Railway service operator Eurostar is looking to function with a more flexible technology platform than in previous years after bringing its development team in house, according to the business's head of digital, Neil Roberts.

Talking to Essential Retail at last week's Monetate European Summit, he said the company has a legacy of using third parties, but a major part of the organisation's recent transition has seen significant investment in its own developer workforce.

"It adds an awful lot of flexibility," Roberts explained, adding that there is a limited amount of off-the-shelf technology now used in the operation.

"We're in control of our own destiny. We'll focus on what is important to Eurostar and where there is a third party we can integrate we'll [take the approach] 'why build it when we can buy it?'. But we haven't identified all of those partners yet."

The head of digital, who was promoted from the position of senior eCommerce manager in 2013, has overseen much of this shift in the company's technology strategy over the last three years and says customers will see "a very different Eurostar in the next 12 months" to the brand they have grown used to.

Much of that work, Roberts hopes, will centre on customer service improvements and getting closer to what individual consumers would like to see from the Eurostar service. The company conducts regular research on customer feedback and is actively looking to filter the findings back into its operations.

Roberts commented: "We need to be very flexible. We've separated the data away from the business rules and away from presentation.

"There are core things we'll always have to do – sell tickets, issue tickets and tell customers about running times. The interface customers want to use will change, so we can isolate out technology by separating it from the presentation piece. If watches take off next year, for example, we can push real-time information through a watch – all we need to do is build the right interface because the back-end services are there."

The digital boss referenced Salesforce, Monetate, Google for Work and GoMedia as key tech partners that are used alongside Eurostar's newly established central platform.

Salesforce's CRM system was brought in two years ago to replace an array of solutions previously used by the transport operator, including Oracle's RightNow product, while a partnership with Monetate has now been forged to help the company filter the data coming into the business.

"We're linking data we have in Salesforce," explained Roberts.

"We can see, for example, if customers have a complaint or forgot to add loyalty points, if our staff at the business lounge can raise these points on their behalf, it's proactive. The interaction with customers is a key part of using Monetate and the ease of use is critical."

Eurostar also utilises tools from Google's suite of commercial tools including Snowdrop Solutions, a team of developers who act as Google Map's professional services team. One particular project has seen Eurostar become the first company in the world to put Google Maps in a train and use the GPS positioning to show passengers where they are on their journey.

The mapping is part of wider changes made to Eurostar's on-board entertainment, which coincided with its recent launch of a new fleet of e320 trains.

GoMedia developed the interactive entertainment offering, which features films, TV shows, box sets, cartoons, games, digital newspapers and magazines, available in multiple languages. This means passengers can stream content over the trains' Wi-Fi network to their personal device as well as access the system through the existing Eurostar app, with security company Irdeto the company chosen to secure this access.

Roberts said the on-board entertainment is viewed as one way of helping preserve extra Wi-Fi bandwidth for Eurostar's business customers, as well as boosting the customer experience for holidaymakers and weekend breakers.

Maintaining efficient Wi-Fi for a travel service that operates in tunnels and under the sea is a significant challenge, he noted, but he said the launch of GoMedia's entertainment package is an example of Eurostar's approach of using technology to solve existing problems – as opposed to rolling out new tech for tech's sake.

"That's why we do the customer journey mapping and we look at where customers are struggling on the physical and digital journey – and that's where on-board entrainment came in."

Personalisation

Personalisation is a key goal for many retail brands operating in today's market, but companies are finding that it is difficult to pigeonhole consumers. It is a factor that Roberts and his team are only too wary of as they roll out a strategy to get closer to the their customers in the months ahead.

"A lot of what we're talking about in the business is how do you avoid stereotyping? People shift; they change; they mature. One day you're a football man, the next day you're a family man – you have different needs and want a different service.

"My personal view is that you have to interact with customers. It's this conversation that seems to be lost on digital channels. At the moment, digital is very much broadcast – it's brands saying 'this is our message, this is our message, this is our message'. There's no opportunity to feed back."

Retailers' attempts at personalisation via targeted emails and "recommended items" can fall short because they do not take into account an item may already have been purchased elsewhere, or the product may have been bought as a gift for someone else, Roberts argued.

He added: "There's no opportunity for me as a customer to tell them that I'm done, that feedback loop is missing. For me, the real extent of personalisation is actually listening to customers and giving them an opportunity to engage with a brand.

"When we give customers the feedback opportunity to have two-way conversation and, as brands and businesses we react to that, we're going to get much closer to personalisation."

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Salesforce

Monetate

GoMedia

Snowdrop Solutions

Irdeto