Social media as a customer communication channel was forced onto Eurostar, the train company admitted at yesterday’s Gartner Customer Relationship Management Summit in London.

David Fairman, resource planning manager at Eurostar, told delegates how the company has been using social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with customers ever since the snow fiasco experienced in December 2009.

Eurostar and Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, were heavily criticised for poor communications with the trains during the travel chaos, leaving passengers stranded and uninformed on what was happening.

Social media is just one of the channels that Eurostar uses, alongside its website, which is its main contact point. It also has a call centre, and keeps an eye on forums like those on, to follow customer conversations about the company.

Despite the Eurostar website being the main channel for the business, for every six bookings made online, one call is made to the company’s call centre.

To help it understand why customers are phoning instead of dealing with Eurostar wholly online, it has implemented an application from Autonomy, called Explore, which delivers multichannel analytics. The software currently provides analytics on Eurostar’s voice contacts, and Fairman hopes to roll it out to email contacts in the next few days.

Eurostar is also using analytics to understand why, for example, the company only has a 30 percent conversion rate on its sales line, which has caused it to wonder about what is happening to the other 70 percent.

Fairman added: “We have competition coming, and we must have a service differentiator.”

One of the ways that the company plans to stay ahead of new competitors is by developing a strong loyalty scheme – and it hopes to embark on this strategy informed by analytics data.

“[We want to find out] what are we going to do differently to make customers really recommend us?” Fairman said.

Eurostar is also using the analytics software to find out what customers think without having to ask them. Historically, Eurostar would ask customers for their opinions at up to four different stages of the customer interaction, from the ticket booking to the actual journey.

Now, with the analytics software, the company can just look at trends.

For instance, by analysing 70,000 calls recently to see how many questions asked by customers were around compensation, Eurostar was able to identify when customers were booking journeys using their compensation from the travel chaos, indicating a group of customers who were returning and giving Eurostar another chance.

Similarly, customers who were still calling up to ask for their compensation could be understood to be less likely to return.