2009’s last laugh (I hope) – or Damn Eurostar To Hell

PARIS – As a final kick in the pants from My Worst Year, the Eurostar has been cancelled, stranding me and my wife in Paris.  Yes, there are worse places to be stuck.

My comment is about the appalling behaviour of Eurostar.

We boarded a train yesterday. It got as far as Lille where it stopped and we were told we had to return to Paris since the trains were still breaking down in the tunnel.  One would have thought they would have been a bit more certain before piling people into trains and sending them down the line.

We stopped at the Charles de Gaulle station, where we were told to get off the train for a hotel room.

Over the following 5 hours, we received intermittent and garbled communication; on the train, off the train. Stay here for a room; board the train and return to Paris for a room.  No hotel rooms here; no hotel rooms in Paris.

Staff standing 10 meters apart gave different stories (if you could find them) – most were hiding in one of the compartments.  In some ways I didn’t blame them, since it was clear Eurostar had absolutley zero control over whatever was happening.  I would hate to see how this company behaves during a genuine crisis such as a disaster where people were hurt, if they couldn’t manage to think through details as basic as whether to send a train through a tunnel without knowing if it would make the trip.

We returned to our hotel, thankfully where our room was still available.  I called Eurostar, eventually getting through.  How do they handle managing the re-booking?  In the 21st century? How do they ensure customer service and an orderly, controlled experience?

Show up at the station – first come, first served. That should be fun.

I suppose it is actually an expedient solution, and one which saves a fortune on pesky things like IT and software capex.

It will prove interesting to see what transpires, but I need to get back to London and as big a fan of Eurostar as I have been, I hope this opens up channel rail to competition.

It’s not the fact that the weather caused mechanical/electrical problems – that’s life.  I could live with that.

It’s how they acted as a result that shows the character of the organisation and its leadership.  They deserve to fail, plain and simple.

ADDENDUM

We’re booked on  Air France, so watch this space.  Interestingly, Eurostar have already made very specific policies about traveller compensation etc. although they still have yet to communicate how customers are supposed to get home.  I think that speaks volumes to the company culture: they get the money bit, but managing the customer experience, and communication with employees and customers is not a priority.

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