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Largest UK Ferry Operator Offers Bi-Lingual Gaelic & English Customer Care Service

16th January 2020
The main Isle of Arran ferry on the Forth of Clyde service linking Ardrossan and Brodick AFLOAT adds has the name of the vessel displayed in both English and Gaelic. The ferry Caledonian Isles (Eileanan Chaledonia) is one of the largest in the 33 strong fleet operating in Scotland's Western Isles. The main Isle of Arran ferry on the Forth of Clyde service linking Ardrossan and Brodick AFLOAT adds has the name of the vessel displayed in both English and Gaelic. The ferry Caledonian Isles (Eileanan Chaledonia) is one of the largest in the 33 strong fleet operating in Scotland's Western Isles. Photo: Jehan Ashmore

The largest UK ferry and harbour operator is adding to its support for Gaelic speakers by offering a bi-lingual English and Gaelic customer care service.

As a pilot project over the summer the Scottish ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) created a new customer care centre in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis (see Afloat coverage of Irish Sea ferry trials). The pilot project has led to six new jobs in the capital of the island which forms part of the Outer Hebrides. CalMac has now confirmed this as a permanent fixture with staff there enhancing the Gaelic face of the company.

Previously assistance from a Gaelic speaker was only available to Gaelic-speaking customers telephoning or visiting port offices in Gaelic-speaking areas, but now anyone who would like to make an enquiry in Gaelic can be transferred to a native speaker to deal with their booking.

The Stornoway team will also be steadily transforming CalMac's social media channels into a bi-lingual offering as well.

There are around 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, and the majority of people living in the Western Isles are able to speak Gaelic.

'We are committed to looking at ways of spreading jobs more evenly across our area of operations and I'm delighted to confirm that the summer pilot we ran in Stornoway will now be a permanent fixture in the town,' said CalMac's Managing Director, Robbie Drummond.

'Given the prevalence of the Gaelic language in the Western Isles it was a natural step to make this the centre of our new bi-lingual customer service offering.

'This is something we have been keen to introduce for some time and this new centre now gives us the capacity to support this.'

CalMac has long history of support for the Gaelic language, including as the principal commercial supporter of the Royal National Mod.

Shona MacLennan, Chief Executive, Bord na Gaidhlig welcomed the news. 

'We always welcome new developments which contribute to the National Gaelic Language Plan's aim that more people use Gaelic more often in more situations.  CalMac's introduction of this service will support that aim, and is particularly appropriate in their customer care centre which in Stornoway.  By locating those jobs in a Gaelic speaking community this will bring important economic benefits to the Western Isles,' she said.

CalMac currently employs around 1700 people from Campbeltown (Mull of Kintyre) in the south to Stornoway in the north, 60% of them living and working in fragile coastal or island communities. Last year they carried more than 5.6 million passengers on its fleet of 33 vessels across 28 routes to island and remote mainland destinations. 

CalMac's customer service team handles more than 300,000 calls and 44,000 emails every year. 

They have achieved the highest level of accreditation from the Contact Centre Association for the quality of its customer service who described them as 'a competent, well managed, highly customer focused operation.'

They were particularly impressed by the development and use of social media to keep passengers up-to-date. Over the last year the team managed almost 30,000 social media messages and has attracted more than 100,000 online followers.

'Our social media platforms have a large and loyal following which continues to grow as passenger numbers increase. Being able to offer bi-lingual messages allows us to focus even more closely on how we speak to customers in a way that suits them best,' added Robbie.  

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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