After a trip to the ER, Celebrity cruises into exceptional customer service

Greg and Linda Smith’s well-deserved Celebrity cruise to Alaska was just what the doctor ordered.

But their doctor’s orders quickly changed to emergency care just before departure when Linda needed surgery — stat.

Before anyone could ponder the possibility of bidding buh-bye to their pricey cruise investment, Celebrity stunned the Smiths, of Boulder, Colo., with a huge save.

Despite past economic turbulence, cruise lines continue to steadily grow over the years while carrying an increasing quantity of mobile and fortunate passengers. That is a good thing in our free-market economy of supply and demand. The bad thing is the ease of extracting a refund or credit when things go awry has not shown a similar correlation.

A fleet of cruise cancellation topics float around our website and forum. Elsewhere, NBCNews.com and the Washington Post reveal that emergency surgery and even death may not be a sufficient refund cause (who’s this Chris Elliott guy?).

Enter cruise cancellation insurance, especially the cancel-for-any-reason policy. There’s no way around it — cruises are just plain expensive. So while navigating the rough seas of policy comparisons can be challenging, why not stay on course and avoid uncharted fare refund territory? Yet, these add-on investments remain surprisingly under-utilized. But read all the print. There are situations where even a robust policy may not pay up when you need it.

With all these ruminations, perhaps the Good News Guy was a bit hasty when he noticed Greg Smith’s message.

“I must share our experience regarding Celebrity Cruises and how much they do care,” he began.

“During Linda’s routine colonoscopy two days before departure, the surgeon inadvertently perforated her colon, which turned septic,” he continued.

Yikes. That is exactly what everyone has to sign a release form about before they go under — but let’s not think about that now.

“I called Celebrity directly from the ICU telling the rep why we were not able to go on the cruise and to find out what happens next,” Smith exclaimed.

Who can guess the rep’s initial response?

“She sincerely apologized but noted I did not buy cancellation insurance,” Smith added.

Wait. What if the cruise ship has to cancel or change dates? Let’s not go there as it is good fodder for a Bad News Guy story.

Celebrity’s refund/credit policies are less than clear. But after stripping away all the tiered or pro-rated pricing, chronological criteria, and ancillary phrasing, anything less than a 14-day cancellation gets a zero refund. Clear or not, other cruise lines are not much different. They, as any other business, need to balance maximum profits with equity and goodwill to maintain a long-term customer base. It is what it is — and lesson learned the hard way.

Smith could have added on Celebrity’s own insurance which addresses most unanticipated circumstances, or he could have purchased a third-party plan from someone like Allianz. We have all had Smith lessons in our lifetime whether we admit it or not. He did — and has my respect. And by doing so, did not deprive us of a great story and opportunity to inform.

If Smith ended up where most others might in this situation, it would not be a Good News Guy story. This time he had the good fortune to speak with Autumn — not just a Celebrity rep, but a celebrity.

After a melancholy pause in their phone conversation, she asked Smith if he could send in any proof of what happened.

“I immediately sent them a letter from the surgeon where he admitted and described what occurred and that Linda was fighting for her life,” Smith went on. “Within hours I received a call from Celebrity and said they were praying for her and made the decision to simply treat this letter as cruise insurance, providing a full credit to reschedule the cruise when she recovers.”

Just like that.

At a time when cruise lines are accused of impersonal cattle-car customer management, Celebrity would have none of that. Not only did they do the right thing, but exhibited a corporate culture empowering individuals to make a human decision not regulated by contractual terms. Long-term customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals can also be a strategic business plan. And in case anyone missed it, this was particularly generous because, given only a day notice, Celebrity was not likely to be able to re-sell the cabin.

Smith also did his part to praise at a time when, in our privileged society, too many are too quick to complain — and took a moment to say thank you and spread the word. It not only makes reps like Autumn feel appreciated but increases the likelihood of these kinds of things happening more often to pay it forward.

Since there was a happy ending, I confess another favorite part of Smith’s tale was his ability for edgy and wry humor at a stressful time. In his message to us, he referenced his Celebrity cruise as a colonoscopy cruise. Well played. And maybe should have been my line? Unless of course, he had not run this by his spouse first, in which case I never said anything. But I digress.

There’s more.

“One year later, Linda and I boarded our rescheduled cruise,” Smith concluded. “We were invited to eat at the captain’s table where he even asked me to share our story one more time, bringing us roses. We will forever love this cruise line for loving us, and having a huge heart.”

We hope this helps Autumn know of our appreciation.

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