Last week we talked about Project Wonder. Please correct me if I am wrong, but what we understood was that Eurostar is looking for ways and options to enhance customer experience and new ways to make additional revenue. This can be for instance seat selection on-board, WIFI spots, etc. And the question is how Sola can deliver a contribution. My response will be a personal and a professional opinion. I would like to keep these two separately.
My personal response is based on experience I had with Eurostar. Not only do we supply Eurostar, I am also a customer. I used to travel frequently by train to London prior to corona. I have four points that come to mind:
Travelling from any station in Holland, I cannot book my ticket via your own website. From there I can only book my trip from the stations where you actually stop. In my case, I need to come from the city of Almere. I need to go to the Dutch Railway site to book a separate ticket. An integration of any station into the Eurostar-site would be helpful.
I want to travel from A to B in the least amount of time. If I take the plane to London, I waste time on driving to the airport, parking my car, check-in, and spend the useless hour I have to be there before the plane departs. Although AMS – LHR is a 45-minute flight, I will most probably spend double half an hour circling over London because of air traffic.
Unfortunately I am also losing time on the Eurostar. The stop at Brussels-Midi is a true waste of time. I understand why, and luckily starting October 26 I can take the direct train, but for now it is a problem.
Even if you fly Business Class, the aircraft to and from London are not the biggest available in the market. You know how tall I am, and wherever I am sitting, it is never comfortable. Plus I am strapped into a seat, and consider myself lucky if the passenger in front if me does not recline his seat.
On the Eurostar, so far I was able to book Standard Premier. Although I am able to walk around, I absolutely do not like the seats where you are with 4 persons. I don’t have space for my legs. It is more difficult to concentrate when others are in a conversation. Space to work is limited. Also never understood that metal thing where you can put your feet on. For me it hits my legs and is an absolute nuisance.
Arrival (and departure):
Taking the train, there is only one time where I have to show my passport and go through security. At Schiphol and Heathrow I have double checks, taking lots of time.
When I arrive at St.Pancras I am litterly 200 meters away from the Eurostar office. Even when I need to go somewhere else in London, I am immediately close to a train or tube-station. The plane drops me off at a remote airfield and it takes an additional journey to go somewhere else. The Heathrow Express is handy, but takes a lot of extra time and costs.
Especially when the direct connection AMS – London is available I do not see reason to take the plane, unless I need to see an airline close to Heathrow or Stansted. Perhaps the train is a bit slower, but I have more freedom to work and move around. Arriving in the middle of London is certainly a plus.
Comparing prices is very difficult. I travel mainly for business purposes. From what I saw recently prices are pretty competitive against each other, so that is not decision changing aspect. Time saving and comfort are important.
Project Wonder is in some way similar to a project we started with a North-American airline several years ago. In stead of having separate meetings with many suppliers, this airline used its experience and selected a group of suppliers and ask them to put their heads together and come up with ideas to improve their service. I cannot tell you which airline this is, but they did their homework. And without knowing up front each supplier was already granted the business. We just needed to figure out together how the service was going to look like.
The airline knew that each supplier in that room probably flew more hours than the entire management had done so far as a whole. Initially these meetings were very unusual, but when that many people combine ideas/thoughts – the whole concept was developed together. From product to the text on the PA-system.
Funny was that all the ideas that we came up with can all relate to the points I mentioned here above. Business travelers care about travelling from A to B, without spending too much time thinking about details and options that are offered on-line like rental cars, additional insurance, and similar add-ons when booking a ticket.
But what everybody agreed on was that almost everybody is willing and able to pay for additional services that really enhance the comfort. That is paying for a seat. If you are travelling alone, you might want to be in a place where you can work. If you are with more people, that 4-place-square is an idea. WIFI should be quick and complementary. Paying for baggage is no problem.
But what stood out the most was the catering part. When the train leaves, you take out your laptop or tablet, hook up to the WIFI and start working on your emails or meeting you are about to have. When you are in the middle of an email, and the trolley comes in and you need to have lunch or dinner that is not very handy. By far the most wanted feature on board was the way the food service could be managed. And that is not when the staff is ready, but when the passenger has finished his/her work. That can be in 10 minutes, an hour, or at the end. Because the space is too small to AND have your laptop open AND place a tray there. Plus when you are finished early you need to wait for the staff to return and take away the tray. If you are preparing something, that can be a long time.
Can we figure out a way to work and eat at the same time? There is no room on the seat-rest. But can we add an additional device that can be attached and removed from the seat that can hold a (smaller) plate? Like an armrest, but a bit higher and bigger and removable.
And if we are doing the dinner service on a tray, why would a passenger always need to eat what happens to be served that day? You can select your seat on-line or at an app. Why can’t you select what you want to eat before coming onto the train? People can choose menu A, B or C – and when you do not know, you automatically choose A. You can make that very clear on-line up to hours prior to departure. Even drinks can be selected. A top of the class service is when I receive my drink what and how I want it.
I realize this is a top service, but the train takes hours to reach its destination. There is plenty of time. Does it mean more work for your staff? Absolutely, but you want to stand out from your competition. You are already beating the airlines and especially now with the eco-friendly way of thinking taking over more and more, you can really use this additional effort in really making a change.
What can Sola do?
The basics of a breakfast/dinner will always remain the same. Knives, forks and spoons are always essential. But if your service changes, the size of your trays change, you are adding smaller/wider trays – your cutlery can change with it.
An appetizer or a starter is a small bite. Why not use a product that is meant to make the possible, like an amuse spoon?
Depending on the service style, why not use an amuse fork? I am sure your chefs can figure out many items for which you can use these items.
Everything we do is custom made. We talked about napkin clips in metal. Please see below what we made for you after our first meeting when we discussed BP. Yes, these are more expensive compared to paper wraps. But there is more to this than costs alone. That is what project Wonder can also be about. Spend money wisely to create a greater advantage.
During our last meeting I already showed you many items in stainless steel, like bread baskets. What I will do is add a picture of other items in steel we supply to other customers. Please note that products in steel are way more flexible to change in any size compared to plastics or similar materials.