Eurostar: nil points for customer communications in a crisis

Eurostar disastrously failed a key test of costumer communications on Thursday and Friday last week. It failed to inform its customers in a time of crisis. When things are going wrong you need to keep customers informed of developments. Or tell them when you will.

Delay

You may have seeen the coverage of the London end.  I experienced it at Gard du Nord: we were booked on a train to London just before 6pm. We got there 90 minutes before departure to be met with the signs saying it would be delayed by two hours. Little information from the one member of Eurostar staff on the concourse and all lifts and stairs to the first-floor booking office were closed off. So was the Eurostar information desk. Plenty of people milling about.

Brits queue: others go to the front

So, as one does, we want for a drink. On arriving back inside the station the British had done what the British always do in a crisis: they queued.

But there were other nationalities waiting and so the concourse had a bunch of people at the front by the stairs and a long tail of Brits waiting behind. The stairs were blocked by staff. Then a small group was let up. But the escalator was turned off so people had to manhandle heavy baggage up the stairs.

“Check in”: where, how?

The Eurostar notice board called everybody to check in. But we could not get to the check-in desks on the first floor. We stood for hours. There was one Eurostar person by the stair and he was told nothing for 2 hours.

Then a notice came up and advised people to exchange their tickets. But for what and where? Presumably in the booking office on the first floor which was blocked off. Still no information.

Romours start

Then people who had been let up to the first floor started to come down – with their baggage. And the rumours started: there would be no trains tonight. Come back tomorrow at the same time and try to get on a train.

Eventually the official announcement came close to 8pm: there would be no trains tonight: come back tomorrow and exchange your tickets.

So back to the hotel and an extra pleasant night in Paris. “At least you are not in the desert,” the desk receptionist said.

At 10pm there was a notice on the Eurostar website explaining and asking us to exchange tickets, but you could not do that online.

Same info on the site

Just before 8 am the next day, Friday, the same notice was on the site. After an heroic struggle my wife booked us online on a BA flight out in the afternoon.

The lessons from this are:

  1. Inform people of what is going on;
  2. Plan for such an emergency: the Chunnel has been blocked before and will be blocked again;
  3. Get staff who are informed to tell customers face-to-face what is going on;
  4. Don’t let a lonely member of staff have to deal with the thousands of questions people had;
  5. Update your website frequently;
  6. Use the display signs to get accurate information to customers; and
  7. Have online assistance so that people can exchange tickets without facing that disorganised process again.

Marks for Eurostar in this vital test of corporate communications: as they say in the Eurosong competition: Nil points.

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