When Save East Coast Rewards met Virgin Trains

When Save East Coast Rewards met Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains East Coast that is.

It has been a few months since we started the Save East Coast Rewards campaign, and the response has been overwhelming. We have been working hard to ensure that Virgin Trains East Coast recognise the mistake they made by scrapping the old rewards scheme and introducing Nectar.

We were finally able to meet with the Marketing Director of VTEC and put some of our key questions to him. While we may not like all of the answers, this does give us some more insight into why they took the decisions that they did and hopefully now we will be in a good position to work with them to get customers the right level of loyalty and recognition they deserve.

Why did you not seek the opinions of the 670,000+ existing rewards members before scrapping the scheme?

When Virgin Trains East Coast were forming the bid for the franchise, neither ourselves nor the other franchise bidders were permitted access to any of the customer data for the existing scheme to make direct contact. Quite simply, we were not able to get the information to consult with members and we had to make a decision on what we were going to do with the rewards scheme. We knew that it was taking revenue away from the business that would be needed to improve the overall service and as a commercial operation we had to take the decision to end it in its current form and bring in an alternative.

Why would you scrap a popular loyalty scheme that was making a profit for your business, for a scheme that is inferior in every way?

When Virgin Trains East Coast were forming the bid for the franchise, every aspect of operation was carefully examined and the bid had to be compiled to return the largest returns to the taxpayer. The majority of Journeys that were being made through the old rewards scheme would have been made if they had been free or not, so a commercial decision was taken to get close the scheme and replace it with an alternative. Nectar has a wide breadth of appeal and was chosen for this reason, however we didn’t fully realise how many people felt so strongly about rewards until after the decision had been taken.

If you're confident about the market research why are you afraid to publish it? (If there's any commercially sensitive information it can be removed)

Virgin and Stagecoach often bid for other franchises and the research that was done is likely to be re-used to inform future business plans. Its for this reason that it was not possible to release any of this.

Is it a good idea to have a scheme that benefits the loyal Sainsbury's shopper more than the loyal rail customer?

When Virgin Trains East Coast were looking at options for the franchise, we looked at a number of schemes, including other existing loyalty schemes that are out there in the market place, and asked a broad spectrum of users which they'd prefer. Everyone knows that the old rewards scheme was one of the most generous loyalty programmes and as a commercial business we had to make a decision to look at where we could save money and also reuse money to re-invest into the network to make the improvements we are planning. We still believe that although the new scheme is less generous for the high value Rewards members, it will still deliver for us and provide reward to a wide number of our customers.

If you are now fully committed to Nectar, why can’t you run both schemes side by side to give customers a choice of how they want to earn rewards?

Our agreement with Nectar means that we are only able to offer limited options in terms of alternatives. We worked with them to offer Virgin Flying Club as an alternative for customers that travel. We are looking at new options for for season ticket holders and high spend customers, and we recognise that this has been too slow in being launched. We hope that within the next few months we will be in a position to do more to reward these customers as well. Watch this space.

What next for Save East Coast Rewards?

This is by no means the end of the campaign, in fact it’s the beginning of the next stages and we hope you will all stay with us for this.

As you can see from the responses, we aren’t going to be able to bring back rewards as it was – this is very disappointing for us as that has always been our aim however we still feel the campaign has made a significant impact.

Without your support we would never have been able to build such a strong campaign and make Virgin Trains East Coast realise how important customer loyalty is and for that we are grateful for all of your support. We would also never have had the opportunity to meet with the marketing director and raise our collective concerns face to face so its been great that we have now done this and been able to get some answers.

We still firmly believe that Nectar is the wrong scheme for the East Coast Mainline, and while it may deliver commercially for them and for people that think it’s a good scheme, most of us are well aware that it’s a poor scheme generally for loyalty – If you are still not sure, just check out our No to Nectar site.

We think that they know that they made the wrong choice about Nectar, and while they wouldn’t want to admit this publicly, we still want you to encourage friends and family to sign the petition as we do want to capture how strongly people feel about this and its really important that you continue your support – we need to show them that they have to deliver a better scheme for passengers.

Since this initial meeting, some of the team have also met the Virgin Trains East Coast Managing Director David Horne to flag our concerns directly to him and he does understand the campaign and how strong the depth of feeling is from you all. We have another meeting planned in September with some of the managers where we hope to find out more about their plans for rewarding season ticket holders and high spending customers, including business travellers that don’t book directly through the VTEC website.

When we meet with them in September, we will be discussing their future plans for customer loyalty and so if any of you have specific ideas or thoughts about what we can propose to them for providing a better level of loyalty then please get in touch with us.

We would still encourage you NOT to sign up to earn Nectar points through their site when booking and would advise you to collect Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles instead as you do get a better return and can use these miles for other partners such as hotels so even if you do not plan to fly with Virgin Atlantic you would still be able to make use of this. If you still want to collect Nectar points you're better off booking through the First Great Western website as they give points on all rail travel, whereas the Virgin companies only give points on their own services.

While we haven’t exactly got the answer we wanted, we hope that you will stay with the campaign and help us keep pushing for a better loyalty scheme for everyone.