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Increased Engagement Leads to Brand Loyalty for Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has been giving customers unforgettable experiences since the company was founded in 1988. In an industry built on customer experience, Celebrity stands out with its stellar loyalty program, top-notch data analytics, and passion for responding to customer feedback.
Loyalty360 sat down with Lee Moreau, Director of Loyalty, and Anne Ueno, Director of Digital Marketing, to talk about what makes Celebrity Cruises unique in its commitment to customer experience.
Can you define customer loyalty, and what it means for Celebrity Cruises?
Moreau: Customer loyalty, to me, is having a customer come aboard our ship, have an amazing experience on their trip, and get excited about coming back for another cruise with us.
Ueno: One thing we’ve definitely seen in the industry is that cruisers talk; they love to tell their friends about the experience, whether it was good or bad. Our focus is to be a part of that conversation, and to leverage that feedback so that we can try to build brand advocacy. We’d really like to move away from business-to-consumer marketing, and move more toward consumer-to-consumer marketing.
What kind of metrics are you using to measure customer loyalty?
Moreau: We’re able to access statistics like frequency of sailing and what percentage of any given cruise consists of loyalty. These are helpful in steering our decision-making process, and we’re also able to look at this data across international markets.
We already had a lot of ways to slice and dice the data, and then just within the last six months we gained access to new technology that allows us to gain an even better perspective on the information. We’re excited to see what we can do with that data analysis to improve the experience we provide to our customers moving forward.
Ueno: We’re also able to measure customer sentiment on our digital channels, whether that’s social media or a peer-sharing site like Cruise Critic. We can see that qualitative data whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral, and use that to drive change as well.
Speaking of social media, how is that channel being used differently by Celebrity Cruises compared to a year ago? How do you see that changing in a year from now?
Moreau: About a year ago, we didn’t have much of a social media footprint at all. We’ve been making a strong effort to grow and to improve our social media presence, particularly because we understand that our product is fun to talk about. People are looking for opportunities to share their cruise experiences. If we can capitalize on that, and take advantage of the natural desire to share with peers, that’s really going to be the way into the future.
Ueno: Compared to in the past, we’re now looking at social media more as a way to tell our brand story. It can also be a full-fledged customer service platform, and we have an entire team dedicated to that as well. Travel goes hand-in-hand with visual sharing so our Instagram, which started as something we were barely using, has really grown and now has over 50,000 followers.
Can you talk a little bit about the structure of your loyalty program and how it came about?
Moreau: Our loyalty program is a little different than something you might find in the retail or grocery industry. By cruising with us or our partnered cruise lines, you earn points that enable you to reach different tiers of loyalty. Once you earn these tiers, you never lose them; rather than “earning and burning” loyalty points, they’re used as a permanent status that allows you to earn benefits.
We made changes to the program in 2013, and the changes have so far proved to be very effective. We added two more tiers to the top of the program, so that guests are motivated to stick with Celebrity Cruises and earn even higher status rather than moving to a different company. We also began factoring staterooms into the number of points you can earn; more deluxe rooms earn additional points, encouraging cruisers to up spend in order to earn the maximum progress toward the next tier.
What are some of the benefits and challenges you’ve seen in listening to customers?
Moreau: Getting on our ships and talking to customers is my favorite part of the job. I always tell them that I want to hear all of their feedback, good, bad, or otherwise. The hardest part is when you get feedback that absolutely makes sense from a consumer perspective, but just isn’t something we’re able to implement as a business. It’s completely understandable why consumers would ask for just one more small perk, but when you multiply that over all of our loyalty customers, it quickly adds up. Even when we’re unable to satisfy these suggestions, we always get back to our customers and communicate why we can’t implement their feedback.
We are able to make tweaks here and there, and I’ll give you a great example. A few years ago, we implemented specialty coffee  as a benefit to one of the new tiers  in our program and this benefit was a big hit. We heard from UK cruisers, however, that don’t drink coffee, and would much prefer tea instead. We spoke with our Food & Beverage team and were able to add specialty teas as well. I admit that we don’t always think of everything, and if we can make a change based on customer feedback, I’m all for it.
If you could ask any question of a customer, competitor, or technology provider, what would it be?
Moreau: I would love to hear what other companies see in the future of cruise loyalty. Where it’s going and what it’ll look like 5-7 years from now. I think that would certainly be valuable insight to have.
Where does employee engagement fit into Celebrity Cruise’s loyalty discussion?
Moreau: We’ve really been looking at ways to encourage employees to engage with the brand socially and spread the message through individual social network pages. Our customers like following the brand on Twitter, not only through the corporate twitter account, but also through my Twitter, the Twitter of our executives, and our captains.
We have a few really engaging, popular captains on social media, and we’ve been utilizing things like “Captain of the Week” to give those employees the opportunities they’ve been asking for to engage with our guests.  We’ve even observed an increase in bookings on certain Captains’ ships after they engage with guests on Twitter. Every employee we have has the potential to improve our company by spreading the Celebrity Cruise message, and we take that opportunity very seriously.
About the Author: Mark Johnson
Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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