How wrong can a CEO be?

In a Wall Street Journal article Carnival Cruise Line’s recently replaced CEO and current Chairman of the Board, Micky Arison, talked about Carnival Cruise Line’s difficult road to recovery. If you recall, the Carnival Triumph suffered from an engine room fire, leaving more than 4200 passengers stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five days, with no hot water and very few working toilets.

Mr. Arison is quoted in the article as saying, “To put it into perspective, 3000 passengers were impacted by the Triumph incident. None was hurt. It was a passenger comfort issue. We apologized.”

Five days without a/c, or hot water and with raw sewage running down the halls is hardly a “comfort issue.” When your customers are so upset with you that they file lawsuits against you, it is slightly more than a “comfort issue.”

How wrong can a CEO be?

Carnival’s troubles began with the sinking of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012. In March 2013 the Carnival Dream diesel generator failed and passengers were flown home with a partial refund and a promise of 50% off their next cruise. A week later the Carnival Legend wasn’t able to make full steam, and limped back to port. Passengers received a $100 credit.

Clearly, Carnival’s mechanical problems have caused great harm to customer relationships. But perhaps the most damaging is the attitude of the CEO. I can guarantee that the cavalier attitude with which the CEO treats customers is propagated throughout the entire company, diminishing the customer experience and destroying customer trust. According to Gerry Philpott, president of E-Poll Market Research, only 4% of survey respondents viewed Carnival as “trustworthy” in 2013, down from 9% in 2011.

Mr. Arison, customers are not merely whiners to be placated. Bob Olson, former CCO of GoDaddy had it right when he taught employees to treat everyone who calls as they would a family member.

How can you help every employee, from the CEO to the security guard, view and treat customers as well as they might treat their mother, or elderly grandmother?  Or even better?

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