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Imagine you were a crew member assigned to Carnival’s Triumph during its recent disaster. As you may recall, last month the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was scheduled for a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. However, what promised to be a traveler’s dream quickly turned into a weeklong nightmare when an engine fire knocked out power for a week. How would you handle the stress of failing electricity, rotting food, and leaking sewage? Better yet, imagine you were a passenger on the Triumph during this crisis. How would you expect the crew members to handle the situation?

CNN and USA Today have both published articles praising the crew members’ diligence, dedication, and professionalism. Passenger Cheryl Espe remembered the crew, saying that “they worked so hard, such long hours, continuously, and always smiled . . . They deserve so much. They deserve a lot more.”

Remember, employee engagement refers to the passion and energy employees bring to their work—the discretionary effort they put forth as a result of the quality of the employee/employer relationship. With our understanding of engagement, we can quickly see that the Triumph’s crew was very engaged in their work. This observation is only strengthened by the words of Carnival crew member Sachin Sharma, who said delivering outstanding customer service is “very simple, because [crew members] are used to it. That’s why we make the best effort for [the customers]. . . . It’s a part of the job.”

Sharma clearly identifies the first element of engagement (Meaning) as the driver behind his actions to provide superior customer service, even during an extraordinary crisis.

Meaning, by definition, is the act of personally identifying—and thereby aligning oneself—with the underlying values and objectives of the organization, creating a mutuality of purpose that both the individual and the organization are willing to invest in each other to achieve. Sharma, and employees like him, have become engaged by cultivating robust levels of meaning. Contrast these actions with those of the skipper of the Costa Concordia who, after running his $563 million-dollar vessel aground last year in Italy, abandoned ship, claiming he “fell into a lifeboat.” Right.

We’ve all likely encountered the disengaged customer-service employee. Whether at the local market, or on the other end of a tech support call, disengagement is easy to spot and quick to frustrate. We’ve discussed in previous blogs how employee engagement directly influences customer satisfaction—a point that Carnival and its employees seem to have mastered. So, what’s different between Carnival employees and the customer-facing employees you and I encounter on a daily basis?

Perhaps the answer lies in Carnival’s promotion of its employment opportunities as “Fun.” Honestly, though, can it really be that simple? I don’t think so. Once we’re able to understand what factors contributed to the Triumph crew’s engagement, we’ll be able to echo the words of Kendall Jenkins when describing our encounters with customer-service employees. “The crew was always smiling. They need a huge raise,” she lauded.

Reese Haydon

Reese is the Marketing Specialist at DecisionWise. His work experience includes functions such as Global Business Services - Employee Experience at Cisco Systems, Organizational Leadership and Strategy at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, and Executive Coaching at FranklinCovey.

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