I often use Thalys to go from our Paris office to our management meetings in our Dutch office in Huis ter Heide. So far, apart from the train being much slower on the Belgian and Dutch side and the occasional delays, the service was good but not excellent. Yesterday I was coming back on the train that leaves Rotterdam at 19h26 and is supposed to arrive in Paris at 22h35. Due to a power failure (that was known to Thalys since 18h), the train could not go to Paris and dropped us off at Breda. From there we took buses – that took 2 hours to arrive – that drove us to the Bruxelles train station. On the way, we had been promised that hotel rooms would be reserved for the 300 to 400 of us approximately. Upon arrival, we were dismayed that the not too experienced looking Thalys team told us that they were unable to find any rooms. The only plan B they had was to have us sleep in the standstill fully lit train at the station from 1 am to the first departure this morning at 6h45. I finally got to Paris at 8h10 so 9h35 late. When arriving in Paris, the local Thalys team seemed surprised about the whole situation… I think this is a good example of all the wrong steps a company takes when it comes to one, if not the most important, part of the building blocks of an organization namely customer support. Error #1 : the personnel on board Thalys was uninformed on what was really going on. Companies should ensure that the employees that are in direct contact with their customers should know as much as possible in real time. Is that so difficult in 2009? Error #2 : it shows real fast when customer support hasn’t done its uttermost to help out. I just can’t believe that it is impossible to find a couple hundred rooms in a hotel rich city like Brussels. Error #3 : it was obvious that no real contingency planning had been carried out. This seems really strange since you would imagine that this kind of incident must be planned for. There was little or no coordination between Thalys personnel and the staff at the different train stations involved. Customer support teams need to live and breathe these worst-case scenario plans so that the day they are needed actions run more or less smoothly. Error #4 : not listening to your customers. One traveller told the Thalys staff at the Brussels station that in these difficult economic times there must have been a bus company that would have jumped on the opportunity of bringing us all to Paris and prove to Thalys that they could cope with these kind of emergencies. The Thalys staff just discarded that option without any explanation. Error # 5 : not escalating the decision process. The somewhat junior staff at the Brussels station didn’t “call the boss”. That would have calmed down some of the travelers and could have perhaps brought about a more experienced view on how to find a reasonable solution (since staying in a standstill train for almost 6 hours is not an option). Error #6 : not to give more than the damage is worth on paper. Thalys’s reimbursing policy is to give compensation of 20,50 or 100% in case of delays above 30, 60 or 120 minutes. Rules are nice to have, but in some extreme cases companies need to be much better than the rules. You need to build a memorable support experience where the customer really thinks that the company has gone way beyond its duty to solve the problem at hand. I think that Thalys could have a look at how a company like Zappos goes about customer suppport. It’s not rocket science, it is about caring as much as possible for the human beings that buy your products and services and not treating them as a somewhat abstract vision of the customer.