Our short story is that we heard on the radio a 5 am that the tunnel was closed, so we went back to sleep and set off late around 10 to try get through the EuroTunnel shuttles. After spending some time in a traffic jam on the A20 caused by Operation Stack (another typical English Dad's Army band-aid-like approach to solving infrastructure issues) we came back on a trailer lorry after out car broke down. Which wasn't that bad since friends of ours spent 18 hours getting through -not that nice with two small children.
At no point Eurotunnel proactively contacted us to advise on the situation, either by email or telephone, mainstream media was at least 2 hours late and we got our most reliable information from Twitter and Facebook.
Jasmine Birtles puts it well here: How not to do it – lessons from Eurostar and Eurotunnel.
Use social media and use it properly. As I pointed out above, I’ve been following #eurostar and #eurotunnel for at least a week and it was quite clear from the start that neither had a proper social media strategy. Eurostar had brought in a fledgling social media company to promote itself on Twitter using the handle @little_break but they hadn’t even taken up the @eurostar name which was used by a guy in China! It took them days to get round to tweeting information – it should have been minutes. People on the stranded trains were tweeting, angrily, the moment they got out of the tunnel. The anger and hatred poured out on the Twittersphere and Facebook (which set up a ‘We hate Eurostar’ group after just a day or so) and was largely ignored for the first all-important 48 hours after the incident. Social Media is here and is a very important means of communication. Ignore it at your peril.
On the causes of the incident, they are now quite well documented (wrong kind of snow), but I must say the PR has been way better in France than in the UK -they got some journos onboard of the test trains, etc... As Daniele Beccari (@danbec) points out in his blog post "Eurostar communication failure: here is a glimpse of what caused it" point out details of the communication breakdown between Eurostar and Eurotunnel, in particular when it comes down to liaising with the staff in the trains inside the tunnel, it's far from clear whom the responsibility lies with.
Daniele concludes that he is "now getting nervous for my future travels, because I don’t like the idea of being left alone in an emergency situation due to gaps in responsibilities."
This same post also goes on to comment that incredible Eurotunnel press statement fingerpointing Eurostar -well worth a read for anyone in communications. They accused Kent Police too -can't think this will benefit them in any ways...
- Eurostar staff inside the trains was probably not allowed to do and say anything at all. They have probably been waiting for information from Eurostar HQ, which was in turn waiting for information from Eurotunnel HQ.
- Eurotunnel staff have executed the emergency operations, and they probably have the instructions to report to central without leaking any information – even to Eurostar staff.
- Eurotunnel HQ has probably taken the time to verify every detail and ensure control before communicating to Eurostar.
- Eurotunnel is not a consumer facing company. Hence I am not sure if they have any marketing, customer service or consumer focused PR agency. I am not sure if they have any procedure for external communication at all. [There is an @eurotunnel Twitter account but it seems never been used].
- This is probably a stretch, but if Eurotunnel zone of responsibility stops just outside the tunnel I wonder if this explains the reports from passengers that they had to wait again for hours once outside the tunnel for someone to come and pick them up.
On my side've tried to send them an email, but all I only ever get was an autoresponder.
Heather Yaxley MIPR echoes this in her post "Winter blunderland – snow highlights poor PR at Eurostar, Eurotunnel and more":
- Marketing messages are still being communicated – I called the Eurotunnel FlexiPlus phone number yesterday (to cancel a booking) and instantly was advised this was the fastest route to France. What a joke!
- When there is a crisis, hiding behind recorded messages is insulting. In the case of Eurotunnel, the customer information line (08444 630000) provided little information and directed customers to the web (www.eurotunnel.com) to rebook. That means of communication was equally poor – and only allowed you to select another date, to travel in the same direction. The online instruction was to call the customer contact centre (08443 35 35 35) to cancel – which was another pathetic recorded message. (Or you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org) Hence, under “contact us” I found the FlexiPlus premium customer line (0844 335 3335) answered (after the marking message) by a real person. Although no apologies were expressed my cancellation was efficiently wiped off the system with a “phew that’s one out of the way” attitude.
- There has been no direct communication with people booked onto either Eurostar or Eurotunnel – and this seems common in other organisations such as the airlines. When making most travel bookings, you are required to provide email and mobile phone contact details. So, why not use these to actually update customers. Relying on media reports, rarely updated websites or recorded customer phone lines does not put the company in control of its own communications. Hence people turn to Twitter and other forums where wider criticism of the organisations soon escalates. I was busy packing my car to leave yesterday when my mum called – she lives in France but heard a television news report regarding Eurotunnel’s “saturation” meltdown – without this, I would have been stuck with two dogs in freezing conditions for hours. A text or email – or preferably both – would have been simple. After all, my dentist, doctor and car dealer all manage to do this for routine matters.
The information provided by Eurotunnel on the situation was to not travel and we decided to tempt our chances again on Tuesday 22nd. We had been unable to either call Eurostar or change our booking via your web site as the reservation below did include a password.
At this point, Eurotunnel was still indicating long delays and even that your Folkestone terminal was closed.
We eventually crossed but this has not only costed us a 180 miles roundtrip and a full day in the car for nothing and we missed two important Christmas celebrations with some relatives we typically only see once a year.
We arrived there and saw the shortest queues we've ever experienced in over 12 years of regular custom!
I believe all that could have been much better managed by Eurotunnel (not to mention Eurostar), via real time communication with their customers by SMS, email and some PR that would focus on actually helping customers (rather than finger pointing Eurostar). Or put in other words, their response has simply been inadequate: answerphone, autoresponder, finger pointing PR.
I've asked Eurotunnel a full refund of my ticket, some vouchers for a new crossing in the future and £100 in compensation for the journey that we undertook in vain and the expenses incurred then. We'll see what we get...
Slate.fr explains (in French) that UK is now much more European than it was 15 years ago and that Brits can't now do without the tunnel anymore. UK isn't an island then?