Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel is using social media analysis in a bid to better understand its customers and to head-off emerging problems before they turn into "Twitter storms".
"We monitor ourselves, but also keep track of Eurostar, P&O and the other ferry operators just to find out what people are saying," said Paul Lymath, strategic planning and analysis manager at Eurotunnel.
It is using QlikView Source, installed as part of a wider implementation of QlikTech's business intelligence (BI) platform, to pull out social media information based on search words established by Eurotunnel. "You don't just get an analysis, but you can see what people are saying about you," said Lymath.
While the company does not Tweet itself, or maintain a Facebook page, it does need to monitor these sources of customer information, said Lymath. "One of the benefits of it is that when we have a ‘degraded situation', such as a train stuck in the tunnel, we can go into social media, and see what the sentiment is – whether people are reacting badly or not."
In this way, the company can also react in near-real-time to such incidents. For example, if customers are tweeting that they have been stuck in a tunnel for two hours and have not been offered a drink, the company can ask on-train staff to distribute complimentary drinks.
"We normally update it every hour, but when we have got these kinds of situations we normally do it every 15 minutes," said Lymath.
Remarkably for a modern company, until the implementation of QlikTech's QlikView Business Discovery platform, Eurotunnel did not run a BI software package. Instead, business managers had to rely on reports from the IT department, and information stored in Microsoft Access databases and Excel spreadsheets.
"It took forever. We spent most of our time trying to get the data rather than actually using it," said Lymath. "I was fed-up with keep having to ask an analyst to find a bit of data – to find a number – and they were always having to rewrite macros and search around for what we wanted. This was just a waste of time."
The company started with a pilot project in business planning, focusing on sales and marketing-related data. This enabled the company to more easily see how and when people were booking on Eurotunnel. It could then fine-tune other areas of its operations, such as the working hours and manning in the contact centre.
The software has since been rolled out to other parts of the company, such as the maintenance division.
While it took between three and six months to get the system up, running and sufficiently functional to do basic reporting, this implementation time could have been expedited if Eurotunnel's IT team had "made more of an effort", said Lymath. As Eurotunnel is a "SAP shop", it wanted to implement SAP's business warehouse package in the belief that this would provide maximum integration.
Lymath's team, however, selected the software after inviting eight different BI software vendors in to demonstrate their packages.
"Since they [the IT department] have seen the business advantages, things have speeded up quite considerably. We now have about 15 [QlikView] applications running," he said.