A few weeks ago it was announced that BC Ferries had decided to keep $1.2 million in expired pre-paid travel vouchers purchased by loyal customers. These tickets have been around for years. If tickets were not used in one calendar year, passengers usually rolled them over into the next year and BC Ferries honoured this. For some reason they decided to end this practice and announced that the vouchers would have an expiry date – use ‘em or lose ‘em. According to BC Ferries, they went out of their way to inform ticket holders that these were the new regulations. But it seems as if their efforts failed. Shocked and awed hardly describes the reaction of customers when they learned that their un-used tickets were now worthless. The story made headline news in local papers and a later Angus Reid poll showed that 90% of British Columbians think BC Ferries should refund the money. To make matters worse, the company CEO, Mr. David Hahn, offered what can be wistfully described as a back-handed compliment when he said that BC Ferries customers were sophisticated customers and should have been aware of the new rules and regulations. What the customers heard was:   “too bad, so sad”.

Ouch.

Here are the impacts of his statement:

  1. As Captain of the team, he single-handedly threw his teammates under the bus. What do you think is the ground level reality for all of the ticket takers, traffic directors, cafeteria workers and other front-line staff now? They’re the ones stick-handling the angry comments, accusations and vitriol of understandably frustrated passengers. Remember, if you’re not serving the customer directly, you’re serving someone who is.
  2. People have been grumbling about BC Ferries for years and a slew of back-to-back disasters didn’t help its reputation much. In the aforementioned Ipsos Reid poll, 71% of respondents thought control of the organization should be handed back to the government. With an election just around the corner, it’s possible that, if BC Ferries continues to founder, the CEO could be viewed as a political liability.

However, the bottom line is that people don’t have much of a choice when it comes to traveling to and from the Island. So really, why should David Hahn take ownership? This CEO runs a monopoly so why should he care? We are asked this question quite often – how do you strive to be better when you have no competition?  Or in the case of the front line – why should I take ownership when leadership fails to? The answer is quite simple – you are your own competition. There are huge personal gains to be made by continually raising the bar and challenging yourself in your daily quest for excellence.

A true Leader is someone who has the integrity to take full responsibility for the quality of his/her service, its impact and its outcome. Excellence in service is something to be proud of. When it falls short, then it needs to be fixed. In this particular case, Ownership would take the form of a sincere apology for not looking at a decision from the customers’ perspective, apologizing for the upset it caused and then changing the policy so that it applies only to new passes.

We think BC Ferries can still turn the ship towards public favour…if they can find the courage. Do you agree?

Remember, nobody ever thought there would be a Chunnel from England to France…