You’ve probably been there as many times as I have: You’re in your car, idling angrily at the very back of a massive lineup for a ferry. The line is so long that you can’t even see the terminal let alone have any clue if you’re in for a two or three-sailing wait. I’ve been in that situation so many times I have my own personal hashtag for it: #ferrystress.
If you’re like me, you may have reached for your phone to tap out an angry tweet to @bcferries to see why you’re not immediately being loaded onto the Queen of Surrey. Your frustration boils through your fingers as you type out your furious indignation at North America’s largest ferry fleet.
“Whenever there’s heavy volume, mechanical problems, or weather issues, yes, we hear from people like you,” says Rhonda Daye, the cool, calm and collected manager of customer relations for BC Ferries. “We respond to those tweets usually within five minutes. Our team has all gone through a lot of training. When we respond, we try to remain calm and take the emotion out of it."
Hi Grant, may I please ask what the route is you wish to reserve? And when are you planning to travel? ^mc— BC Ferries (@BCFerries) January 5, 2018
As someone who punishes my family by lining up for multiple BC Ferries every long weekend of the spring and summer, I’ve received plenty of those responses. I’ve always been amazed at how quickly my mean tweet is returned with a pleasant, personalized and informed answer.
“I think people are generally surprised that get a response as quickly as they do, and that there’s a real person at the other end,” Daye says. “That usually calms people down. Most people seem to appreciate it.”
If you're unable to find a seat due to peoples belongings, please speak w/ the Chief Steward onboard as they will be able to assist you immediately. ^kn— BC Ferries (@BCFerries) May 13, 2018
The respectful tweets defusing stressed-out ferry customers have fascinated me for years. Who are these people behind the scenes in the BC Ferries war room, taking all that abuse and signing their pleasant responses with cute, lower case initials? In advance of the 2018 May long weekend, one of the busiest of the year, I decided to find out.
“We have 12 to 14 different BC Ferries employees who are trained to manage our social accounts,” Daye explains over the phone from their head office in downtown Victoria.
Unfortunately, the 3:25pm sailing is cancelled & it is unlikely the air compressor motor will be fixed in time. I am so sorry for the inconvenience. ^kn— BC Ferries (@BCFerries) May 13, 2018
“On most normal days, we separate the shifts into morning and afternoon, and it’s usually just one person managing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, customer email bookings and phone calls. You have to be a pretty good at multitasking to work here.” Extra bodies, just like extra sailings, are added on long weekends.
Daye has worked for BC Ferries since 2006. It was in 2010 when the corporation embraced Twitter as an effective means of direct communication with customers.
“At first we were just observing the online conversation,” Daye remembers. “We figured out pretty quickly that we needed to start pushing out information, so we did. We realized that the conversation is going happen with or without us. Without us, there can be a lot of misinformation. We decided that we needed to be present.” BC Ferries currently has 79.3K Twitter followers.
Daye understands customer frustration, especially during long weekends when everyone is travelling all at once. “We understand the role that BC Ferries plays in people’s lives. They are depending on us to get them to where they want to go, and if they can’t get there, we hear about it.”
Daye says traffic at the terminals is already up considerably in 2018, which is steering us towards another busy summer on the Salish Sea. Much of that is due to the weak Canadian dollar: we’re staying close to home and the Americans are headed north.
That brings us to the impending long weekend, and Daye has advice to make your sailing smoother. “It almost goes without saying that on long weekends you should try and get a reservation. Show up early and be prepared to wait. Have things to do, things to eat and drink. One other important tip is to always check for current sailing conditions on our website before you leave home. That can save you a lot of stress if there’s any issues at the terminal.”
Here’s wishing you all the best this Victoria Day long weekend, and may it be free of #ferrystress. See you at the back of the line.