Service on the seas: a service design experiment for cruise ships

At Friday, we help organisations in high-touch service sectors meet the ever-increasing customer expectations of digital. And occasionally we speculatively apply our practice to new sectors, to imagine how connected technologies, improved data practices and a sharp focus on customer needs can radically improve service delivery.

Why cruise ships?

The leisure sector has always lived or died by the quality of the customer experience. When applied well, technology can make that experience more personalised, timely and frictionless, on and offline. But technology needs designing – not unlike the layout of a cabin or the amenities on deck – with an understanding of the customer experience. And as closed, controlled environments, cruise ships make great playgrounds for service design.

An industry under pressure 

There are many pressures accelerating the case for service innovation in the sector. 

Mediation: Travel agents and aggregators own much of the sales funnel. This means that operators have little say over the customer’s experience at the point of purchase, making them unable to build early relationships or collect customer data. 

Specialist competition: Growth in specialist areas like adventure and river cruises means more choice for customers. This means marketing must work harder to more intelligently match offerings to customer interests – at a time and price that’s right. 

A new baseline for digital: Passengers increasingly expect entry-level tech provision, like fast wi-fi and USB ports, on ships. They also expect admin like booking and payments to match the level of service they get from the best of the web. 

Innovation is getting attention: Good examples of operators using connected technologies are proliferating, with the highest-tech (and highest-attention) ships offering smart check-ins, dynamic pricing and RFID wristbands (for cabin access and payments).

Three ‘I’s of cruise ship service innovation 

To understand the opportunities for operators, we broke the passenger’s experience into three levels that determine overall satisfaction with a cruise: 

Infrastructure: the amenities and technology on the ship; the underlying operations and pricing.

Itinerary: the ports visited; the events and activities onboard.

Interactions: the culture of a ship; the staff; other passengers; how easy, relaxing and rewarding the experience is.

Imagining the business opportunity

At an infrastructure level, smarter use of customer data can allow for dynamic, individualised pricing models to attract bookings. And it can support better, more tailored cross-selling. Investment in core tech capability such as improved booking, payment or account systems supports operational efficiency – as well as satisfying customers’ baseline expectations. And, on board, continuous feedback on amenities enables continuous optimisation of those services.

Improving the flow of data also means operators can manage the availability of on-board events and activities in real-time. This makes for a happier itinerary for passengers and better demand planning for operators. And, knowing more about passengers’ prior behaviours and preferences wildly improves the efficacy of marketing efforts for on-board add-ons.

Finally, tools that can make customer information more available and timely can transform the staff-passenger interactions on board. The more front-line staff know about passengers, the more effectively they can service their needs.

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A view from the cabin

At Friday we strive to express strategy from the point of view of the end user. To understand how the business opportunities marry up to customer needs we took an imaginary couple, Geoff and Sam, and mapped their journey from awareness through booking, pre-trip planning, departure, onboard experience and finally, returning home.

Our starting point was a handful of the functional, social and emotional needs related to their holiday.

Functional needs: Minimise the admin burden of booking, paying for and organising our trip; Help us find our way easily on board; Simplify our on-board transactions

Social needs: Help us improve our on-board itinerary so we’re making the most of our holiday; Make it easy to meet like-minded people on board 

Emotional needs: Tell us what to expect so we’re reassured it’s the right cruise for us; Make us feel special and well-attended to

A Target Customer Experience is a shared vision of a future, better customer experience. It shows how digital technologies can improve service delivery, both on and offline.


Designing a Target Customer Experience for passengers

The journey we designed for Geoff & Sam shows how the imaginary Diamond Cruises can intelligently apply what they know about the couple to deliver tailored marketing, dynamic pricing and frictionless admin.

By combining bespoke technology solutions like in-cabin screens and RFID wristbands with personal devices, they can improve the experience with hyper-personal recommendations, timely alerts and anticipatory service.  

And as they learn more about each customer they can deepen that relationship over time, increasing the likelihood of repeat purchase.

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You can explore Geoff & Sam's full Target Customer Experience ↓ [PDF] or find out more about Friday's TCE methodology

Diamond Cruises Experience Map Smaller Crop