Eurostar is one of the biggest movers in the 2016 UK Customer Experience Excellence analysis, up 142 places to reach 24th. In this interview, Marc Noaro explains how Eurostar have achieved this great transformation, and how Eurostar have put the customer at the heart of their business.

 

What level of priority does customer experience have in your business?

At Eurostar, the customer is at the centre of everything we do, and we are committed to providing the best possible customer experience at every stage of the journey. Customer experience doesn’t start in the stations or on board, it starts with the customer’s first interaction with Eurostar, and today that’s often online as people start to research their travel options. The business is focused on providing inspiration and suggestions for customers through our marketing channels, making it easy to find journey or destination information on our website or offering advice and suggestions through social media.

Even teams who don’t have direct interaction with passengers are acutely aware of the importance of customer experience and how they play a role in it. At our depot, our engineers responsible for service and maintenance have to have customers front of mind to ensure trains are available on time and offer the high-levels of comfort and reliability our customers expect. Our office-based staff volunteer to support customer service teams at our contact centre and in stations on peak days, either in person, or digitally.

Eurostar is ranked 24th in the 2016 Customer Experience Excellence Centre analysis, up 142 places since 2015. What do you think has driven this customer experience transformation?

Historically we’ve always had positive feedback on the quality of our customer service at our stations and on board.

Over the past year or so, we have made significant changes across the business to further personalise the service we offer and take customer experience to the next level. We recognise that customers have a wealth of choice when it comes to destinations and travel options, and we want our customer experience to stand out from the crowd as we strive to become the most loved travel experience in Europe.

What investments has the business made over the last year or two to drive improvements in customer experience?

The biggest investment for us has been in our new fleet of trains, which came into service at the end of 2015. With the majority of services between London and Paris now covered by our state-of-the-art e320s, customers on board can enjoy stylish interiors by Italian design house Pininfarina as well as connecting to free WiFi and on board entertainment. This has undoubtedly led to an improvement in customer satisfaction levels for both business and leisure travellers.

Alongside the new fleet, a lot of investment has been made behind-the-scenes, and over the last couple of years all of our customer-facing teams have undergone new training in our "Academie du Service" to help better understand and support the varying needs of our customers.

As with any business, we’ve seen a rapid change as customers embrace digital technology, and have been working hard to improve customer experience online to enable customers to self-serve where possible - this includes making changes to bookings, and processing refunds and exchanges in the event that trains are delayed. In addition, we've extended hours at our contact centre to ensure we have 24/7 support on social media if we need it.

Eurostar particularly stands out within the industry for the pillar of Time and Effort. This is one of the hardest pillars to excel in so how does Eurostar achieve this?

In the travel industry, saving customers time and effort is the ultimate selling point. Our product has been built on this principle from the outset - short journey times, fast check-in procedures, city-centre stations and no baggage reclaim or passport checks on arrival. This has provided our customers with an ease of travel which has been integral to our success for more than 20 years.

Outside of our core product, we have recently made a number of improvements to our digital offering to make sure using our product fits in with the way our customers live their lives. For example, the addition of WiFi allows business travellers in particular to make the most of their time on board. We’ve also added digital tools to encourage self-service, and save customers time before or after their journey with us.

In addition we have upgraded our Business Premier offer over the last few years to include a ten-minute check-in and guaranteed boarding. That means our business travellers can turn up just ten minutes before their train departs, and the boarding guarantee offers complete flexibility – if they turn up earlier or later than their booked departure and want to travel straight away, we guarantee a seat on the next train.

Have there been any changes in organisation structure to enable greater focus on customer experience?

We’ve made a number of changes at our customer contact centre to improve the end customer experience. For example, we recently extended our opening hours to give customers greater flexibility in the time they choose to contact us. Agents have also been upskilled so they can be more flexible in dealing with customers – whether the greater demand is on the phone or via our digital channels. Alongside this, our dedicated social media team are on call 24/7 to support customers out of hours if needed.

In stations, we introduced an ideas lab to encourage teams to put forward their ideas for improvements to customer service based on their day-to-day experiences. Every quarter we assemble a panel of experts and invite customer service teams to pitch their ideas. The winner then gets to implement their plan over a trial period, and if it’s successful it becomes "business as usual". This helps to motivate teams to take ownership of improvements in the areas they work.

How do you ensure a consistently great experience across all channels for your customer?

Our service on board has always been an area of positive feedback for us, and our ambition recently has been to extend this across all touch points within a customer’s journey. A lot of this comes down to recognising that customers’ expectations of service has evolved.

We now offer what we call a ‘connected concierge’ service, for example, using our social channels, so that customers can ask questions on Twitter about their journey. This is covered by an on call rota, so we always have someone on hand if needed.

At our stations, we have monthly themes throughout the year which reflect the type of passenger we are more likely to see travel during that period. During the summer months the focus was on families, and how to make it as easy as possible for parents and kids to enjoy their Eurostar experience. Our teams created "kids' corners" in the departure lounges, as well as inviting travellers with young children to board first. This created an extra touchpoint for our staff to interact with customers.

Thinking specifically about the increasing importance of the digital experience, how does your organisation aim to deliver a superior digital experience for your customers?

We start by asking them how they want us to be better. A range of analytics and direct feedback helps us to understand where we can improve, so that our digital strategy is led by our customers, rather than technology. This direct feedback is what leads the digital direction, and our role is to create an organisation that will continue to adapt to ever changing consumer demands, in the future this could be for customer service support using Virtual Reality, or even having a new toothbrush delivered to you as you step off the train.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges to delivering an outstanding customer experience?

Increasingly we are seeing our customer base come from broader territories across the globe, as international travellers from the US, Asia and Australia in particular make Eurostar a part of their trip to Continental Europe. For us, this means that it’s not enough to offer great customer service during the times we run our trains. We need to make it easier for our customers to contact us at any time of the day, wherever they are located, and in whatever time zone they live in.

Businesses also have the challenge of keeping up with changes in consumer technology, and matching that by adapting our online tools to support this. For example smartwatches are still relatively niche at the moment, but if they shift into the mainstream we can look at how we can use them to improve our customers experience further.

Looking to the future, what do you think your organisation will be doing in the next ten years to continue on the path of customer experience excellence?

In the immediate future, customers will have full access to our services online no matter what device they are using. Beyond that we have been changing the way we work as an organisation to become more adaptable to change, in both our ways of working and our technology. We will continue investing in our core technology platforms to speed time to market and reduce the cost of innovation, and we will be releasing improvements to the customer experience on a daily basis and adapting to new consumer technology trends as they emerge. We will move into ways of working that enable continuous service improvement and real-time service recovery delivered by people enabled and supported by the right technology and information.

Personalisation is increasingly important for us, and at our contact centre we have introduced a 'single customer view' showing their journey history, previous interactions, loyalty status, personal requirements etc. This enables contact teams to have a broader base of knowledge when dealing with customers, and the next phase of this would be to bring it to other customer facing teams, in stations and on board. This presents us with an opportunity of much greater levels of personal service.