Friday, January 22, 2010

Complaining To Eurostar

I didn't get any work done yesterday as I was writing my latest letter of complaint - this time to Eurostar! That's my spate of complaining over with, now it's head down on the new Jack Nightingale novel!

Marc Noaro,
Customer Services Director,
Times House,
Bravingtons Walk,
Regent Quarter,
London N1 9AW.

Dear Marc,

I am in receipt of your email dated December 31 last year in which you say that you wanted to write to me personally to apologise for the inconvenience caused by the disruption to Eurostar services before Christmas. The fact that you address the email to ‘Dear Traveller’ and sent it in three languages does however suggest that it wasn’t a personal communication but was in fact a mail shot.

Do you see how I have addressed this letter to you? That’s personal Marc, and it’s not difficult.

You also rub salt into the wound by referring to me as ‘Dear Traveller’ because as you well know I didn’t do any travelling because Eurostar cancelled the trains that I was supposed to travel on. Your email refers to me being booked to travel on 23 or 24 December but my outbound tickets were actually for Saturday December 19. In short, you were not writing to me personally as you claim, you were doing what Eurostar has consistently done throughout this sorry saga which is to treat me and thousands of customers with contempt.

Let me explain to you why I am so annoyed with your company and why I think the offer of ‘compensation’ outlined in your email is so derisory.

I was booked to travel with my family in Leisure Select on the 12.29pm train on December 19. As you are no doubt aware, Eurostar’s problems began on December 18 when snow crippled your trains on the French side.

First thing on Saturday morning I logged on to the Eurostar website and it informed me that the morning trains had been cancelled but that trains after midday would be running. I called the main Eurostar number several times, but each time it went through a recorded message informed me that my enquiry could not be dealt with and suggested that I call back later. I checked the television but there was no information on what was happening to Eurostar trains that day, and after checking the website for the last time at just after 10.30am and reading that the afternoon trains would be running, I had no choice other than to go to St Pancras station.

On arriving at St Pancras, I discovered thousands of passengers none of whom had any idea what was happening. There was no written information and the only members of Eurostar I could see were Security and the ones I spoke to told me that they didn’t know what was going on. After ten minutes of searching I managed to find a French Eurostar employee who was entertaining a group of French passengers but he seemed to have no interest in conversing with me in English.

Eventually I did manage to find someone to talk to and he told me that there would be no trains that day. I returned home with my family, but as you know thousands of other customers didn’t – they waited in the station for hours and hours before Eurostar eventually confirmed that there would be no trains running. There was a serious failure in communications and a complete lack of customer service. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I cancelled my hotel in Paris. Because I had to cancel so late, Expedia withheld $240 from my refund.

It wasn’t until December 22 that I received any communication from Eurostar and that was a ‘Dear Traveller’ email from Nick Mercer, Commercial Director. That was three days after my train was cancelled. I think it is outrageous that it took your company three whole days to contact customers whose lives had been thrown into turmoil. In Nick’s email he referred customers to the Eurostar website if they wanted a refund, and my recollection is that the website said that it would take up to twelve weeks before the refunds would be processed. That was clearly unacceptable so I contacted American Express and arranged to have them recredit my account.

I want to emphasise that it wasn’t the technical problems with the train that I am annoyed at. I understand that the weather conditions were very unusual and that the problem was mainly on the French side. But what is unforgivable is the way that you did not contact passengers directly, did not update your website and refused to answer the phones on December 19. That was a management decision and whoever was responsible needs to be held accountable.

If I had been running Eurostar on December 19, I would have been on the phone to every manager in the company and I would have told them to report to St Pancras wearing a Eurostar jacket. I would have told them to stop off at a supermarket on the way and fill up their cars with soft drinks and sandwiches, and I would have told them to speak to each and every passenger at the station handing out refreshments and making sure that your customers knew what was happening. I would have made sure that every available member of staff was manning the phones and talking to passengers. If there was no information to give them, I would have taken phone numbers and promised to call them back once information was available. The key to handling a crisis such as the one you faced on December 19-20 is communication. You did nothing which is tantamount to treating your customers with contempt. Shame on you.

So, what is that I want from you? I’m not interested in an apology and I made American Express refund the cost of my three tickets to my card earlier this year.

I am still out of pocket, however. I need you to reimburse me the £30 that I spent on taxis to and from St Pancras. And I need you to refund me the $240 that I lost through the hotel booking. I enclose receipts for the taxi fares and a copy of the email from Expedia confirming the hotel cancellation penalty. But even if you do that, it still only takes me back to break even and doesn’t even come close to making up for all the stress and inconvenience that your company caused me.

As a direct result of Eurostar management incompetence, my family and I had to make our way to St Pancras with all our luggage. So as far as I am concerned, we started our journey and are therefore entitled to the same compensation that you are offering to passengers who were on the delayed trains – namely three complementary tickets in the class that I booked. So far as I am concerned, that is the least you should do. You let all of us down in December, and offering complementary tickets to passengers such as myself would go some way to making up for your dismal performance.

I look forward to your reply – hopefully a personal one this time.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Leather


Stephen Leather said...

Wow. Nick Mercer, Commercial Director of Eurostar, phoned me in Thailand to apologise for what happened in December. I was astonished that he'd taken the time to call me personally, but he said that they were doing that with everyone that had written in to them. He seemed a very genuine guy and said that the company had taken on board all the comments made by its customers, and that changes were being made to ensure that if there is ever another crisis they'll handle it more efficiently. And he said that he's take care of the compensation that I'd asked for in my letter.

And a few hours later I received the following email -

Dear Mr Leather

Nick Mercer, our Commercial Director, has passed your details on to me. I can confirm that we will credit you with the £30 you spent on taxi fares, the $240 for your forfeited hotel booking, and three round trips to any of our direct destinations.

In order for me to process this, would you be able to provide me with your bank details?

Kind regards

James Blackwood
Manager, Eurostar Traveller Care

How's that for customer service? Brilliant!

Conor O'Sullivan said...

Hi Stephen.

Greetings from Singapore. (We met quite some time ago when you were a guest at the Singapore Writing festival.)

I couldn't help noticing that they are asking for your bank details...

Are you sure this isn't a Nigerian scam? ;-)



Stephen Leather said...

Thats so funny, Conor! I actualy did wonder when he asked for bank details because usually they would send a cheque! And it's never a good idea to email bank details because I'm told there are programs out there that can sift them out.... all very worrying!