Today Virgin Trains East Coast launched their second 'Red Report' (link is to a PDF), this is a six-monthly report and outlines how Virgin Trains East Coast have performed over the last six months and also their plans for the future.
From a Rewards perspective the article was a mixed bag. They did mention improvements are on the way but they still worded some of the articles in a manner that suggested that they considered Nectar an adequate way to reward someone for their loyalty, it was almost as if the report was written by two different people. One of them saying Nectar is truly rewarding and the other realising they need to do better.
For example on page 7 "Tips for getting great value fares" it states: "Buy from us directly – we charge NO booking fees, you can earn Nectar points, and our Price Promise means you always get the cheapest price. Can’t say fairer than that." As they've gone from the very generous Rewards to Nectar they really shouldn't be boasting about this!
Page 8 says "Thanks for your loyalty", alongside the Nectar logo, this is on the same page as a reminder that East Coast Rewards is closing.
These mentions of Nectar annoy customers so much because the benefits just don’t compare to East Coast Rewards. Saying thanks for your loyalty while mentioning Nectar and the closure of Rewards does not send the right message, and does nothing to help Rewards members feel like they are being listened to.
There is something more positive on page 8 which finally publicly acknowledges that they need to do more to reward their customers "We continue to take customer feedback on-board and recognise that you all want a rewarding experience. Alongside your choice of collecting Nectar points or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, we look forward to announcing more incentives to reward loyalty over the coming months." As we have mentioned previously we will be working with them to look at customer loyalty and feed your views directly to them when we meet with them again in September.
Volume has moved to the Quiet Coach
In the first ever Red Report (PDF) released in March, they asked us to “turn up the volume”, but as the new Red Report has no mention of this it appears that this idea has been silenced. We were led to believe that this online community for passenger feedback would be announced in the new Red Report just published.
We’re inviting all customers to apply to join our exclusive online community “Volume”. As a member, you’ll get to have a direct influence on how we run Virgin Trains East Coast and voice all the opinions you have on who we are and what we do... good or bad! In fact, we’ll generally invite you to just crank the volume up to 11.
Look out for information on how to join in our next issue of the Red Report.
Why has this changed? Again this is sending out a mixed message, the Airtime sessions where you can meet the managers on the trains or on the stations are a great idea but not everyone can make it to them, why not have an online forum where people can discuss ideas? Although East Coast Rewards were important to all of us, we want to make the East Coast Mainline the best it can be and would certainly be interested in seeing and discussing suggestions that others may have.
The branding issue
We've been noticing more and more that the 'East Coast' wording under the Virgin Trains logo is disappearing in some places, at some stations some of the information points are just branded Virgin Trains, their recent presence at the Edinburgh Fringe had everyone wearing Virgin Trains T-shirts (but at Newcastle Pride back in July they still said Virgin Trains East Coast). The Red Report is the first place we've noticed a leaflet where the Virgin Trains logo doesn't have East Coast under it.
The branding has already caused a lot of confusion. The more people who see just a Virgin Trains logo the more they will assume that the East and the West Coast are the same operation. In reality if you go to Virgin Trains to book your tickets you will not be able to select your seat, get the online discount or even earn useless Nectar points on East Coast services because it's a different operator (and FirstGroup is the only operator to give Nectar points on all rail travel). If you Tweet Virgin Trains about an East Coast issue they will tell you that they're a separate company. We are not sure why this is, but we will try and find out more about their future plans for branding.
Putting the sparkle back into travel
In the Red Report Virgin Trains make a surprisingly big deal about introducing prosecco on-board their trains. "Putting the sparkle back into travel", of course for many East Coast Rewards was the sparkle in rail travel. You can buy cheap fizz on other train operators too, some even sell it in full sized bottles! We certainly can't complain when the on-board product range improves but it was quite surprising the prominence this was given.
What do you think?