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Posted by Sarah Brown on 13 Mar '19

Technology v people - playing to their strengths

It's great when technology enhances the experience but there needs to be some commonsense used to ensure it doesn't undermine good well proven practise

We have just got back from the inaugural cruise of the MSC Bellissima which highlighted for me the challenges of balancing technology and innovation and the personal touch. And also, that in the end nature will have the last say, but I’ll come on to that.

Technology worked well with places to register a card for payment rather than having to queue to tell a human. The use of visual technology on the ceiling of the main plaza was beautiful and enhanced the live action from the performers.

Zoe the IA help (imagine an Alexa) in each cabin seemed to struggle to understand or answer any questions and this seemed to be a universal problem. There was lots about ‘her’ and what questions to ask Zoe but unlike any other cruise I’ve been on the human cabin steward’s name was not in the cabin and we didn’t meet for days and we never did get ice despite asking! The personal seemed to be overlooked in the rush to technology.

In the restaurants tablets were used for taking drink orders with a waiter and then someone else would deliver the order, presumably in response to the electronic message. This failed on several occasions when the order was wrong and there was no clear responsibility, very frustrating for the customer and the servers.

More traditional ships have talks, jigsaws, a daily quiz sheet and sessions to learn art or handicrafts, this ship had virtual reality games and water slides and a very limited programme of activities mainly of gym sessions. The only talks I noted were on how to use Facebook and blog about the cruise or selling beauty treatments.

The design includes a space for Cirque do Soleil to perform,(the photo shows Bob with one of the performers). We went to the show, one of the main reasons for going on the cruise and it was wonderful, but my business head worries about a space that is only used for two out of eight days of a cruise and for very limited numbers.

The ship with 19 decks and 5,500 passengers is like a floating tower block hotel and just like one did not do well as we encountered high winds in the Bay of Biscay. Nature one Bellissima nil would be the score. The bars had to be shut as bottles of spirits and glasses broke everywhere in their hundreds, the barriers to stop things falling were limited and non existent in places – layout being like a normal bar. People reported furniture moving and the main plaza had no hand rails as we all staggered like drunks trying to keep upright.

It’s hard to imagine how it would cope crossing the Atlantic so maybe it will stay in the Mediterranean.

I think somewhere when planning this ship people have fallen in love with the technology and there needed to be a voice of common sense reminding them about practicality and the need for good service, Zoe didn’t bring ice or make a towel sculpture. Clearly good use of technology can help reduce the numbers of staff and facilitate managing such a large number of passengers but I’d be interested to see if the staff enjoy just being order takers rather than getting the thank you’s for a great service; I’m not sure they do or that they totally know how they fit with all the new technology.

Clearly technology can enhance the cruising experience as the animated ceiling illustrates but to be really successful the great companies work out how to play to the strengths of both technology and people, which is more complex than simply using technology to replace people. They also ensure that what they do fits with a clear vision and values. I am not sure that in the rush to technology MSC has remembered what their chairman states as their values and whether now their people feel that they are the key to success or just there to use the technology.

We are a family company with a family spirit and our people are the key to our success.

Capt. Gianluigi Aponte, Group Executive Chairman, MSC

It would be great to hear examples of great use of modern technology where people and the digital world work in harmony.

If you found this blog interesting here are some more you might like:

Not all innovation is good

The digital Revolution - a triumph or a threat to the most disadvantaged

How to change the world with marketing not charity

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Tags: innovation values