Eurostar shows how not to do it with latest PR disaster
Have you ever been trapped in a train tunnel for an extended period of time?
I travelled back from Paris once and should have been home by 9pm with a house move taking place the next day.
I finally got home at 8am the next morning with no option than to drink a coffee and keep going.
As a regular user of the Eurostar, I've experienced the good and the bad of the service. At its best, Eurostar is the most convenient train service for cross-channel travel.
I've missed trains because the timetable has been changed without great notification. I've been stuck in tunnels and held up just by the tunnel and each time, I put up with it because there is NO alternative. The ferries just don't get you there quickly enough.
Six Eurostar trains were trapped in tunnels on Friday and Saturday, causing huge concern and discomfort to travellers - and services are still not back to normal.
My nightmare delay was caused by that old classic, leaves on the line.
And I'm fascinated that Eurostar has been able to make modifications overnight to help trains cope better with 'unprecedented weather conditions' as they have been described by senior officials.
Surely a company that deals in travel can start making these arrangements, if they cannot be implemented permanently, as soon as weather conditions deteriorate?
Thousands of Christmas travellers are now seeking alternative ways of getting to or from France and it has done nothing for Eurostar's reputation.
For those who have used the modernised ferry services, it may not be as quick but it is a positive alternative and this weekend's experience may have put some people off Eurostar for good.
The communications undertaken by the train company has left much to be desired.
From what I have seen, it has taken two days for spokesmen to speak concertedly to the media and therefore the travellers to let them know what's really happening - and that just isn't good enough.
It is imperative that any company that relies on customer service - and Eurostar certainly does - has a robust and flexible communications plan which is implemented as soon as any issue arises.
That should include speaking to passengers regularly, updating via the internet, Twitter, Facebook and conventional media to reassure current and future passengers and their families of what is going on.
In this Web 2.0 world we live in, they have failed to make great use of Twitter to keep people updated, while some customers have tweeted about being left in the dark, literally and metaphorically, without information.
Whether it is true or not, Eurostar gave the impression that they did not have a plan or any idea what to do and that is why there was a delay in updating the public on developments and comprehensively as they should have.
It is often said that it is not a crisis but how you are seen to be handling it which can shape your standing in the public eye.
Eurostar's failure was not to have problems caused by the weather.
It was a slowness to speak to everyone about the challenges they were facing, even if they did not have the answers immediately, to show an urgency to deal with them.
As it is, Eurostar has not even appeared to be in control and certainly not done all they could to look after those who have been so desperately inconvenienced by the delays and technical problems.
By jumping straight to a compensation message, they have suggested that throwing money at people will alleviate any lingering frustration and reluctance to use the service in future.
Coherent, regular communications updates to the general public and directly to those concerned would be far more effective.
Showing you care immediately, even when things go wrong, is the key to success in the world of communications.
Eurostar will not suffer in the long term, but a thorough review of their crisis communications strategy is essential to prevent this sort of thing happening again.