The Thalys experience
Thalys trains travel across four central European countries and cultures at staggering paces, blurring borders and congregating fun European melting pots in their red interiors. As part of an innovative drive focusing on the customer experience, Méthos teams conducted an in-depth ethnography, at over 300 km/h, across these four countries. All aboard!
Thalys has become a household name: people often say they are taking “the” Thalys, meaning that it has effectively merged almost seamlessly into Europe’s mobility landscape. It has become practically essential for people who travel regularly from Belgium to France, the Netherlands or Germany. It bears the promise of an instant change of scenery for weekend city-breakers, and is undeniably the most convenient option to visit European capitals for foreign tourists.
Thalys trains stand out in stations with their distinctive tone of red, but also on account of their international and multicultural image. During their time on-board, travellers come into contact with lives and cultures diametrically opposite theirs: tax expats, gangs of friends en-route for Amsterdam, Congolese clad in La Sape style between Paris and Brussels, young Belgian art students, and Japanese, Dutch, German and French tourists. Thalys has that appeal, and users appreciate the quality of its service but at the same time, it is also having trouble providing a Thalys-hallmarked 360° experience covering the full door-to-door service.
Thalys has control over the environment in the train, but not over what happens before and after people take the train. The stations and ticket booking and collection systems, for example, are usually run by national railway companies. This makes harmonisation laborious – and, in a nutshell, makes Thalys akin to a small-scale Europe!
Methos teams have looked at these issues, including the door-to-door Thalys experience, comfort classes, Thalys bar, loyalty programme and subscriptions. To do that, we conducted an in-depth ethnography and produced a film, in trains and stations, between Dresden, Paris and Amsterdam, via Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne and Rotterdam, with passengers ranging from frequent travellers to occasional ones and on to first-timers, and with all the Thalys resource people in stations and trains.
This ethnography led to an innovation project with our partners at id-sl, which in turn opened up new leads directly related to our field findings, and led on to new projects that Thalys is now working on in its development pipeline.