Princess Cruises puts real-time customer experience into action

The Ocean Medallion provides real-time CX to passengers on Princess Cruises. The technology enables vacationers to automatically open stateroom doors, locate companions and more.

Businesses today put a heavy emphasis on CX in order to engage and retain customers. But simply having a great customer experience isn't enough. With the fast pace of today's society, many consumers also seek instant gratification.

This is where real-time customer experience comes into play: providing sales or service where and when consumers want it.

One company that recently put real-time CX to work is Princess Cruise Lines, owned by Carnival Corp. & plc, with its Ocean Medallion -- a wearable, silver dollar-sized device that can be used to customize a variety of real-time customer experiences in the physical world.

It works in concert with a rich ecosystem of mobile and back-end apps to enable a variety of experiences that can automatically unlock doors, improve housekeeping coordination, speed the check-in process, order food and beverages and coordinate delivery, and help locate friends and family.

Wade Meredith headshotWade Meredith

"This kind of experience design is going to explode over the next decade," said Wade Meredith, principal at Refractal Studio, a customer experience design consultancy in Kansas City, Mo.

Simple tech, complex back end

The technology at the center of the Ocean Medallion is RFID and Bluetooth radios. It's a simple, robust and low-power way to transmit an ID.

"The technology is cheap and readily available from hundreds of manufacturers," Meredith said.

The electronics and battery tech have just begun to get small and tough enough at the right price point to make this happen at a disposable price point -- a wrist band you'd toss after a vacation, Meredith said. Disney rolled out similar technology in its parks and resorts about five years ago with the MagicBand, and it was the only company that could afford it at the time.

The magic all happens on the back end using a variety of sophisticated databases to match a person's location with various CX apps. It's not just about tracking the user but doing so in a way that delights, ensures security and addresses privacy concerns.

The infrastructure includes three main components: the Ocean Medallion itself; an optional digital concierge that enables guests to access information and services via a mobile app, TV or kiosk; and the experience innovation operating system (xIOS), which provides a back end for creating new experiences.

Princess worked with The Experience Engine, a San Diego-based experience design consultancy, to create the xIOS infrastructure.

"The major takeaway is that this is a huge experience design challenge," Meredith said.  

Give the user control

Ocean Medallion is an extension of what other companies do right now on the web and mobile, where businesses track users and give them offers based on their location.

Vaclav Vincalek headshotVaclav Vincalek

"However, [Princess is] in a position to push the limits because they can work with a captive audience and are able to demonstrate a variety of benefits to consumers," said Vaclav Vincalek, CEO of Pacific Coast Information Systems, an IT consultancy.

Other businesses could adapt similar kinds of infrastructure to improve experiences in malls, resorts and other facilities. But it's also important to be mindful of data privacy concerns.

"There's a point at which a company, while they're trying to be helpful while propping up their bottom line, becomes creepy," Vincalek said.

There's a point at which a company, while they're trying to be helpful while propping up their bottom line, becomes creepy.
Vaclav VincalekCEO, Pacific Coast Information Systems

Hypothetical examples include receiving offers from Weight Watchers about losing the extra 10 pounds you gained recently. That would probably be over the line.

In order for real-time customer experiences to pan out, businesses need to demonstrate the value to customers. Customers should be able to choose what information they are willing to share, and businesses should figure out how to tell the customer who owns the data and be transparent about how they will use it.

Vincalek also recommends building a system where personal identity and data are separated to minimize the risk in the event of a security breach and limit data collection required for an experience. At the same time, businesses want to be sure it is possible to add other types of data when experience designers come up with new ideas for other real-time customer experiences.

"If it's required, you're just going to make people frustrated," Meredith said. "The key here is to let the user have control."

Focus on progressive enhancement

Another key to implementing real-time customer experiences is using a progressive enhancement philosophy.

The customer experiences should be progressively enhanced by starting small and building from there. This could be as simple as replacing key cards with RFID bands, then adding features on the back end. It's also good to think about working in phases and adopting agile methodologies.

Even if you have a large budget and staff at your disposal, it's still going to take a lot of trial and error to develop due to the number of moving parts.

"These are fiendishly complex systems, and it takes a lot more work than it looks to make it sort of disappear into the background," Meredith said. "If your customers notice tech like this too much, it's annoying and a net loss for the overall experience."

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