By Jack Cumming

As I write this, we are on a Celebrity cruise. We usually cruise with Princess but decided to give Celebrity a chance after Princess began adding charges for this and that. Nickel-and-diming is such a nuisance that it destroys the pleasure of cruising. Adding a fuel charge, because senior management lacked the wisdom to hedge fuel futures, taxes customers to pay for C-Suite ineptitude.


Note that there are many parallels between cruising and senior living. Both purport to be all-inclusive. Both are run for money. Both offer a simplified lifestyle. Both are past the first-generation managers and are into second- or third-generation management.

First-gen leaders need customers and are customer-focused. Later-gen executives take customers for granted, blame sales and marketing if occupancy slips, and seek to milk as much gain as possible from their captive customers onboard or in residence.

Enter the dining room on Celebrity. The food is tolerable, but if you want first-rate food, that’s a $55 or more upcharge. $110 for a couple to get a restaurant meal is still a steep ticket. And that’s for the lowest-priced meal. Moreover, try to walk into breakfast, and you are accosted by someone selling these upcharged meals. What a way to start your day?

Get your eggs and take a seat. It’s 8 a.m. Instantly, a waiter is at your table offering alcoholic drinks for breakfast. They’re like sales gnats. But try to get a cup of coffee or orange juice, and that’s different.

Senior living isn’t yet quite this extreme, and let’s hope it never gets there. One has to think that the people in some remote office who make the cruise line decisions have never been customers on their own or other cruise line ships.

Mission Challenge

The comparable thing for senior living might be the increasing number of properties (facilities, if you prefer) in which disclosing the least ailment or frailty to management results in being slotted into a care tier with a huge jump in monthly rate. Even though senior living is in the care business, among other businesses, it can be best for residents to avoid seeking care. How does that make sense to anyone other than Silas Marner? Remember those days, long ago, when care was included and senior living was called lifecare?

In-Your-Face Sales

We just got back to our cabin onboard. The in-room phone was flashing red. It seemed important, maybe vital. It wasn’t easy to figure out first what the red flash meant. It was a message.

Then, it wasn’t easy to figure out how to retrieve the message. We got that done. This urgent message was from the Future Cruise Desk wondering why we hadn’t booked our next cruise. From the above, you likely already know why not, but sales and marketing is not about the customer, it’s about the money.

When was the last time you met a salesperson who was genuinely interested in what was best for you? Salespeople get paid for sales. In some way that makes sense. Yet, if your business has to be sold for referral fees or commissions, chances are that it doesn’t sell itself.

That means that the senior executives, starting with a competent and effective CEO, should rethink and reposition the product to be something people want. If they just blame the economy or the marketing department, then the board should send them packing.

If effective corporate leadership gets that done, then word of mouth will sell the place without incentive, without sales cost, and with greater customer satisfaction. Now that seems obvious. First-gen managers understand that it’s the product, not the manipulation, that stokes the sales. Why doesn’t everybody see that simple truth?

Click here for a white paper with ideas about the potential for senior living if the will is there to experiment with change and reform.