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Continuing my recent discussion about 'conversational marketing', I would argue that many conversational marketing efforts are flawed because they are far too patronizing.
In an attempt to be "authentic," some brands are willing to pander to the consumer at all costs - even when it doesn't make good business sense.
While I believe good businesses make a habit of going the extra mile to please their customers, I believe they also recognize that they can't be all things to all people.
Given this, I was pleased to see that cruise line operator Royal Caribbean has taken a more pragmatic approach to engaging in dialog with its customers.
After listening to Brenda and Gerald Moran complain incessantly about its cruises, the company ended the conversation by telling the Cleveland couple to use another operator, banning them from future cruises.
As reported by ExpertCruiser.com:
"Cleveland residents Brenda and Gerald Moran are experienced cruisers and big fans of Royal Caribbean. They were so happy with the cruise line they averaged two cruises a year for the past three years. They even bought the company’s stock.
"Still, the Morans encountered problems on each cruise — everything from a plumbing problem to being locked out of their cabins — which they itemized and detailed in correspondence to the cruise line. Royal Caribbean worked with the couple to solve problems and offered discounts and onboard credits to keep the couple’s business."
The Morans were extremely vocal and made a habit of posting their experiences (and complaints) on Cruise Critic, an online forum, even in cases where Royal Caribbean agreed with their complaints and demonstrated a willingness to make amends by providing compensation.
Some of the posts by the Morans apparently earned them even greater compensation from Royal Caribbean, but also angered other posters who "felt the Morans had complained their way to an unfair discount."
According to ExpertCruiser.com, one of the complaints caused some members of the Cruise Critic community to complain to Royal Caribbean about the Morans. Shortly thereafter, Royal Caribbean informed the Morans that they were no longer welcome on the company's cruises.
Royal Caribbean Associate Vice President of Corporate Communications Michael Sheehan told ExpertCruiser.com:
"On all but one of those sailing the Morans felt there were a variety of service failures they experienced. In a small number of cases we agreed and compensated them appropriately. In most cases, however, we disagreed. Having concluded that we are unable to meet the expectations of the Morans, we have told them that they would be best served by sailing with another company."
I suspect most "conversationalists" would probably lambaste such a move.
I can picture Jeremiah Owyang lecturing Royal Caribbean on how it's "missing out" by not engaging even more with the Morans, ignoring the fact that it's blatantly clear that no matter what Royal Caribbean does, the Morans will not be satisfied.
But unlike "conversationalists" who lack spine, I believe that Royal Caribbean's actions were entirely appropriate and actually serve as a case study for sensible customer engagement.
Royal Caribbean had time and time again made good faith efforts to deal with valid complaints that the Morans made but was clearly still unable to satisfy the couple.
Upon recognizing this, the company decided that it was in the interests of both parties to not conduct further business together.
I applaud the company for having the guts to make such a decision even though it will certainly be criticized by some. Certainly, I doubt that it is easy for any company to "ban" a customer from the future use of its services.
The truth, however, is that productive and fruitful conversations in all realms are not one-way streets and when conversations become little more than a means for one party to attack the other, the smart thing to do is to agree to disagree and walk away.
In the case of the Morans and Royal Caribbean, the Morans continued to pelt the company with harsh criticism despite the fact that Royal Caribbean did listen to their complaints and took appropriate action to address the ones it felt were legitimate.
Had Royal Caribbean allowed the Morans to continue engaging in the same behavior, it would have been no different than maintaining a friendship with a person who insults you behind your back.
In a day and age when some marketers implore companies to treat relationships with customers as "friendships," Brenda and Gerald Moran highlight the fact that, just as in real life, there are some people you simply can't be friends with.
Royal Caribbean apparently implicitly understands that the saying "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" can also be translated to "With 'loyal' customers like these, who needs critics?"
Other companies should too.
As for the Morans, I would suggest that they look into purchasing a yacht of their own. Fortunately, the timing is good. Superstar venture capitalist Tom Perkins recently put his on the market.