Eurostar: Matching dynamic challenges with dynamic IT
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Eurostar: Matching dynamic challenges with dynamic IT

Jessica Twentyman — October 2015

The technology team at the international train operator has had to react to Europe’s unfolding refugee crisis with highly responsive, customer-centric IT services, says Eurostar CIO Antoine de Kerviler.

As Europe’s refugee crisis has unfolded over recent months, services on Eurostar, the cross-channel train network linking the UK with France and Belgium, have faced serious disruption. A particular flashpoint has been the French coastal town of Calais, where trains entering and exiting the Channel tunnel have been delayed or in some cases forced to turn back to their point of departure, due to people on the tracks trying to make their way to the UK.

The situation has had repercussions for the IT department at Eurostar, according to CIO Antoine de Kerviler, but his team is working hard to ensure it doesn’t derail its mission of delivering a better customer experience to Eurostar passengers. In some respects, he says, it’s been an opportunity to learn what the company could be doing better, and to put some new customer-experience strategies into effect.

“When Eurostar faces a commercial disruption it has a direct impact on us in IT, because we immediately stop any changes to our systems for the duration of the disruption. My thinking is this: every time you make an IT change, you introduce risk. That’s true whether you’re updating the website, installing a new operating system release or changing a firewall rule.”

“So during a period of disruption we don’t make any information system changes that involve the slightest risk that employees in stations and on trains might not be able to access the systems they need to help and advise passengers. Absolutely not.”

“Passengers who need to travel tomorrow need an answer today. So we’ve come up with a way to escalate high-priority cases.”

But that doesn’t mean IT staff sit idle, he says. On the contrary, it gives them more time to focus on their top priority — improving the customer experience. “It forces them to be more creative about how we enable customers to adjust their itineraries and change their travel plans. We know that customers want to re-plan and get a new schedule in place as quickly as possible, so it’s a time to look closely at how well we’re doing that.”

Earlier this year, for example, Eurostar introduced a new online form on its website for travellers to submit their rebooking preferences. This feeds into the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, allowing customer-service employees to prioritize requests based on when a customer needs to travel.

“Passengers who need to travel tomorrow need an answer today. We understand that, so we’ve come up with a way to escalate high-priority cases and deal with them first,” he explains.
Refining customer experience

Over the next few months, de Kerviler’s team will launch a self-service online compensation app for customers caught up in delays. Again, this will feed into Salesforce. “With this app, they’ll be able to quickly create a case online and receive an immediate answer with their electronic voucher, instead of having to request [compensation] by mail and wait for an answer,” he says.

In addition, Eurostar has replaced its legacy intranet with a social community for employees based on Salesforce’s application development platform. This enables staff to communicate real-time information about situations they’re seeing on stations and trains, from any device. It will soon be supplemented by a page that shows them how many passengers are scheduled to travel on Eurostar on a given day, which trains are running and what on-time performance looks like

Some improvements have been introduced in direct response to this year’s disruptions, according to de Kerviler. Others have been driven by the need to improve on existing customer-experience services that didn’t satisfy customers — the time it takes Eurostar to issue refunds, for example, has been reduced from a couple of weeks to a couple of days.

The vast majority of improvements are as a result of the close cooperation between his IT department and Eurostar’s commercial team. And de Kerviler’s wants to cast the net wider when it comes to new ideas for applications or services that would help Eurostar better serve its customers. Around 40 of his 100-strong IT team are developers, but he’s interested in establishing a team of ‘citizen developers’ outside of the IT department to contribute to the effort.

“I only heard this term ‘citizen developers’ recently and I love it,” he says. “That’s what we are going to try and do. We’ve identified ten people already and are building a center of excellence that they’ll all be part of.”

“They’ll come from the places where there’s the biggest need: operations and engineers, the guys running servers under their desks.” The one thing they’ll have in common, he says, is that they all do work that contributes to making passenger journeys smoother, and have specific insights into how IT can help them improve that work.

“There’s a real crisis happening and people know trains get cancelled. We need to give them options to re-plan their travel.”

It’s been a tricky period at Eurostar, but on the whole, customers have been very understanding: “There’s a real crisis happening, trains get cancelled. People know that — they’ve seen it on TV. What’s not acceptable is if we don’t give them options to help them re-plan their travel as easily as possible.”

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” he continues. “The last time we had a disruption we were able to process most customer cases within 24 hours — or at least, we were able to tell our customers within hours what we could do to help them.

• Antoine de Kerviler has moved on to become global head of rail and ground travel at Amadeus IT Group.

First published October 2015
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