged British.
The Insurance Pitch
The brochure contained five pages of dense mouse-type devoted to scaring me into buying CunardCare® travel insurance. It was filled with legalese cover-your-arse warnings, disclaimers and exclusions.
Do-It-Yourself Origami Luggage Tags
Six pages of the booklet were devoted to 12 pre-printed, personalized paper luggage tags with detailed instructions how to cut them out with scissors and fold them. [See the fourth image]
"Step 3 of the instructions for luggage tags"
Fold in half along the central dotted line. Wrap around luggage handle. Staple securely.
We plan to spend three days in London. Cunard luggage tags on our suitcases in the Philadelphia airport are an open invitation to baggage handlers: "Hey, guys! There's good stuff inside worth stealing!"
So we are forced to pack a stapler in order for the luggage tags to work. This is purely for the convenience of Cunard—the same kind of bush league, penny-pinching Mickey Mouse as "Batteries not included."
It Gets Weirder
I finally got around to reading Peter Shanks' teeny-weenie welcome letter.
Your final ticket will be available by visiting www.cunard.com, selecting Voyage Personaliser, as an E-ticket approximately 35 days prior to departure. Please refer to the 'Retrieving your E-Ticket' section of this booklet for full details.
Peggy and I have traveled a lot. Every time we have been booked on an ocean liner or a cruise ship, we have received a handsome kit of goodies. Included were tickets, an effusive (readable) welcome letter, easy-to-attach luggage tags and informational brochures about the amenities on shipboard. Here also were details on the ports of call and maybe a tote bag. These kits always arrived in a handsome plastic or leatherette case with the cruise company logo embossed on the cover.
My bet is Cunard's bean counters ordered savage, across-the-board cost cuts (known in the U.S. as "Sequestration"). With no experience in fulfillment or customer care, junior members of the marketing team called in a forms designer. The result: a 26-page booklet to be personalized and printed in quantity with minimum data input at the lowest possible cost.
It is totally unreadable, colder than a vampire's heart and breaks every rule in the book. No doubt the perpetrators are smug and pleased with themselves for how well they followed orders.
However, it's obvious not one of Cunard's top people was ever mentored by a professional marketer. Clearly they don't understand the difference between making new customers feel loved as opposed to being nuisances.
How This Dreadful Fulfillment System Reflects on Cunard
My former client, Remington CEO Victor Kiam ("I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company"), had a term for this: Cheapsy-weepsy.
You'd think that after 173 years in business, Cunard would have nailed down all aspects of shipping and making customers feel uplifted about traveling with them.
But the sad sack, lawyer-driven website and fulfillment booklet raise serious questions about the competence of Cunard.
If the company hires know-nothings for its marketing, what about the rest of the operations?
For example, are the ships' engineers capable? They most certainly were not world-class on the Carnival Cruise Line's Triumph-owned by the parent company of Cunard. Triumph became a floating sewer off Mexico for six days in February with no power, no toilets, no running water, no air conditioning and no hot food.
As a long time sailor and yacht racer, can I be sure that the captain of Queen Mary 2 is schooled in maritime navigation? For example, does he know about "Red on right returning"—keeping the red buoys to starboard when entering a channel or port facility?
Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia—also owned by Cunard's parent company—did not know his seamanship. She lies on her side off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy a full year after killing 32 people.
As a result—with zero airline fatalities in 2012—cruise ships instantly became 32 times more dangerous than commercial jet travel.
In the words of a former boss of mine in the 1960s, Henry Castor, sales manager of Franklin Watts Publisher: "God protect us from amateurs."
Takeaways to Consider
- A company's advertising is its public face.
- If your marketing materials are cheapsy-weepsy, you will be perceived as a purveyor of cheapsy-weepsy products and services.
- When a 77-year-old passenger—booked on the world's premier luxury liner—is forced to print out e-tickets, fold luggage tags and pack a stapler, ipso facto the cruise line's customer care sucks.
- When you fulfill an order, the buyer should be able to use it immediately—plug it in and listen to it, read it (without a magnifying glass), wear it, hang it on the wall or attach it to luggage. When "batteries are not included" or "you must bring a stapler" are the mantra, the net effect is a downer.
- The point of welcoming material is to resell customers—reassure us that we made a wise decision and can expect an unforgettable experience.
- "The sale begins when the customer says 'yes'." —Bill Christiansen, freelance copywriter
- Do not allow lawyers to screw around with your fulfillment copy.