CDO interview: Ian Rabagliati, product and experience director, Eurotunnel

The Channel Tunnel operator is coming to terms with the realities of post-Covid European travel, and focusing on customer experience to bring it closer to its passengers

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Eurotunnel’s digital journey for the realities of post-Covid travel

Ian Rabagliati joined Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel connecting the UK with France, at the beginning of the year. One of the main things that attracted him to the company was its heritage. Now, as product and experience director at Eurotunnel, he is looking to create a fresh customer-focused chapter in the organisation’s history.

“It’s an incredibly innovative business by nature – we’re managing a tunnel under the sea that takes millions of people to Europe every year,” he says. “But we’re going through a transformation. While not too much had changed in the previous 20 years, a lot has changed across the world in terms of how people travel during the last few years.”

Rabagliati and his senior colleagues at Eurotunnel are setting themselves up for this new post-Covid reality. With a new chief executive and a recently appointed chief commercial officer – who Rabagliati reports to – the aim is to set in place a subtle change in direction.

“We are trying to refocus on the customer – understanding what their needs are and changing the organisation from being an operational business to a customer-focused organisation, which means rethinking how we deliver our services,” he says. “We’re rethinking all digital touchpoints and the end-to-end journey.” 

Planning for change

Formerly head of innovation strategy at creative consultancy Frog, and before that, head of digital for Europe at Samsung Electronics, Rabagliati joined Eurotunnel in January 2022. He is developing the company’s new customer-focused strategy, while also ensuring his team supports the organisation’s day-to-day activities.

“It’s a fascinating business in terms of how it operates,” he says. “One of the big surprises is the pace that the organisation is moving at. Going into a business that has to be very operationally focused because of what it does – but trying to switch the approach to a customer focus as well – has been really interesting.”

Eurotunnel manages the infrastructure of the Channel Tunnel and operates truck and passenger shuttle services between Folkestone in the UK and Calais in France. In the 27 years since the company started providing services, some 460 million people and 90 million vehicles have travelled through the tunnel.

Rabagliati says it is not unusual to work with people who have been with the company for 20-plus years. His role covers everything related to customer experience and information, including the company’s website, app, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and customer databases.

“It’s a big scope to think about and take on, but we’ve made a number of changes already and we will continue to do so over the next couple of years,” he says. “Eurotunnel offers a compelling service. What we are trying to do in my team is just enhance that service and make it as smooth and seamless as possible for people travelling to and from Europe.

“There are a number of exciting things planned, and that was one of the big draws to this role. The scope of the opportunity is big and it’s an organisation that has ambition, which is driven by the senior people to make that happen. It’s just really exciting and a big challenge.”

“It’s all about focusing on how we talk to customers about our services and the compelling offering that we provide”

Ian Rabagliati, Eurotunnel

Rabagliati’s main priority is to help Eurotunnel learn more about its customers. The company can’t afford to rest on its laurels – particularly at a time when the nature of short- and long-distance transport remains in a state of flux.

Travelling is more complicated than it’s ever been with the documentation you have to complete,” he says. “If you look at the type of questions and the things that people are coming to us with before they travel, there is so much more reassurance needed. So, how do you actually make that as seamless as possible?”

Another big factor is growth, says Rabagliati. While Eurotunnel has helped millions of people to travel around Europe, there are others who haven’t considered using the company so far. He is keen to turn that situation around.

“To get our message out to people who have maybe not travelled as much is key,” he says. “We have a very passionate customer base who travel regularly, so [the task is] how we get the Eurotunnel message in front of other people and convert them to become advocates, like so many other people who use our services already are.”

Rabagliati says a tight grip on data will help him and his colleagues reach out to travellers. This initiative will focus on boosting loyalty and customer engagement. Eurotunnel wants to understand its customers’ demands and to provide answers to some pertinent questions.

“How do we give them the right information they need? How do we reward them a bit more when they’re travelling with us?” he says. “We want to look at all the different digital touch points we have with our customers. It’s all about focusing on how we talk to customers about our services and the compelling offering we provide.”

