Superior Product, Exceptional Customer Service: The keys to the success of Cloud 9 Adventures and Jam Cruise

In today’s social media age, it’s not enough to just build a brand and assume it’ll flourish. More than ever, companies need customers to be emotionally cemented to their brands via superior products and exceptional customer service. 

For the past three years, I’ve been a customer of Cloud 9 Adventures, a company that exemplifies the spirit of customer centricity. Specifically, I’m a frequent passenger aboard  Jam Cruise

Imagine Mardi Gras on an ultra-luxurious Italian cruise liner, with live music from more than 20 jazz, funk, rock and jam bands playing nearly 24 hours a day. Mix in theme nights with costumes, karaoke contests where all-star musicians back up the contestants, excursions like all-terrain vehicle rides through the jungles of Belize, and workshops that go “behind the music,” and you get the idea. 

Now imagine that the customers, many of whom are repeat cruisers who call themselves “repeat offenders,” for the most part drive the experience. 

After each cruise, a large survey goes out to the passengers. This year’s contained 58 questions and arrived in my e-mail inbox one week after the cruise. Despite its length, the response rate is regularly 30 percent, according to Annabel Lukins Stelling, the marketing director for Jam Cruise. More importantly, customers answer each question with great detail because they know their answers are going to make the next cruise even better. 

Additionally, the company’s staff maintains a strong presence on Jam Cruise’s message boards, Facebook and MySpace pages. The message boards have a very strong community feel and remain highly active throughout the year. By continually monitoring these social sites and communicating back when appropriate, much is learned about jam cruisers and what they like and dislike. 

Which is why Jam Cruise, six years later, always sells out. In fact, many people prebook a year in advance and love to spread the word to bring new people on the ship. 

But, like any other business, Jam Cruise isn’t perfect. This year, a major computer snafu caused the passenger embarkation process to go awry. Some people waited in excess of six hours to get on the ship. 

Almost within minutes of the ship’s arrival back at port, the message boards lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints. 

One of the risks of social media is the impact negative comments could have on business. As more people seek out peer reviews via social media, Internet chatter can make or break a business. 

To its credit, the Jam Cruise staff posted a number of explanations and apologies for the embarkation problems, along with assurances that the problem was found, addressed and won’t happen again. Those apologies and assertions made a difference, and the message boards settled down. 

The Jam Cruise staff plans to send a second survey and additional communications in the near future to allay peoples’ fears about future issues, according to Lukins Stelling. 

The moral of the story: Social media can be an enormous benefit to a company — or a major detractor. Listening to your customers is crucial and can provide many rewards, as well as help with customer service and product-related issues. 

Jim Gilbert is president and CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based catalog and direct marketing agency. Reach Jim at

Adopting Social Media for Your Business (from Catalog Success Magazine)

Last week, I offered a request to my readers to post their comments regarding their adoption of social media. Based upon the results of a recent poll we conducted at (click here), many of you aren’t jumping on the bandwagon, as compared with pure-play e-retailers and other Internet marketers.

While I’m a bit disappointed about this — both the lack of adoption of social media and response to my column — I believe there’s a huge opportunity at hand to take our multichannel industry to the next level.

So let me ask you this: What’s your level of social media adoption? Blogs? Message boards? Video? Sites like Facebook? Let’s get a dialogue going on this.

I understand things are a mess out there business-wise, but we need to start operating on the following premise: If you listen, they will come. 

For now, I hope to inspire you with a story from another industry.

Recently, I had the opportunity to do business with a truly customer-centric organization. Every year I take a cruise in January. Within one week of my return, I received a 58-question (yes, that’s not a typo, I did say 58-question) survey from the travel company that puts on the cruise.  

Now to set the background a bit, this isn’t just any cruise. It’s a specialty music cruise called Jam Cruise ( Think Mardi Gras or Woodstock on a luxury Italian cruise liner, with live bands playing night and day.

The survey sets the stage for the following year’s cruise. It asks questions about the bands, the ports, the service, the food and all of the extras they provide, to determine both what they can do better and what their customers would like to see happen in the future.  

In addition, the company has a message board it constantly monitors. Since the day the cruise ended, the message board has been lit up like a Christmas tree. Posts on the board range from super positive to super negative (the negatives were mostly about the food, which was “off” this year, and the process of getting on the ship, which didn’t go as planned). As to the negative comments, I was very pleased to see that the Jam Cruise staff made its presence felt and offered apologies and explanations.  

Like I’ve said before, if you want to use social media as a marketing tool, be prepared to handle both the positive and the negative. In fact, how you handle negative feedback will help get you customers for life.  

Your Key Takeaway
Your customers are the ones who should drive your business. Social media means you have to work harder at serving your customers, but the rewards are greater customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at You can also follow Jim on Twitter at