Meet the crew

Positively Exceptional

by Jessica Natale Woollard

“Everyone coming on board has a need. They’re happy, sad, sick, going to weddings, funerals. It's a new town every two hours.” — Hardeep Parmar, customer service attendant, MV Klitsa

Clad in his bright BC Ferries safety vest, Hardeep Parmar greets passengers like old friends as he takes their tickets and welcomes them aboard the MV Klitsa. It’s a beautiful day at the Brentwood Bay ferry terminal, but even the rainiest weather couldn’t put a damper on Parmar’s sunny personality.

The driver of a silver pickup truck opens his door to greet Parmar with a warm handshake. “Heading up-island again?” Parmar asks, and the two chat.

At the next car, he asks the driver how her father is doing. When he spots a woman dragging her luggage, he runs to her side and takes over the hauling duties — she shouldn’t have to struggle with bags, he says.

Interactions like these are all in a day’s work for Parmar, 53, a customer service attendant on the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay route with BC Ferries since 2010. His philosophy: “Passengers should leave a ferry happier than when they come on board.”

So he sits with elderly guests travelling alone; he soothes crying toddlers with sweet treats; he asks families about hockey games, doctors’ appointments and summer vacations. And he salutes passengers as they drive off the ferry, wishing them well on their trips.

A SMALL TOWN

Parmar was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley. A child of immigrants from India, he grew up amid a close-knit community, many of whom — including Parmar’s family — worked in Vancouver Island’s forestry industry.

Life is busy for Parmar, who is married and has two children — a daughter, 16, and a son, 8.

A BC Ferries employee since 2010, he says passengers on a ship are like citizens of a small town.

“Everyone coming on board has a need,” he says. “They’re happy, sad, sick, going to weddings, funerals. It’s a new town every two hours.”

And it’s a town where he could probably be elected mayor. Parmar has received plenty of praise: “He is so friendly and makes the trip just a little more pleasant,” reads one note a customer sent to BC Ferries.

Passenger Jay Creasey, 16, of Victoria says Parmar seems like “the kind of guy who’d find $500 in a wallet and return it.” Adds Brentwood Bay’s Barb Whittington: “He’s kind and fun. I’m always glad when he’s on.”

Parmar, however, doesn’t think he does anything special — he’s just interested in people. “In the six minutes I interact with someone, I want to build a meaningful relationship,” he says.

PICKING UP ON CUES

In January 2014, Parmar won a Victoria Hospitality Award for exceptional customer service. A passenger whose car battery had died nominated him after he helped boost her vehicle and get her on board in time to make a chemotherapy appointment. He continued to check on her throughout the sailing to make sure she was comfortable.

Captain Sidney Allison, one of four masters of the MV Klitsa, says Parmar is able to read people. “There’s a reason a person smiles, there’s a reason a person frowns. He can pick up on cues,” he says.

Parmar’s outstanding reputation among passengers has not gone unnoticed by management, either. His supervisor Sean Westwood, BC Ferries catering superintendent for the south coast, asked him to join a working group in BC Ferries’ customer service program.

“We wanted to find out what he was doing to be earning so much positive feedback,” Westwood says — especially since in the customer service sector it’s much more typical for people to contact management about negative experiences rather than positive ones.

The group found that Parmar’s sterling reputation was built on three qualities: professionalism, greeting people with a smile and communicating with passengers. Those qualities are now built into the BC Ferries customer service program.

Parmar’s personable demeanour and friendly face make it easy to open up to him. His interest in people is genuine; his cheerfulness unforced.

“People come on board and grace us with their presence,” Parmar says. “We’re part of their day.”

Says passenger Al Tom: “I feel fortunate to have Hardeep take my ticket.”