Libbie Hammond talks to Perrine Allain, Head of Digital at Eurostar, about how she and her team are delivering a better digital experience for customers
With eight years at the helm of leading the digital transformation of Eurostar, Perrine Allain’s role involves shaping the strategy across the company’s digital platforms and establishing a data driven culture. “The focus of our strategy is to ensure that everything we do benefits the customer, and provides them with a more seamless and effortless travel experience,” she began by explaining, when asked about the way that Eurostar has embraced the use of technology and how it is being implemented. “One part of this is through developing self-service tools, allowing customers to make changes to a booking themselves through our website or app 24/7 and without the need to contact us. This could be changing a booking, making an upgrade, or requesting compensation when things don’t go to plan. We have also introduced ticketing through Google Pay which was a world first, giving customers the ability to add mobile tickets to Google Pay providing a more seamless experience with their ticket saved directly to their de ice.”
One of the benefits of the Google Pass solution is that it helps passengers organise paperless tickets, and as Perrine noted, it also supports Eurostar’s plans to reduce paper usage by 50 per cent by 2020. “This is just one part of our ten-point plan to reduce our carbon footprint,” she added. “Since the end of 2017 the amount of paper tickets printed in our stations has been reduced by over 50 per cent. We now email customers with their ticket immediately after a booking to encourage use of tickets on mobiles and continue to see use of this increase.”
Another great example of how Eurostar is using very innovative technology is Pepper, an interactive humanoid robot, which in Perrine’s words, is ‘a fun way for customers to find out about their journey and destination.’ The first robot with the ability to recognise principal human emotions and adapt her own behaviour accordingly, Pepper was recruited to entertain and help customers, and in partnership with Robots of London she can respond to questions or even pose for a selfie on request.
Located in the departure lounge at London St. Pancras, Pepper interacts with passengers using an inbuilt tablet, where travellers will find an interactive station map, information about the on-board experience, as well as a wealth of destination tips for Paris, Brussels, Lille and Amsterdam.
Of course, the addition of Pepper is just one of a range of technological innovations that Eurostar has committed to in order to enhance the customer experience. “We are continuously monitoring trends and technology habits to see if we can adapt our digital offering to reflect this,” agreed Perrine. “So, in recognition of the way the public are increasingly using voice services we have introduced an Alexa skill for Eurostar, which enables customers to simply ask Alexa to find the lowest fare over a date range and be provided with the lowest price for those days of travel. As mobile use continues to increase our app is constantly being improved and developed, with the latest changes including a new ‘arrival’ state providing onward transport maps and the ability to book attraction tickets.”
With the mention of mobile phone use, Perrine also highlighted a challenge – delivering quality wi-fi on trains travelling at high-speed through areas with limited signal. “Whilst we have had wi-fi on our new and refurbished trains since 2015 we acknowledge that this can be improved,” she said. “We are starting to install a new solution across our fleet, which will be rolled out throughout the summer and we look forward to hearing feedback from our passengers.”
Innovative technological solutions have also been embraced to aid passengers who may need additional assistance; recently in another first for the rail industry, Eurostar launched its visual guide for travellers with autism. “We worked with a charity called Ambitious About Autism to carry out a review of our travel experience, and were advised that customers with autism are more comfortable after seeing information in advance with sights and sounds. We want to make the Eurostar experience smooth and stress-free for all of our travellers, so we have created a virtual guide, which means that autistic passengers can access this information ahead of a journey, and this can help those that may be anxious about travelling.”
The visual guide provides 360 videos of every stage of the boarding process – from going through the ticket gates, to clearing security and then getting on board the train. Available on the Eurostar website, it also provides information about what is required of passengers and where they will need to go.
“Recently we have also improved the process for making wheelchair bookings, and introduced a new procedure for non-accredited assistance dogs,” Perrine added, highlighting Eurostar’s attention to detail when ensuring all passengers needs are catered to when travelling.
Eurostar prides itself on continually evolving to ensure it is offering the best possible journey from booking to arrival (or even further) and the use of technology to offer value-added extras is something with which it is very familiar. But as Perrine concluded, any changes that are made are always led by how the customer experience can be enhanced. “We continually have analytics in place and collect regular customer feedback to help us identify areas to improve. When developing changes, we conduct frontline research with our teams, go through user testing and then build once we have fully understood our customers’ needs. We are also trialling new technology to enhance the customer experience,” she concluded, illustrating how Eurostar embraces tried and tested methods in combination with innovative new approaches, in order to deliver that ‘seamless passenger experience’.