Carnival is responding to agent criticism of its automation polices with both words and deeds. The line acknowledges that mistakes have been made in implementation, but the emphasis now is on rectifying the situation.
“In hindsight, we didn’t do a good job explaining,” sums up Senior V.P. Lynn Torrent. “This was a mistake on our part. It was never our intention to suggest that automation replaces the relationship. We are committed to and continue to invest in the relationship side.”
Carnival says the move to more automation was driven by agent response. “For many years, we hadn’t invested a lot in automation tools,” says Torrent. “Agents said, ‘If only Carnival had group technology – how great would that be?’ So we listened and prioritized what to automate based on that feedback.”
Information was gathered and funding requested. “Our intentions were pure,” notes V.P. Joni Rein. “Gerry Cahill [Carnival President/CEO] reluctantly agreed, and we got the money to invest in these tools.”
But that wound up being the easy part. “After that, we trained, we put together webinars–`You asked, we built it, let’s go!’ Then we saw the percentage of utilization, and it wasn’t so great. So we trained again but still saw a lack of return on investment.”
That lack of return is what spurred Carnival to drive usage through policy. “We built it, but they were not coming,” recalls Rein. “We had a tier 2 and 3 that we wanted to go back and get more funds for, but we needed utilization on tier 1.”
The first thing experimented with was group berthing. “If your group booking was not fully deposited, we used a policy to support technology that required automation,” says Torrent.
They watched as automation figures skyrocketed – but so did agent complaints. “They told us, ‘This is different from what other cruise lines have done,'” says Torrent. “‘We like the fact that you are investing – you should catch up and have great automation – but you’re forcing us to use it. We want to do it when we want to do it, and when we don’t, we don’t.'”
Torrent says agents should consider CCL’s perspective. “If we can’t show ROI on the first piece, we can’t get funding for the second and third pieces. We get it that change is difficult, so we’re going to try and get all the simple stuff off the plate first so it’s as efficient as possible.”
Many agents have told Cruise Week that booking groups this way takes them more time than before, although Rein says some high-automation agencies prefer the new tools to speaking to the call centre.
The Carnival executives say there is room for improvement, especially in usability. “We have a list of 20 things that we hear about over and over,” says Torrent. “One example is past guests. It’s not clear how you would get the past guest number into the booking. We couldn’t figure it out when they showed us. It doesn’t matter if the functionality is in there if travel agents can’t use it.”
Improvements and new tools will be tested by agents prior to implementation and policy mandates. “We were doing that ourselves,” says Torrent. “Clearly, we know the system so well that we we’re missing things. Now we have agents testing it.”