It’s no secret that P&O Ferries had an absolute PR nightmare earlier this year when they suddenly let go 800 of their employees via a video message, and with recent reports stating P&O Ferries' parent company have just reported record breaking profits, it is no doubt a slap in the face to those members of staff impacted by their mass firing. This year P&O Ferries received YouGov’s lowest ever brand perception scores, showing public sentiment dropped drastically.
Before this all happened, P&O Ferries were working to relaunch their brand, repositioning to appeal to a younger audience, who might not have the same nostalgia around ferry trips that an older audience might. However, there is a complete lack of brand information about P&O Ferries and this rebrand online, so I doubt this was rolled out fully.
So how is their customer experience currently looking amid this nightmare?
We had a family trip booked to The Netherlands earlier this year, the accommodation was booked, we just had to work out how to get there. It’s my partners family tradition to go over on the ferry, taking the cars for ease, but with the news about P&O breaking we were sceptical and reluctant to put money in their pockets. However, with vouchers to use from previous cancellations and no other routes on our dates – P&O it was.
We booked through the website, which the whole family gave the award for the ‘Worst website in the world’…have they ever heard of UX? It was a truly painful experience. From clearing your details and previous searches to glitches and hard to find information. Nevertheless, we got there in the end, and treated ourselves to an upgraded room for £35 extra each room; before you think we’re splashing out, the upgrade included a window and a kettle…
Our trip was looming and we hadn’t received any updates or information regarding our trip despite other family members telling us about emails they’d received with information that we hadn’t received – I’m not sure why.
I’d never been on the ferry before, I was taking my car on and I had no information about what to do at all, it was such a foreign concept of travel for me! Luckily my partner was able to give me all of the details I needed – but if I was going on my own or with friends I wouldn’t have had a clue about what I can/can’t pack, when to arrive or even where to even go.
There was nothing to build the excitement of an upcoming holiday. We did receive one email a couple of days before reminding us of our booking, although this same email was sent to us 12 TIMES!!! What happened there?!
We arrived at passport control at the docks (after making one wrong turn due to lack of signage) and were queuing for about 30 minutes, but I suppose this is what you expect now in most airports! We were then directed onto the ferry and shown where to park, all very straight forward. We tucked the car in for the night and left it below deck (with no alarm on in case it gets a bit rocky!!).
Once we’d entered the main decks of the ferry, we were greeted by a very enthusiastic crew member (who later turned out to be the children’s entertainer) they asked us about our journey, if we were coming to the show tonight and helped us find our cabin. He was full of character and made us feel at home – my partner told me they’d never been greeted on the ferry before…was the greeter a new addition to the customer experience?
The corridors and walkways of the ferry could have been updated, they looked very tired and could have used a lick of paint, but the rooms were a lot more modern, clean and quite spacious!!
Once we’d dropped our bags I was keen to explore and kick start my first ferry experience. Duty free shops, TWO cinemas, two floors of bars, restaurants, cafes I couldn’t believe it! I was expecting a bar, and a restaurant, not much more than that. But there was more…
We sat down in the bar in the evening to find out there would be non-stop entertainment from 5pm – midnight. Apparently there used to be a children’s entertainer and then a performance in the evening, but we had a children’s entertainer, followed by a cabaret performance, a quiz, a musical performance, then another cabaret show! Another hint at improving the customer experience?
I’m not saying this was the best night out on the town, think caravan entertainment on a boat, but when you’re only on there for 12 hours – it’s all good!
Once the entertainment had finished, we decided to call it a night as we were expecting to be up and about early…
We were correct…around 6.30am we received our first wake up announcement, telling us the breakfast buffet was open (a little too early for breakfast for me!). There was another announcement every half an hour, telling foot passengers to depart, coach passengers to depart, but nothing yet for the cars. These were followed by several announcements reminding guests not to congregate around reception – but when we hadn’t received any information about when we’d be able to leave, I understand why people were gathering!
Leaving the ferry was a slow process. We fought through the crowds and got back to our car, to wait about 20 minutes for the rows and rows of cars in front of them to be released, to then be stuck waiting in the queue at passport control for an hour! There was absolutely no order of the queue with cars pushing in, groups of motorbikes being allowed in, queues merging for no reason! It was a really crappy way to start our holiday, especially since the rest of the family had got through ahead of us and were already on their way (despite only starting a few cars ahead).
Once you get through the gruelling passport control queue you’re released into the industrial port of Rotterdam… what a lovely welcome!
Peak end theory suggests a customer journey should end with a high as that will then become the most memorable part of the journey, unfortunately this negative goodbye left a dark cloud over our whole experience. BUT we were on holiday, so it didn’t hang around for long!
Overall, there are quicker and better ways to travel to a destination (like a 1 hour flight), but for the convenience of having your car for a longer stay and unlimited (to an extent) luggage it was well worth it. If P&O are trying to appeal to a younger audience, maybe an audience with patience and wanting to try something new – it works! And I’d absolutely do it again.
As for the actual customer experience, there were a lot of areas for improvement an opportunities to focus on the basics, namely around the booking process, communication throughout the whole journey and the goodbye.
But there definitely seemed to be slight improvements in the entertainment offering in comparison to previous journeys – were they trying to do this as a distractor from their terrible reputation?