In our last blog post on our return on investment in customer service: the bottom line report we looked at what customer service drivers organisations think will bring the biggest returns in the future, noting the growing importance of ‘softer’, experiential factors such as the whole customer experience and linking customer service processes, people and strategy.

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Despite the difficulty in measuring these drivers and their impact on the bottom line, there's plenty of evidence to indicate organisations are taking them increasingly seriously (perhaps noting Apple’s huge profits). In this post we'll look at how Eurostar redesigned their service processes based on customer experience, using customer and front line staff input and some qualitative, anthropological research.

Establishing an emotional bond with customers in order to drive customer loyalty

Avantage is Eurostar's cultural change programme. It was created after company research revealed that customers thought the company was operationally professional but lacked “emotional attachment, personality and flair”. It was rolled out in early 2010.

Operational excellence creates customer satisfaction. We need to have loyalty in a competitive world, so people come back to us and feel a strong bond with Eurostar. We need to engage our customers so they choose to travel with us. Sarah Thomas, head of the Avantage programme

Historically, Eurostar operated a rail monopoly, but its routes were opened up to competition in 2010. Management felt that the company needed to focus on customer loyalty and establish some form of emotional bond with its customers, in order to adapt to this more competitive market.

Designing a service process based on customer experience

The Avantage programme consists of seven steps, including develop the concept of ‘service personality and design from the customer view point.

Eurostar used specialist anthropological researchers to create an emotional ‘map’ of the highs and lows of a Eurostar train journey. The researchers travelled with passengers and studied their body language.

This map was used as the basis for a series of service design workshops. Interestingly, no Eurostar managers were involved — just front line staff and customers.

The workshops generated 131 recommendations, of which 97 were implemented by the company.

Improving customer experience by reducing anxiety

The anthropological research revealed that some customers became anxious during pre-boarding at Brussels, which took place in an underground area of the station. Now, as part of the service process, check-in staff actively look out for signs of worry on this part of the journey, provide support where necessary and allow earlier boarding to ease congestion. Eurostar has also built a special lounge in this area of the station.

Research into the emotional experience of a train journey lead to changes at Eurostar's Brussels check-in

Providing assistance in self-service areas

The research also identified a customer need for support in self–service ticket areas. Although this appeared counter-intuitive to staff, and some felt that providing assistance in these station areas was ‘patronising’ to customers, it became evident that a presence helped answer non–ticketing customer queries, such as how to get to a train quickly if the customer was late.

Measuring the ROI of customer experience and emotion

The Avantage programme is still new and Eurostar, like many organisations we study in our research report, is finding ways of measuring more complex metrics such as employee engagement and customer experience. (Some organisations may also be reticent with this information as it's commercially valuable).

I think the leaders of Eurostar instinctively feel it is the right thing to do when faced with competition... but they still want proof at the end of the day and it has to be cost neutral, with profitability at the end of it, because we are a business. Sarah Thomas, head of the Avantage programme

The company continues to measure satisfaction (it will remain an important metric in the future and is a reliable indicator of operational ‘hygiene’). Before Avantage satisfaction scores were flat at around 7.5/10, but since roll out scores have increased to over 8/10.

Customers also rate Eurostar qualitatively and emotionally; ‘warm’ and ‘friendly’ are two of the most frequent words used to describe journeys.

In financial terms, the company has performed well since roll out. During the first half of 2010 passenger numbers rose by 6% to £4.6m and revenues increased 18% to £404m. Although this co–incided with the impact of the ash cloud disruption, Eurostar also noted an “underlying increase in travellers” in a press release at the time.

Conclusions

Eurostar are typical of a number of organisations adopting a new approach to ROI in customer service. Our research concludes that:

  • increased competition and customer feedback means that organisations recognise that ‘softer’, more complex drivers will impact customer service ROI in the future
  • experiential and emotional elements of customer/organisation relationships will become increasingly important
  • organisations value qualitative and corelatory evidence
  • organisations are increasingly willing to experiment and devolve responsibility to front line staff
  • organisations need to listen to customers and front line staff about change and implementing change

Are you aware of any companies who are investing in the emotional and experiential aspects of customer service? Share your comments below.

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