When one thinks of CES, one typically thinks of the latest in virtual reality or huge super high resolution televisions, sophisticated drones and robots. However, what caught my eye this year came from a company you don’t typically associate with high tech gadgets and that was Carnival Corporation. Yep, the company with all of the cruise lines. So what is the connection between Carnival and high tech?
Carnival is in the business of selling personalized vacation experiences that mostly happen on large cruise ships all over the world. They aren’t however selling a cruise, they are selling an ‘experience’ and there is a big difference. An experience implies something to which the consumer is emotionally connected before, during and after the event. In Carnival’s case, a ‘gadget’ is involved, but it goes much deeper than just a neat toy and it may very well be the key to how we all need to think when it comes to how we monetize the Internet of Things (IoT).
In a nut shell, what Carnival has done is to create a wearable device known as the OCEAN Medallion. The medallion, as its name infers, is a small waterproof device that can be worn as a pendant or watch that is personalized for each individual customer. The medallion makes use of both BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) and NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to talk to thousands of sensors and portal devices that are placed throughout the cruise ship and port-of-call locations. A key difference however is that Carnival flips the typical BLE paradigm of fixed beacons and mobile readers around to have the medallions act as mobile beacons talking to fixed readers.
The term OCEAN in OCEAN Medallion is actually an acronym for One Cruise Experience Access Network. As the name implies, OCEAN is actually a vast network of devices all working together to help Carnival deliver a more memorable ‘experience’ to their customers. The medallion is used for multiple purposes including as an ID card that enables passengers to gain access to their cabin, a form of payment for on-board purchases in shops, restaurants, spas and gambling casinos, and as a location device that can be used with interactive portals to guide passengers around the ship and to track the locations of other members of a passenger’s traveling party.
So far this is all pretty standard stuff however, Carnival goes a step further. Carnival starts with a program they call OCEAN Ready. OCEAN Ready starts by shipping the medallion to the passengers before the cruise and it enables the passenger to update a profile which becomes known as a passenger genome. A passenger genome captures an individual passenger’s likes and preferences. Carnival uses these profiles in combination with advanced algorithms in an effort to anticipate what might make a passenger’s experience richer and more memorable. What makes the system unique is that the passenger genomes are not static. OCEAN actually learns on-the-fly by observing passengers’ behaviors and choices during the cruise and continues to use new information in real-time to anticipate what might make each passenger’s experience better.
The user interface for this is an application known as COMPASS. Passengers interact with COMPASS through interactive portals that are distributed throughout the ship including the TV in the passenger’s cabin. There are no buttons to push. Instead, portals are activated by the mere fact that the passenger approaches it with their medallion. Passengers can also interact with COMPASS using their smart phones. Ship’s crew also carry portable COMPASS portals that interact directly with passenger’s medallions letting the crew know with whom they are speaking and what interests that passenger may have.
Carnival combines COMPASS and the medallions with other apps like OCEAN Concierge. Concierge enables passengers to order food, drinks or schedule activities through a COMPASS portal. The crew finds the passenger (again using the medallion) to deliver the requested items and the system learns more about the passenger as it attempts to anticipate their next need or desire. The Concierge app also makes suggestions and sends passengers invitations to events and activities on-board and ashore based on preferences indicated in the passenger’s genome.
All of this goes to what Carnival calls ‘Experience Intelligence’. OCEAN is a learning network that customizes the experience for each individual passenger and this is what really caught my eye. Carnival didn’t set out to make another gadget. Instead they started out with the idea of customer centricity and trying to discover how to personalize and customize every passenger’s experience. They looked at the problem holistically and developed a system of hardware and software that would be simple to use but provide a way to truly exceed passengers’ expectations and provide an experience that would be remembered well after the cruise was over.
In the end, Carnival will buy a lot of ‘gadgets’ to make the OCEAN Medallion program work but the payback will be passengers who will each get a customized and personalized experience that they will not soon forget. That hopefully, will translate into repeat customers and more word of mouth references for Carnival that will encourage more people to cruise on their ships.
The lesson to be learned by all of us is that for IoT to be successful, it’s all about having in mind the ‘experience’ with which we want to leave our customers. All of the gadgets in between are a means to an end, not the end itself and Carnival has figured that out.