It it weren’t a serious matter, it would be a farce

eurostar Winter certainly did arrive in many parts of the UK overnight on Thursday with thick snow blanketing much of the eastern and southern parts of England.

Friday December the 18th was a day of complete chaos on the roads, on the trains and in the air with motorways impassable – I have first-hand experience of that on the M20 in an abortive drive to join a Eurotunnel Shuttle train to Calais – airports closed and, overnight Friday/Saturday, Eurostar trains broken down in the Channel Tunnel stranding thousands of people for hours on end.

It’s the latter event that I find astounding in the way in which train operator Eurostar has handled the inevitable (and growing) public outrage about what actually happened in the tunnel on Friday night.

I saw Eurostar UK CEO Richard Brown being interviewed on BBC News on Saturday morning and I was impressed by his humility and genuineness in the apology he gave. Even better is the informal video on YouTube with a more personal-sounding apology as well as Brown’s blog post.

Yet that’s not going to defuse the anger of those who were trapped on Friday night especially as lurid stories of the appalling experiences of those people emerge and make headlines in the mainstream media globally and get increasing attention in the online social space.

More blunt criticism comes from social media news sites like TechCrunch Europe with Mike Butcher’s scathing commentary about Eurostar’s communication efforts, which prompted a spirited and credible defence from Robin Grant of We Are Social, Eurostar UK’s social media agency.

This is a full-blown crisis for Eurostar and its leadership, especially as now rail experts, politicians and pundits start to ask serious questions about the circumstances of Friday and Eurostar’s handling of it all.

I would imagine that an organization like Eurostar has a crisis communication plan prepared and ready to execute at times like this. I wonder if they ever tested that plan beforehand. It doesn’t look like it.

[Later] Watching the ITN News video, above, I was struck by the irony of that video on YouTube containing a Google text ad for… Eurostar.

Not chosen by a human being but by an algorithm that looks for contextual relevance in the content. At least, I think that’s how it works.

Unfortunate, though, in this situation: rubs salt into Eurostar’s wounds.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Damien Mulley

    Good post Neville. Even eventually with the updates on Twitter and the website did you feel any emotion or humanity? While the video and BBC interview might have shown it, online didn’t in my view. Consider all the Tweets with real humanity and real emotion being shown and then the cold response from Eurostar. Care about the customers but also for those who are worrying and fretting about their friends and families on the trains. It felt like something they had to do instead of something that they wanted to do.

    The online reaction was done in a very traditional way and not the usual social and modern way. There was more humanity in the We Are Social post for example but that came far too late too. It’s sad that this will go in the “not doing it right” section of crisis comms instead of the “how best to handle crisis comms”.

    This bit from We Are Social I found to be unwarranted:

    they’re not even allowed to communicate with their own staff on board when the train is in the tunnel as all safety regulations and operational responsibility sit firmly with Eurotunnel, which has obviously made it particularly hard from a communications perspective.

    It’s excuse generating for their client and the smartarse answer would be “tell it to the 2000 people in the tunnel and the 10s of 1000s on Twitter and blogs worrying about them”. If people in the tunnel can communicate with the outside world as we saw them doing, then Eurostar should have been talking to their staff in there and informing everyone outside. There are times when you use structure and obey rules fully and there are times when you interpret them in a way that empowers everyone. To claim your client is powerless when we can publicly see reactions on the trains is damaging.

    I do hope we see a follow up post with lessons learned and sharing with the world new information that can be used in the future by everyone.

  2. Eurostar Train Cancellations

    It’s interesting if you remember back to earlier this year when Eurostar services were the only links that WERE working. Many airports have cancelled their services and there isn’t such a panic. I know for a fact that Eurostar have already started making modifications on the shields and that services are due to resume as soon as today or tomorrow.

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