Creating personalised content

Technology will play a crucial role in this customer-focused approach. To this end, Eurotunnel recently selected Salesforce to support its ongoing digital transformation.

The intention of this partnership, says Rabagliati, is to enhance customer engagement activities at Eurotunnel through the deployment of three Salesforce products – Marketing Cloud, Interaction Studio and Advertising Studio. The aim is to create tailored offers that meet customers’ personalised requirements.

“Ultimately, by being able to offer more interesting content, offers and rewards, we can convert more people to buy our services more frequently,” he says. “By knowing more about customers, our offers will be more relevant.”

“We know more about our passengers, their travel patterns, and we will use that data to give them less – but more effective – communications”
Ian Rabagliati, Eurotunnel

Before introducing Salesforce, the company’s individual business units relied on a range of CRM systems. The Salesforce implementation creates an integrated, business-wide approach – and Rabagliati says it is receiving senior backing from the top of the organisation.

“There’s a big focus on this project and making it work,” he says. “As with a lot of other businesses, we had run different attempts at bringing in CRM systems in the past and trying to get to a single customer view. Because of maybe how they’d been run, we just ended up with fragmented technologies and no single customer view.”

Eurotunnel used specialist organisation Collinson as its Salesforce integration partner. Rabagliati’s team also worked with people across the IT department and the rest of the business to help roll the technology out. The implementation works alongside other corporate systems and helps generate a consolidated view of the customers that Eurotunnel serves.

“We know more about our passengers, their travel patterns, and we will use that data to give them less – but more effective – communications,” he says. “I think, as a business, Salesforce gives us a huge boost in terms of being able to personalise the content, our offers, and to send the right messaging at the right time.”

Building senior support

Rabagliati has further plans for change once the platform is bedded in, particularly around his attempts to build customer loyalty. One of the things he’s learned is the importance of bringing key people around the table to think about how digital transformation creates benefits.

“Involving everyone from the start is really important,” he says. “Yes, there are people in the business who haven’t been involved every single day, but we have checked in with them every two weeks or weekly, so everyone’s felt a part of this. We’ve not thrown things on people halfway through and demanded feedback immediately.”

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Rabagliati says big innovation programmes often fail at large enterprises because focus and funding slip as priorities change. Having senior buy-in for the changes he is implementing has helped build awareness and interest around the company.

“The good thing about the structure at Eurotunnel is you do have the scope to focus, deliver things and make them happen,” he says. “This Salesforce project is a really good example of that approach. The business decided to do something, it got completely behind the project, nothing has derailed that process, and it’s going live quickly, which is pretty impressive.”

More generally, Rabagliati expects more line-of-business executives at all organisations to continue to become more involved in IT purchasing decisions. The cloud provides a platform for anyone to buy services on-demand – and without the constraints that sometimes hinder a proactive approach to technology implementation.

“The business will definitely become more involved in the decision-making process,” he says. “If you look at what companies like Salesforce will provide for you, they come out with so many different elements that are customer-focused. Yes, you need to implement the technology, but a lot of it is there, ready to use. So, it does take away some of the historical implementation parts that were maybe there with big systems.”

Keeping people happy

Rabagliati says his aim over the next couple of years is to ensure his team creates a consistent experience for the people who rely on Eurotunnel’s services. The key to success will be guaranteeing that the company’s digital channels act like a journey companion.

“That means evolving the app and the website, so that – no matter where you are in your journey with Eurotunnel – you have access to the right information at the right time,” he says. “Whether you’re deciding when you need to leave, thinking about your documentation to get you through the tunnel, or focusing on when you’ve arrived at the other end, our ambition is that we’ve helped you on that journey.”

Rabagliati says the end point of this transition will be to ensure that the organisation’s employees always look beyond the safe confines of the enterprise firewall. Whenever his people think about the work they are doing or the elements they are changing, they are aways focused on the potential impact for the customer.

“It’s very easy to be internally focused,” he says. “I want us to be running projects that give people a better experience, so they keep coming back and they tell people how seamless the experience was.” 

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