One for the community

Providing a vital connection between communities on Scotland’s west coast, thus contributing to their social and economic development, David MacBrayne Ltd, through its ferries arm Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), is the UK’s largest ferry operator. Having recognised the central role it plays for the people living in the region, the company has taken it upon itself to make sure that it keeps a high percentage of service reliability, whilst actively launching and supporting community-oriented activities and operating in an environmentally-friendly way.

There may still be more than a month to go before we leave 2019 behind us, but CalMac can already report an increase in passenger numbers compared to 2018, with the carrying figure of 5.6 million certain to rise by the end of the year. “We have operated 162,335 of 164,089 scheduled sailings, giving us an excellent rate of 99.4 per cent service reliability,” states group Chief Executive, Duncan Mackison.

“Over the past 12 months, we have introduced a number of developments that have made us more efficient and have allowed us to serve more customers,” Duncan continues. “For example, we formed a new dedicated team dealing with island businesses to deliver extra car spaces, thanks to more efficient on-board deck management. The team was established to manage businesses that have a requirement to block book space on board and its introduction is in response to feedback from community groups across the network who had identified this as a key issue affecting their service.

“Demand for space on ferries has never been greater, as vehicle traffic has grown by more than 31 per cent since 2011,” he adds. “We are aware that, with capacity being constrained, the block booking system has become a target for those frustrated by the lack of available space. However, it goes to the heart of providing a ‘lifeline’ ferry service. After all, hauliers need to travel almost every day to supply the essentials island communities depend on and they are also critical to local economies and businesses carrying produce from the islands to the markets on the mainland and beyond. Since the creation of the new team, we have successfully freed up deck space much earlier to the travelling public than would have been possible previously.”

Further evidence of CalMac’s commitment to helping support local communities, is the doubling of the number of Modern Apprentices (MAs) employed by the company in the last two years. “At this point in time, we have 23 MAs across Deck, Engineering, Retail, and Port Operation roles. The increase has been driven by our desire to improve the flow of skilled workers for the future and it warms our hearts that our apprenticeships are being recognised externally. For example, our Retail MA that was designed in partnership teamwith City of Glasgow College won this year’s Association of Colleges’ (AOC) Beacon Award in the ‘City & Guilds College Engagement with Employers’ category, having been acknowledged for offering meaningful employment to young people in remote island communities.”

To Duncan, CalMac’s front-line contact centre staff are the face of the organisation. The company has always taken pride in the outstanding customer service it offers and this past May it put another feather in its cap. Recognised for the helpfulness and professionalism of its Customer Service Team, CalMac became the first UK organisation to be awarded a new level of ‘Global Standard’ accreditation by the Contact Centre Association (CCA) by passing the new, more stringent customer service audit.

“First impressions last. Therefore, it is vital that what we are saying to customers directly is right first time, every time,” Duncan maintains. “Our staff deal with incredibly complex and challenging situations on a daily basis and I am glad that their hard work has been recognised by the CCA. The Association assessor described our team as a ‘competent, well-managed, highly customer-focused operation’, also praising core strengths such as staff commitment to ongoing improvement and an ‘impressive’ approach to dealing with complaints.”

In order to further facilitate the customer journey for its passengers, CalMac has improved the functionality of its online reservations system, too. Duncan comments: “Since this year, our web booking system allows customers to save their payment details and make changes to reservations online. Furthermore, as part of other improvements to our ticketing system, passengers can now print multiple tickets on one page, significantly cutting down on paper use. The next step we are looking to take, is partner with a company that can supply a proven system, which can provide smart ticketing across all digital platforms.”

Environmental issues have moved to the forefront of CalMac’s thinking across the business. The organisation outlined four key targets in its new Environmental Strategy, whose achievement will take it closer to becoming a green leader within the industry. “We are delighted to announce that we are about to cut our carbon emissions by five per cent by the end of 2019 against a 2016 baseline. In addition, we want to reduce water consumption by ten per cent by 2020, deliver action-led biodiversity plans at half of our sites by the end of next year, and also increase recycling rates by a minimum of 15 per cent,” Duncan reveals.

“The significant reduction of our carbon footprint is mainly down to the use of more efficient fuel monitoring systems,” he explains. “Then, we are working to cut single-use plastics on board and introducing more efficient waste management systems to help reduce, reuse, and recycle more effectively. This will be backed with a new programme, designed in conjunction with our partners to raise awareness of the impact of marine litter.

“Last but not least, we are especially proud of our Marine Awareness Programme, which raises the profile of the biodiversity of wildlife across the west coast. Since 2015, we have worked with a marine mammal charity called ORCA on the Oceanwatch mammal survey to better understand mammal populations in European waters. We are keen on expanding and building on our efforts over the next few years, with a view to educate passengers about the fantastic biodiversity contained in our waters.”

As 2019 is drawing to a close, Duncan elaborates on CalMac’s vision for next year: “We will continue to generate social and economic value for our communities by being an organisation that puts their needs at the heart of all of our operations. We have driven multiple beneficial service improvements for our customers and promoted greater environmental awareness this year and we look forward to develop these further over the next 12 months.”

Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac)
Developed more efficient on-board deck management in 2019
Cutting its carbon emissions by five per cent compared to 2016
Has won numerous awards throughout the year