Since we last met with the Virgin Trains East Coast marketing director, we have been considering customer loyalty and what is important to us and to the supporters of the campaign. As well as rewarding loyalty, we do want a great service and we have some more insight into the future plans that Virgin Trains East Coast have in place.
In our second meeting we discuss their current plans for improving the benefits offered to the existing passengers, including season ticket holders and business travellers, the plans for Nectar and Flying Club going forward and of course future product developments.
So, whats happening with the closure of rewards?
As you know, rewards closes on 30th September, and any points NOT redeemed before this date will automatically expire. Its important you redeem the points by this time in order to use them. We are committed to Nectar and to Flying Club and passengers can transfer points to either scheme before 30th September. We have sent communications to all rewards members to remind them about the cutoff and to explain what they need to do to convert their remaining points.
And whats happening with Nectar?
Nectar is still the main loyalty scheme we are running, however we are conscious that not all customers feel its the right scheme for them which is why we have Flying Club as well. Alongside this we are still looking at how we can reward customers in other ways and more information will come for this over the coming months.
What about Season Ticket holders?
We are pleased to say that we will be rewarding season ticket holders and recognise that this has been a long time coming. We are building online season ticket retail that will allow Nectar points or Flying Club and we will be contacting our season ticket holders shortly to look at implementing this. We do recognise this has been slow coming and can only apologise to our season ticket holders for this.
Having Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast is really confusing.
Whats being done about this?
We are working with Virgin Trains on the West Coast and going forward we will both be identified using the main Virgin Trains logo but identify ourselves as Virgin Trains East/West Coast when something only applies to one of us. We recognise that there has been a bit of confusion around this and people don't know which website to use or who to tweet if they have a question. Over time we will be looking to make this much easier for customers to interact with both companies but we can confirm that both will still be run independently as they are both under separate franchise agreements.
What are some of the future plans for the service?
The trains that we run are in the process of a multi-million pound refurbishment before the new trains come onto the line in a few years. We will start to see the new trains in place from November and we hope that this will start to build on creating an even better passenger experience. As well as this, we are looking at the whole customer experience from booking a train, getting your tickets and then the journey itself. We want to put passengers at the centre of the experience and so will be looking at ways that we can deliver the best experience to our customers.
Whats next for our campaign
The campaign is still going strong, and although we haven't been able to bring back East Coast Rewards, we have been able to impact the decisions that are being made. The key impact has been that they are looking at additional benefits for frequent travellers and season ticket holders, something that was not mentioned in their initial announcement. We have also played a part in suggesting they offer more through Flying Club, originally the only option to convert unused points was going to be Nectar and they also added the ability to spend Flying Club miles on rail travel.
Virgin Trains East Coast seem to have been less pushy about Nectar than some of Nectar's other partners (if you compare with Virgin Trains West Coast and FirstGroup who have Nectar logos everywhere) and we believe that some of this is because of the support we have from all of you about how its such a poor scheme. They realise Nectar is a toxic brand to many particularly when East Coast Rewards is fresh in people's minds, but they also believe it has an appeal to some users so they've tried to strike a balance.
We're disappointed that the additional benefits for frequent travellers or anything whatsoever for season ticket holders have not progressed further along, but we do understand that a lot needs to go on behind the scenes in order to get this implemented, we'll always be around if they want our input on any of their plans.
We are going to meet with Virgin Trains East Coast marketing again towards the end of the year to look at where things are and although we haven't been able to bring back rewards, hopefully by that point they will have some of the other ways of rewarding customer loyalty in place and we can feed ideas into some of this. Also individual members of our team try and attend the Airtime (meet the manager) sessions that have been arranged and we've spread our message to managers on every level (including the MD David Horne).
As always, thanks to everyone for sticking with the campaign - your support really has made a difference.