Sailing into CRM waters

Royal Caribbean Cruises is moving full steam ahead on a groundbreaking multistage customer relationship management and electronic commerce project to propel customer satisfaction to a new level.
Written by Mel Duvall, Contributor
Royal Caribbean Cruises is moving full steam ahead on a groundbreaking multistage customer relationship management and electronic commerce project that it hopes will propel the company to much higher levels of customer satisfaction.

The project will cover virtually every way that customers interact with the company and serve as the foundation for a range of Web self-service applications.

The Miami-based international cruise line approved the multimillion dollar project earlier this summer after conducting an exhaustive investigation of potential vendors. The goal, says Rick Adams, Royal Caribbean's vice president of eBusiness Solutions and captain of the project, is to create a central repository of customer information that can be leveraged from all touch points. That includes traditional customer call centers, the Internet and on-board operations.

"Until now, our customer information has existed in silos that could only be accessed by individual business units," Adams says. "So, if a customer had a complaint about the handling of their baggage on a ship, if they interacted with our Web site, or if they called into our customer call center...we would have information about that customer in three different places.

"Obviously, that can lead to all kinds of frustration for the customer, and we're in a business where you can't afford to have unhappy customers."

While creating a unified customer relationship management system is at the heart of the plan, the project is bigger in scope. It also will include direct tie-ins to the cruise line's reservation and electronic commerce operations; Web-based customer self-service applications such as the ability to book shore excursions; a knowledge management portal for employees; and eventually, an e-learning portal for Web-based training. "We're talking anywhere from 6 [months] to 18 months to do everything we have in mind," Adams says.

Not your typical ROI
The voyage of this I-manager project began a year ago when Royal Caribbean's directors gave final approval to the initiative. For competitive reasons, Adams won't say how much is being spent, other than that it's in "the millions." Royal Caribbean is one of the world's largest cruise companies, operating 22 ships under the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises banners, and is looking to add seven more ships by the end of 2004. (The company is currently evaluating the financial impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on its business plans.)

Adams says the return on investment (ROI) analysis for the CRM project did not focus so much on savings that could be gained, but more on how to improve customer satisfaction levels. "The main reason we're doing this is because it's good for our guests. And that will be good for our bottom line," he says. "In this kind of business they go hand-in-hand." Following management approval, Adams worked with Chief Information Officer Tom Murphy and Director of Customer Transformation Percy Lopez on the vendor investigation team. They started with a list of 117 vendors and were quickly able to narrow the list down to 15 by using a set of criteria such as the financial health of the vendor, the ability to scale and the completeness of solution - whether it had modules for all forms of customer contact, including the Net.

Adams describes the working relationship with Murphy and his IT staff as an extremely positive collaborative effort. "Tom runs his IT organization like a business and treats the individual business units like his customers," Adams says. "We arrived at the CRM decision based on business requirements and potential ROI vs. having IT select a technology and then try to fit the requirements to the technology. IT kept us honest and grounded through the process, and helped us see through the glossy marketing brochures."

Further analysis tapered the list to two contenders: Siebel Systems and PeopleSoft. Adams says both companies had strong offerings, and the decision could have gone either way. PeopleSoft had an initial advantage, because the company uses its software for human resources. But Siebel ultimately got the nod, largely because of its strength in sales force automation.

The project's next phase will involve e-Services, a group of applications that will enable agents to answer customer inquiries coming in by e-mail or directly from a Web site.

Following the implementation of the e-Services module, Royal Caribbean will implement a knowledge management portal for employees, which will include applications to manage their business and personal information. The final stage will be the e-Learning portal, offering Web-based training.

"CRM is expanding; it's becoming a much bigger beast," says Kirsten Cloninger, a Cahners In-Stat Group industry analyst. "We're seeing things like Web-based self-service being rolled into CRM and business intelligence. It makes sense when you consider that CRM systems own the customer database."

One of Adams' most important challenges in the months ahead will be getting buy-in from all business units. "Helping business units understand there is tangible ROI can be difficult," he says. "But one of the lessons we've already learned in doing this exercise is just how many tasks and activities are being done in multiple places in the organization," he says. "It's given us an opportunity to eliminate some of that duplicity and streamline operations."

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