How Eurostar used Twitter to effectively manage a crisis
When smoke closed the Eurotunnel in January Eurostar turned to Twitter to keep travellers informed. Andrew Hennigan shares lessons from this social success story
Around lunchtime on January 17, all Eurostar trains approaching the Eurotunnel between Britain and France were stopped when smoke from a vehicle fire was detected inside the tunnel.
While the smoke was investigated the tunnel was closed and trains waiting at the tunnel had to return to their origin. Many other trains were cancelled, resulting in a communications crisis for the company.
Eurostar turned to its @eurostar Twitter account to manage the crisis in what has been hailed as a ‘textbook effort’ by many communications experts; it also impressed many customers.
There are a number of crucial things we can learn from Eurostar’s Twitter response, which are applicable to any large or small operating in the tourism industry. These include:
1. Timely response
“Eurostar was quick to fill in the information vacuum,” says Alex Johnson at Insignia Communications, a crisis management consultant. “And by regularly updating its Twitter feed, managed to keep everybody who was interested in the story well informed."
Eurostar responded very quickly to tweets from customers asking why their trains were not moving, with tweets like “Hi Sam, a few trains are currently halted due to detection of smoke in the tunnel, currently being investigated.”
Shortly afterwards the group issued a series of regular ‘service updates’, announcing first the suspension of services then the closure of the tunnel -- providing this information to Twitter users faster than the train crews.
2. Sharing new news
The crisis persisted for some time as service was restored and passengers rescheduled their trips, but throughout the period the @eurostar account provided timely updates.
“The 24-hour news cycle means as soon as new information emerges you need to share it and Eurostar did this particularly effectively,” says Johnson.
By providing new information regularly, it also gave them the opportunity to shape the narrative of the emerging story. The first tweets announcing the closure were followed with updates about train status and re-bookings.
3. Active engagement
Keeping Twitter customers happy isn’t just a matter of broadcasting updates (How to Keep Twitter Savvy Customers Happy, EyeforTravel, 23 October 2014), you also need to engage with them.
“Twitter is a conversation,” says Johnson. “While the sheer volume of tweets can be overwhelming taking the time to post some personal responses that cover generic issues such as impact on other services or providing customer helpline numbers gives your business a human voice.”
Many users were given a quick and personal response to their questions about delays, mostly one-to-one messages beginning with ‘@’ that only the original sender sees, plus a few with a leading ‘.’ to make them visible to everyone, with information that would interest others.
A typical example read like this: @hirdmj We recommend travelling tomorrow instead if you can, rebooking available by calling 03432186186. Sorry to have cancelled your train
That last sentence also illustrates another important point: the need to adopt an appropriate tone of voice.
4. Tone of voice
“Too many big businesses speak like a man in a three-piece suit,” says Johnson.
Instead Eurostar used clear, simple, human language and achieved greater empathy as a result. All of the tweets avoided jargon or evasive language, preferring wording like ‘all trains are returning to original stations’ or ‘tunnel closed following smoke detection’. The firm also used empathetic language such as ‘Sorry about this…’ and ‘Unfortunately…’ with no attempt to minimise the hardship of others.
The overworked social media team even found time to respond to users’ banter. ‘@eurostar Big day for you on Twitter today it looks like’, one user wrote to which one of the team responded: ‘@SchultzDoesUK Ah, you could say that Ben! Keyboard’s got smoke coming out of it, never mind the tunnel!’