This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Freight and tourist ferry services may seem like different worlds with conflicting interests and expectations – but Henrik Pedersen, freight sales director at P&O Ferries, says these two sides of the business bring significant benefits to each other.
Recognising the similarities and differences between passengers’ expectations is the key to making it work. “A freight driver might travel with us 30 times a year and it’s important for them to have a punctual, reliable service with a low total cost, along with peace and quiet and hearty meals at reasonable prices,” says Pedersen. “Tourist passengers travel less frequently. They might include excited holiday-makers or parties of school children. They often want to treat themselves to fresh, locally sourced food as part of their journey.”
To make sure each passenger gets the experience they want, the company provides separate spaces for them to enjoy their voyage. “Once all the vehicles are onboard, we give the freight drivers their own lounge area where they won’t be disturbed, along with access to our Routemaster restaurants where they can buy a big, hearty meal at modest prices,” Pedersen explains.
While freight and tourist passengers might appreciate different spaces onboard, delivering the experience they want has a positive impact on the service each group receives. “The ship is set up to meet tourist standards and that crosses over into the freight customer experience,” says Pedersen. “For example, all the passengers’ food is cooked to the same high standards, using the same ingredients from the same vendors. Passengers departing the port of Larne on our Northern Irish Larne-Cairnryan route can see the field of cattle that provides the beef they’re going to eat onboard. If that was a freight-only route we might not pay so much attention to sourcing our beef that locally, but because we’re trying to meet the expectations of tourist passengers, our freight customers get the same great food.”
Combining freight and tourism travellers also means more passengers onboard – and that allows the company to operate a more intense timetable that benefits all its customers on multiple levels. “With more business going onto the same ships we can have more departures, enabling everybody to benefit from the high frequency of service,” says Pedersen. “We have up to 56 daily freight departures between Calais and Dover. If we operated a freight-only route there would be far fewer departures and a different country ratio. We probably wouldn’t have the same number of shops or arcades onboard or the same quality of wi-fi connection – we simply wouldn’t have the money to pay for all that. Mixing the service gives us the customer mass that enables us to lift the service offering for everybody.”
As passenger expectations continue to evolve, P&O Ferries makes sure it is listening to what they have to say. Pedersen travels on as many ships as possible to understand passengers’ experiences, and the company surveys truck drivers onboard its ships using iPads in its Routemaster restaurants. “Drivers can select their own language and tell us what they think of our service and what they would like us to do differently,” says Pedersen. “Our recent refurbishment programme saw us putting more coffee machines and soft drink dispensers onboard ships, and new mattresses, carpets and bedding in the cabins based on customer feedback. We replaced shared freight driver cabins with an offer of sole occupancy cabins on our Hull-Rotterdam route in response to feedback from freight drivers. In addition, during periods of the year when we carry less tourist passengers, we upgrade freight drivers to tourist cabins.”
Ultimately, Pedersen says the customer experience is about much more than the journey between ports. Safety is always the top priority, and environmental concerns are central to all the company’s efforts. P&O’s vehicle fleet consists of hybrid cars and it is currently trialling a ship called Estraden which has wind turbines to reduce fuel consumption. “Whenever we look at a new challenge we try to deploy the most environmentally friendly solution we can – and most environmentally friendly solutions also drive cost savings,” he explains.
Communication is the foundation of a positive relationship with every passenger, and a consistent brand profile across websites, ports and ferries is essential. “Punctuality, reliability, and clear communication when delays are unavoidable, are all part of that consistency,” says Pedersen. “Those principles apply wherever the passenger is on their journey: we have to have clear communication to prompt customers in the port, and that must continue when they are onboard the ship to deliver a consistent experience.”
These efforts are paying off: P&O Ferries’ freight team recently achieved a net promoter score of 42 and Pedersen is confident it will reach 50 by the end of the year. As it works towards its long-term target score of 70, the company continues to focus on how it can positively influence customers’ end-to-end journey. It recently developed a new app, for example, that allows tourists to store their tickets and has a link to the sailing updates on Twitter.
“A happy driver is a productive driver, and that benefits our customers and their customers in turn,” says Pedersen. “This is about the journey from motorway to motorway, rather than just the ferries and what happens from one port to the next. It’s about the digital journey. Whether you are a freight customer or a tourist, you expect the company’s web page to be responsive, complete, and to give you accurate information and prices from the beginning. That sets your expectation for the entire journey.”
As the company continues to build on the complementarity between freight and tourist services, Pedersen sees a diminishing divide between the two. “The service provided in a business-to-business environment is increasingly similar the service levels expected in a business-to-consumer environment, and we want to close the gap between the two” he says. “Ultimately, freight and tourist passengers can enjoy a better journey with us because the two sides of the business complement each other.”
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