A high-visibility approach towards customer service at Eurostar encapsulates the cross-channel company’s ambition to be a leading passenger-focused company.
After unexpected service disruptions and high passenger numbers during the UK stages of the 2014 Tour de France, Eurostar teams wore yellow jerseys – similar to the one worn by the leader of the famous cycling race – and went into the stations and onto the train platforms. With the bright jerseys emblazoned with the words “Eurostar Team”, employees were instantly recognisable to passengers needing information on delays or timetable changes.
The proactive practice has endured and “Les Maillots jaunes” (“the yellow jerseys”) now provide a reassuring presence at times of disruption or peak passenger traffic.
Delphine Merlot, head of customer service delivery, recalls passenger comments during the Tour de France: “The feedback from customers was, ‘It was great because they were so many people on the ground to help us’. It was as if they had forgotten we couldn’t deliver on our promise of smooth travel. The operational team as well as the office team were more visible because they were wearing the yellow T-shirts.” The mobilisation of the yellow-shirted teams complements other information channels such as social media, an online help desk and a forthcoming live chat service.
The meaning of a customer-centric service culture
Delphine defines service culture at the 22-year-old organisation as “a commitment by a company – and obviously its employees – to make sure they deliver an excellent service to the customers”. She explains that this culture encourages Eurostar’s 1,800 employees across the UK, France and Belgium to ensure that “everything that we do is done because it is going to have a positive impact on our customers.”
For her, service culture is not simply a written statement or a slogan, “It is about behaviour… You know if you have a service culture through people, not through papers”. She adds: “A service culture must be authentic and personified in order to be felt by our customers; it must feel natural. What matters most is the company’s emotional engagement with our passengers, both face-to-face and through digital channels.”
What does such engagement mean in practice? For Eurostar, it means standing out from competitors by aiming to do more than simply taking customers from one European capital to another. Delphine says: “A journey on Eurostar is a genuine experience; the journey must take place without the slightest hitch and have a touch of magic. One of our USPs is that we’re traveling under the sea, and that for me has an air of Jules Verne. Our train managers and their teams offer advice, without being intrusive, to make the journey as smooth and easy as possible. They tell passengers about the new features on the new trains: our Wi-Fi connections, USB ports and how to use the reclining seats. Meanwhile, our station-based teams spot passengers who travel for special occasions.”
To give an example, Delphine remembers a recent Paris-to-London crossing where the team sang “Happy Birthday” and offered champagne to a passenger who had been celebrating her 40th birthday with her family at Disneyland Paris. There are also perks for loyal customers, with frequent travellers collecting reward points that they can spend at certain shops and on further train travel .
Creating moments to remember for customers
Delphine, in charge of customer service across all three countries in which Eurostar operates, believes in creating cross-channel “moments to remember”. This, she says, encourages an emotional bond between customer and carrier: “Our ambition is to be a brand that people relate to and tell stories about. We want to be part of their life, not just a way of getting from one city to another… The beauty of our team is that they know how to create memorable moments… They are using emotional skills, they are free to decide how to make the customer experience unique – a random act of kindness, you could say, as with the passenger celebrating her 40th birthday”. The company is deploying a new system that enables team members to see if the passenger is a first-time customer or a longtime user of the service, so they can tailor their interactions accordingly and create the right experience at the right time.
Eurostar, in comparison with its competitors, is a small company and Delphine leads a team of just five people. This is an advantage because it enables greater interaction with customers. “We are lucky to be a relatively small company and we are very lucky to have our headquarters just across the road from our customers,” says Delphine of her bases near St Pancras, Paris Nord and Brussels Midi, from where the trains arrive and depart. “I don’t think I could work in a company where I couldn’t speak with my customers every day” she says. “The fact that I can cross the road and ask my customers a question is essential to the work I do.”
Employing people who have this ability to engage with passengers is vital. With this in mind, says Delphine, recruitment is based on whether or not a candidate’s personality fits with the company’s customer-centric values, rather than on their knowledge of the firm or sector. She adds: “Knowledge you can teach, but attitude is much more difficult. ‘Behaviours before diplomas’—that drives our interviews internationally”.
While around 10,000 passengers are formally surveyed every year, gathering signals and responding to customer views on social media has also became important. “Twitter is where we hear the most about our customers’ spontaneous feelings,” says Delphine
Tailor-making customer service
However, it is vital to acknowledge that one size does not fit all when it comes to customer interaction: “We need to be very careful with digitalisation, personalising a service… We have a lot of customers that will want to interact with the train manager via Twitter, for example, and we want to be attractive to the younger generations. But we’ve also got different generations in our team, and we need to use their respective strengths to make sure they correspond to the behavior of our customers of different generations.”
As for challenges, an obvious one is the language difference and therefore ensuring that translations are accurate and – most of all – culturally meaningful. Delphine gives an example: “At Eurostar we aspire to be the most-loved travel experience in Europe. If you say to French-speaking people “nous voulons être l’expérience de voyage la plus aimée en Europe”, it’s not the same as “la plus appréciée”. The strength of the feeling is totally different. While in English working culture people are comfortable talking about love in relation to work, this is not the case for most French professionals. It is very important that, whatever you translate, it has the right meaning for the country’s culture.”
Delphine stresses this simple but fundamental point: developing a unified and consistent service culture means being mindful of the subtle differences in culture and language of the different territories in which an organisation operates.
Key messages from Eurostar:
- a wide range of communication platforms and methods maximizes opportunities for customer interaction
- use of digital and social media is vital – but a sole reliance on such techniques risks excluding those less familiar with such media
- creating memorable moments for customers strengthens their trust in the brand