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December 15, 2004



NCL - The Turnaround Masters

When NCLA's Pride of Aloha was launched this year in Hawaii, it got off to a rocky start reminiscent of the one Norwegian Star had a couple of years earlier in the Fiftieth State. NCL turned that one around within a few months to make it the top-rated ship in the fleet. NCLA has already seen a massive improvement in customer satisfaction on Pride of Aloha, bringing it within the satisfaction range of the rest of the NCL fleet, and they appear on track to have it to that top-rated status Norwegian Star achieved.

We talked with NCL's Andy Stuart (EVP of Marketing, Sales and Passenger Service) late last week about how they did it, and what to expect for this summer's launch of Pride of America.

When we sailed on Pride of Aloha's inaugural, we reported things weren't perfect, but they weren't bad either. The service was the main problem that we saw. All that appeared necessary to us was just to let the crew get a little experience, because it seemed like it was everyone's first day on the job.

The ship's hotel director, James Deering, saw the experience as a problem (of course there was nowhere to go to hire the number of experienced American crew members necessary), but beyond that, he said there were a lot of crew members who had decided that working on a ship wasn't for them, and it would still be three or four months before they cycled off the ship and the rest of the crew was hitting its stride where ratings would start to improve.

Former AMCV CEO Rod MacLeod told CND that based on his experience starting up their United States Line brand in Hawaii, he wouldn't be surprised if it took six months to get their ratings to where a line would feel comfortable with them.

Things were bad at the beginning from a ratings standpoint. Stuart told CND that at their lowest, the ship was scoring just 64% satisfaction, meaning 64% of the passengers were scoring their experience as "good,""very good," or "excellent" on their comment sheets. Of course that means 64% were satisfied, but it also means more than a third (36%) were not.

(Note: Those comment sheets are reviewed and tabulated very carefully, as cruise lines see that as the most accurate barometer they have of customer satisfaction in the short-term, so do take the time to make your views known. Feedback goes to the ship both the next day, and the following week from those sheets, and they take action based on them.)

To demonstrate the dramatic turnaround, Pride of Aloha's ratings today are running 90-93%. The rest of the fleet averages 93%-97%. Stuart is pleased (and relieved) at the improvement and is "very confident Pride of Aloha will be operating in the middle or upper end of [the fleet's satisfaction rating] in very short order, and moving up that range at a very rapid pace. We are now delivering a high quality product that is in the range of the fleet, and we genuinely believe it can be at the top of the fleet."

How did they do it? The big factor he says was getting the crew more experience. From there it was just tweaking and focusing their attention on "finding every opportunity for improvements."

The buffet received a lot of negative comments, for example. Stuart said they sent key people to the ship to see what was wrong, and they just needed to make small changes such as watching the food's serving temperature more carefully and fine tuning the menu slightly.

Another source of complaints was the waiting time for tables in the main dining rooms. Again, Stuart said the key was getting the crew more experience so they could do their jobs more efficiently. He said as they did the job more, they got more comfortable, and they felt less pressured and that in turn made them able to do the job even better. (In turn, the passengers were more pleased, and that took pressure of the staff, also making them happier and more efficient. It's all a vicious cycle.) Getting their turnover under control also helped. He said that having enough staff to operate both restaurants efficiently also reduced pressure on those in the dining room.

Half of the crew on Pride of Aloha now has more than six months' experience, and they've reduced turnover by 50%. Crew members are now completing one contract, going home for a few weeks, and returning for another contract, just as the international crews do on other ships. He said they now have many crew members on their third contracts, indicating that they have found a core of people who do like the job and want to stay.

Stuart said they have learned a lot about hiring American crew members, and in particular they've learned about the type of people to hire who will love the job.

With Pride of America on the road to having ratings consistent with the rest of the fleet, what about Pride of America? Its launch is looming just about six months away. Are they going to have the same problems trying to staff it?

In the conclusion of this article, Stuart talks about staffing Pride of American and why things will be vastly different in that launch.

In the first part of this article, we talked with Andy Stuart, NCL's EVP of Marketing, Sales and Passenger Service about the positive turnaround of customer satisfaction on Pride of Aloha. In the conclusion of the article he discussed how they are using what they have learned about staffing Pride of Aloha in in regard to bringing out Pride of America next summer.

Stuart said even though Pride of America won't have the fist passenger aboard for another six months, they have already started hiring, and are over budget (people not dollars) on the crew members on Pride of Aloha now as they start building up for Pride of America. "We are using all the hiring lessons that we have learned over the last year, to make sure that we (a) hire efficient people, (b) hire the right people, and (c) have a pipeline in place for the turnover that we may experience at the beginning of the Pride of America launch."

He said the training now is also different. Before arriving at the ship, all crew members train at the seafarers' union facility in Maryland for three weeks when they are hired. They have a week of safety training, a week of training about NCL's way of doing things, and a week of job-specific training.

Pride of America won't be starting with a basically inexperienced crew, as Pride of Aloha was required to do.

"We are going to be bringing some of our experienced people from Pride of Aloha, making sure that we don't take too many. But we are going to take enough that we can put an experienced base on Pride of America," Stuart said.
NCL also has another advantage with Pride of America that is unusual in the shipbuilding game. When Pride of America sank in the shipyard, the ship was well along to completion, and most of the damage was in the technical areas on the lower decks. There was little damage to the nearly-complete hotel facilities on the upper decks, therefore they will now be complete by March, but work will continue in the technical areas. This is backwards from the way ships are usually completed.

It will give NCLA the opportunity to have most of the crew members on the ship for two months before it sails, giving them time to unpack all the supplies themselves and be intimately familiar with where everything is and how everything operates.

"We are doing that to insure that the ship comes out of the yard at the very highest possible quality, and the benchmark we are using is Norwegian Dawn, which is the finest ship delivery we have ever had," Stuart told CND.

"That ship came out of the yard as an absolutely top- quality product, and since that's our benchmark for delivery of Pride of America, we are investing a lot of money in taking the crew over well in advance of [Pride of America's] delivery. The majority of them will arrive in March, and from then on we are going to be completely focused on making sure all of the routine that we need to establish for our crew, and all of the training that we need to assure the absolutely top-quality product that is our objective, is delivered. Compare that to the challenge we had with Pride of Aloha, where all of that had to be achieved during a three-week extremely challenging drydock, where we were converting the ship over from Norwegian Sky to Pride of Aloha, with an awful lot of work needing to be completed during a three-week period and we had no ability to do all of the things we are going to be able to do with the crew from Pride of America. So it is a unique, very unusual opportunity for us, and we have undertaken that huge investment to make sure we deliver it in absolutely the right way."

In other words, NCL doesn't want to have to turn around ratings on another ship. They are going to have this one right from the beginning.

Press Release By NCL

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Posted by Denise at December 15, 2004 11:54 AM
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