Monday, August 20News That Matters

CEO of Celebrity Cruises On Creating A Superior And Differentiated Customer Experience


The entrance of The Spa on Celebrity EdgeCelebrity Cruises

Understanding how to create a superior CX is a key topic on the minds of most marketing leaders. However, I’m most interested in those brands that have arguably the toughest CX to develop—one that is all encompassing. Compare Crest to Disney. Crest is a product with a particular benefit. Disney is much more than a product as it truly is about creating once-in-a-lifetime memories and experiences that last forever. What it takes to create a superior experience is so much more complex for a Disney brand than for a Crest brand.

When it comes to developing a superior and differentiated CX, there are few industries that are more complicated than the cruise industry. Choices regarding which locations to include in an itinerary, the layout and décor of a ship, the food options, the level of service, the variety of activities and adventures to include are just the beginning when it comes to thinking about creating a customer experience. And so I was thrilled to be able to talk to the CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, to better understand how she and her company have been able to build a world-leading brand that strives, and has been recognized as delivering, a superior customer experience. Below are Lutoff-Perlo’s thoughts on strengthening the Celebrity Cruise Line brand and experience.

Kimberly Whitler: In the cruising space, there are a lot of companies and brands. What is it that you think distinguishes Celebrity?

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo: I’ve been in the business for 32 years. I started at the bottom as a district sales agent and have worked across a variety of different units prior to becoming the CEO. Because I’ve spent my whole career in hospitality, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to experience the universe of different firms—from travel, to hotels, to cruising, etc.

As I’ve thought about this business and how we create a superior CX (as an industry) and then more specifically what distinguishes Celebrity, there is one primary challenge that we have—most people have yet to try cruising. While the industry has grown and the ships being designed today rival any theme park, the industry has transformed and yet a key challenge is to introduce more consumers to the experience of cruising. We are not a category that is easily understood. We offer a holistic, comprehensive vacation experience and have to deliver everything from food to lodging to transportation to education to adventure to service, etc. So the questions become: What is our brand and what do we stand for and what is our place in the marketplace and how do we get the word out?

While that is an industry challenge, I wanted to put this into context. I believe that Celebrity is a unique brand within the cruising industry. We uniquely offer our consumers a “modern luxury” experience and are positioned to deliver 5 key pillars of excellence which we believe distinguish a Celebrity experience from those found on competitor ships.

Whitler: Can you talk a little more about the 5 pillars that distinguish Celebrity?

Lutoff-Perlo: For us, there are 5 key pillars to the Celebrity Brand:

1) Destination. We spend a lot of time thinking about the locations to which we travel, what we do when we get there, and how we differentiate the experience when our customers arrive. More specifically, what is it about each location, each adventure, and each experience that can be uniquely labeled a Celebrity experience?

2) Ship Design. When we introduced the solstice class of ships, we introduced the most beautifully designed ships in the industry. Our brand promise is to deliver a modern luxury experience and it is critical that our ships are stunning this positioning. Our customers appreciate design as an integral part of the experience and so it is a requirement of every ship. We have now developed the next class of ships, the Edge ships, and every detail surrounding the design was anchored on how we could elevate the brand and industry from a sensorial perspective (for more information on the new Edge design, see here).

3) Culinary Experience. We are most maniacally focused on the culinary experience, because this is paramount to a luxurious cruising experience. To support this, we hired Cornelius Gallegher, a Michelin-starred chef to help create cuisine that you won’t find on any other line.

4) Service. Actually, we are in an industry where customer service is the price of entry. But we want to be known for elevating service to an art form, above and beyond what others deliver. We have a brand-wide initiative called One Touch Hospitality dedicated to delivering uncompromising, individualized service. On board, we have a staff member for every two guests, and we have partnered with Les Clefs D’or, an international concierge network focused on exceptional and personalized guest service.

5) Accommodations. When I first started in the industry, we called staterooms cabins. At the time, most customers didn’t care about the cabins because they didn’t want people in their rooms. That has changed. We now think a lot about how to design our staterooms to support our modern luxury positioning. What is unique and different about staterooms that elevates the total experience and makes customers want to come back? For example, on our new Celebrity Edge, we have now included the veranda with each stateroom and the customer has the choice to make the veranda outside of the stateroom or include the space inside the stateroom. This is a whole new way of thinking about customizing the stateroom to accommodate each customer’s lifestyle.

Whitler: This is helpful. How would you define what makes the Celebrity CX different?

Lutoff-Perlo: What makes Celebrity different? Think about a continuum where at one end you have luxury and the other end you have a more mainstream or common brand. We found that many customers believe that luxury is pretentious. We are what I’d consider approachable luxury. We have the most beautiful ships with the best food, traveling to the most interesting destinations. In fact, while a lot of cruise lines are feature-based (e.g., flying simulators, ice rinks, etc.), we aren’t. Our brand is experience based and not feature based. We talk about sitting in a modern luxury – it straddles between premium and luxury. We are among the most awarded brand among those that we compete with and have the highest net promoter score – people love us and recommend us. Interestingly, while many cruise lines tend to target a specific demographic, we don’t. Our modern luxury positioning is more about a psychographic, an attitude, and a desired way to vacation. So we actually have everything from millennials to boomers on our ships and a lot of multi-generational families.

Whitler: What is the future of the Celebrity CX? How do you see it changing?

Lutoff-Perlo: I don’t see much changing but I don’t see much staying the same. Our 5 pillars won’t change but how we deliver those changes. Every day we wake up we are thinking about how to take these experiences to the next level. If you think about it, we need 300,000 new customers over the next few years and to do this we have to deliver an experience that is worthy of being talked about, shared, and repeating. That’s what keeps me up at night but is also what excites me about the future.

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler

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