Geoff Cox is Head of Customer Service Operations at Eurostar. Eurostar operates high speed rail journeys between the UK and France and Belgium and employs 1,500 people in the UK.
Ensuring quality from Eurostar
The champagne bar at St Pancras is amazing! That’s usually one of the first things that people say when they find out where I work, and well yes it is, but as the Head of Customer Service Operations at Eurostar, my role is to ensure that Eurostar service is amazing too. I’ve been in this role for the last three years and I have a team of five senior managers who ensure that we deliver outstanding customer service to our customers, day in day out. We know that our future depends on service delivery and we work hard to be the first choice for customers.
My job means that I am accountable for the Eurostar station management at St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet and Ashford. There are about 300 people working in these locations, selling Eurostar tickets, running check-in and ensuring customers catch their trains so that they can be despatched on time. I also ensure that our trains and stations are clean and always look professional.
The UK Train Manager team is the second part of my portfolio; they manage the on-board service for our travellers and are primarily responsible for the safety of our customers and trains as well as service delivery.
For the last couple of years, I have also been responsible for our station access contract with Network Rail. This means that I have to ensure good value for money from the contract and that St Pancras station is audited so that the facilities remain world class.
I am also part of an on-call roster as a Major Incident Coordinator which means that in the event of a major incident, such as the fire in the channel tunnel in September 2007, I take the command in running the crisis management response.
Eurostar is a people orientated business and my role is to make sure that the following key principles are followed:
Employ a warm and friendly, customer-focussed people and develop and promote our most talented employees.
Lead and inspire our first line teams to deliver outstanding service.
Manage and follow industrial relations processes.
Control our costs and ensure that we can deliver value for money to customers and the shareholders.
This role is inspiring, challenging and rewarding and often the rewards come from the most unexpected of places, not just from a glass of something fizzy at the Champagne Bar. Mystery shopping, customer satisfaction, retention and recommendation scores are all wonderful when they are on the up, but nothing beats a personal smile and a thank you from customers that you meet and help in the stations and on the trains.
Looking back on my early career
I graduated from the Aston University Business School in 1997 with a BSc (Hons) in International Business and Modern Languages. At the time my peers were joining graduate training schemes and accountancy firms, it was almost de rigeur. There is nothing wrong with that but I wanted to do something fun for a while and couldn’t really see myself sitting at a desk.
I had previously worked at Disneyland Resort Paris during the summer so I knew a bit about good customer service and ended up applying for a role as Customer Service Team Member at Eurostar. In those days Eurostar was a novelty, operating out of Waterloo International and taking over three hours on the slow track to reach Paris. I joined a large team selling tickets, running check-in and boarding the trains. The job was pretty much like working at an airport, only it was this new train that went under the sea.
That entry level job was great, it taught me about customers, how to empathise and problem solve as well as learn the business from the first line.
After that I became a Team Leader and had my first taste of people management as I took on a team of about 20 team members. To this day I remember the challenge of managing my friends but the team structure was so strong that it was more like a family environment and we worked through issues together. I learnt a great deal about problem solving, empathising and thinking on my feet to make sure that customers received the service that they were expecting.
I became the Ticket Office Manager for Waterloo International and was responsible for about £30 million of revenue a year. At 25 years old that felt like a big responsibility. I loved the role and it introduced me to some new skills: managing first line managers and project management. I developed a new concept for us which was to move away from the traditional ticket desk to a more customer friendly travel agent style business with seats a counters and gave us the opportunity to sell extras such as hotels, car hire and city breaks across Europe.
From there I became the Terminal Manager at Ashford International. This was a much smaller station than Waterloo but the responsibility was much bigger. I was in charge of a programme to restructure and reduce operating costs by 30%. It introduced me to my first real taste of trade union negotiation and also the fact that no matter how hard you plan and structure a project, people are usually the most difficult to predict.
I didn’t stay at Ashford very long and moved back to London to the role of General Manager, On-Board Services where I was responsible for the management of Train Managers.
This was hugely challenging and a big leap of faith, I didn’t know much about the Train Manager world but found that I could learn what I needed and that at the end of the day the team were people and I knew that I could manage people. I started a management culture change programme which later morphed into a company wide “Our Way of Working” development programme.
In this role I also began to learn more about our French and Belgian colleagues’ ways of working. Eurostar services are operated by teams from the UK and also from the state railways in France and Belgium who have different working methods and employment conditions. This really started to broaden my knowledge and experience of management and cultural styles which in today’s world of globalisation I cannot emphasise enough.
From that role I moved into the role that I am doing today and I took on the challenge exactly a year before the opening of St Pancras and Ebbsfleet International stations. That year was a whirlwind of unknown adventures as I led the transfer of employees across London, employee consultations, the testing of operations before opening and the introduction of “Team Ebbsfleet” to run our third UK station.
The opening of St Pancras International and Highspeed 1 (the line which connects London with the Channel Tunnel) has to be one of the proudest moments in my career, the effort that the whole team at Eurostar put into that moment was remarkable and paid of with spectacular success.
Following a career path
I think for me I followed a path rather than setting one out for myself. Through the roles that I have done I have learnt what I do and don’t like, however Eurostar is a quite a small company and I have taken career opportunities as well as risks where needed in order to get into the role that I am doing today.
The key to this is to work with your line manager, talk about what you enjoy and what you want to do. Usually they will know about vacancies coming up in the organisation and will help you develop your skills to get into the posts that you want. In my case, my line manager helped me to see that doing roles that are not an obvious choice help to make you a more rounded and general manager.
There is one thing that has to be an absolute given, if you want to work in any customer service environment, you need to like people!