P & O forgets about customer service

Gosh, now I know why people travel by Eurotunnel. Taking the P & O ferry back on Saturday evening was an object lesson in how companies have pared back on service to boost profits. Ok, so P & O was in trouble because one boat was out at a peak time and therefore delays were inevitable.That was fine but it was the complete lack of any customer care that was the problem.

There was a kilometre long queue to get into the terminal which inched forward at a snail’s pace. I was fortunate as I came in from Calais town centre and rather luckily missed the experience of what must have been an extra two hours delay on the slip road where most people were coming from. However, it still took an hour to register and then find out that the ferry would leave two hours late, 11 45 pm. So a wander off to the restaurant seemed a good idea. However, the pedestrian walkway is hazardous in the extreme, with huge trucks and buses hurtling around oblivious to the influx of people, many with young children. And information was non-existent. As we got to the restaurant – where you had to re-enter France and therefore carry your passport, for which there was no warning given and therefore many people had to walk back several hundred metres to their cars – there was an announcement telling everyone to get back to their cars as departure was imminent. However, that only applied to people booked on the previous ferry, but that was not explained. There were no information screens and no staff to advise passengers about delays.

The food looked too revolting and the queue too long, so we settled for a snack – but the snack area was filthy with old cigarette butts and grime. There were huge queues for toilets, although there were alternative conveniences which people could have used had the facilities been properly signposted. It was really the sort of experience which one might have expected on a bad day in Soviet Russia.  It was clear that there were just insufficient staff, given that this was going to be a busy day anyway, even without the  loss of one ferry and that investment in the Calais terminal is desperately needed.

  • Andy in Germany

    Wow. Utterly the opposite experience from P and O Rotterdam this month. We were picked up by a friendly bus driver from Rotterdam Centraal, taken to the terminal, through in five minutes and on the ferry in ten, everything spotless, found rooms, lost rooms, given room number again, booking for breakfast not on booking card was solved in thirty seconds flat.
    Same on the way beck Hull-Rotterdam: slick, clean and friendly. Perhaps some of the R’fam-Hull team should be sent south to show the others how to do it.
    Only niggle was also information: staff at the ferry didn’t know what time the bus to Rotterdam Centraal would depart or arrive, even though we’d been told it would be there by ten, asking staff on the ferry created much tutting. Also managing people geting on and off was a bit sloppy, and why do car drivers and tour groups (with some flexibility) have priority over foot passengers with a train to catch?

  • Recently had a generally much more pleasant experience in the western channel, with Brittany Ferries. On the way out, Portsmouth has a nice new terminal building where we had a quick beer before boarding. They only send you through passport control when they’re ready to start forming the lanes for loading. Once onboard (the Bretagne), chucked our overnight bags in the cabin and headed for the self service restaurant- good, reasonably priced food and drinks, and we were eating before we were moving. Retired to the the aft bar, and had a drink or two as the ferry slipped down the Solent and round the Isle of Wight- you stay in UK phone reception for quite a while! Bed, good night’s sleep, up as we head towards the French coast for breakfast, off swiftly and through the “light touch” of French border control. Very, very civilised.

    Way back wasn’t quite so good. The fast cat out of Cherbourg. Port facilities were lacking- huge terminal building, but the bar had stopped serving food (this was around 5pm) and was surly. There was a “genuine” british fish and chip van outside- didn’t bother with it. Once through check in you were also immediately sent through passport control. By the dock there was a facility with a few loos and a coffee vending machine.

    Loading though was swift- even us in a van, with a trailer that only just fitted the inner lower deck. Facilities on board are pretty minimal but it was clean and tidy. Food was sadly reheated, but tasty nonetheless.
    The sting though was UK Border Control- took over an hour of queuing to reach the kiosk. Really poor.

  • Ian Raymond

    That’s why I never use the short-sea routes (and ‘cats) – I’ve always found them pretty poor! I’d recommend Portsmouth-St.Malo, the routes to Hull and Harwich-Hoek to anyone…

    I sometimes wonder if it’s because they get such high volumes of traffic they don’t feel the need to try – until relatively recently, the short Holyhead-Dublin honeypot routes often seemed to display a similar lack of customer awareness.

  • Swansea Jack

    Also got involved in the difficulties at Calais on Friday evening. Arrived at the back of the queue about 20 minutes before our check-in time and took about an hour to reach the check-in desk. We vere fortunate to still make our original sailing as our ferry had suffered some delay earlier in the day due to two medical emergencies we still made the trip, although it was over an hour late by departure time.. The access to berth 9 was rather poor with poor signposting. Really glad I thanked the chap in his van who’d been blocking the access to the 900 lanes for moving when he just told me to f***off – I had been thanking him, but hey ho – it takes all sorts!

    Seemed like a bad day for P&O – they lost their biggest ferry as it failed on its first outward sailing, spending about 6 hours out in the channel, and the ferry we were on had been delayed by 2 separate medical emergencies. P&O managed to swap staff from the failed ferry onto ours to cope with the additional passengers on our sailing – I watched one of their officers showing the unfamiliar staff around their new ship for safety reasons – so well done there. The operation seemed to have been let down by the lack of sufficient quayside staff on the French side as I couldn’t fault the on-board staff at all.

    Sounds as if we were lucky to have arrived in Calais at around 17:00 hrs rather than later – the queues seem to have been far longer later on.

  • RapidAssistant

    If the ferry experience has become as unpleasant as it sounds (personally it’s 10 years since I last used it…so can’t really comment); it begs the question why isn’t Eurotunnel capitalising on it more, yet it still is a financial basket case.

  • Turbostar 171

    Christian, That is like blaming the Train Operationg Company for the facilities and state of a Network Rail run station. The problems are with the Port Of Calais more than P&O. Interestingly, Eurotunnel own the new company “My Ferry Link” operating the old sea France Ferries, so are they and LD Lines as much to blame for the poor facilities at Calais?

  • montmorency

    Harwich would be OK, but (at least for the ferries to Holland) there are never any catering facilities open when you need them! Bizarre. (At least that was the case the last 2 times we went that way).

    A different point, but it’s very sad that you can no longer get a direct train from Liverpool Street to Harwich. . (You have to change at Manningtree). It’s no longer as good on the Dutch side either – have to change trains to get to Amsterdam. In the “good old days” it was simply train-boat-train and it all worked smoothly. Sign of the times I suppose.