Since LNER started in June we've been in touch with various departments within the organisation to see what they have planned. We have met with several different areas of the business, the most recent meeting was with the marketing director and the loyalty manager - something that we are very passionate about!
The turnaround from the LNER announcement to them taking over operation of the franchise was very short notice and therefore from day one very little changed, the only things that did were those tied to the Virgin brand (Beam, Flying Club and Virgin Red) everything else carried on as it was and is in the process of being rebranded. The Nectar scheme will also continue to operate as it did under VTEC.
The good news is that as LNER is a new company, there is some scope to revisit what customer loyalty and recognition should look like. LNER are in the process of looking at the options what a loyalty proposition could look like under the LNER brand.
There wasn't much more that could be said at this time but we've offered to help in whatever way we can to help them create a loyalty scheme that works well for both the business and passengers. It's important to mention that any new scheme is likely to run alongside Nectar for the foreseeable future, but this may look different when the Nectar contract is up for renewal. LNER do recognise the importance of engaging with key stakeholders to implement something new, so we are hoping to be involved in the process and will share details on this as soon as we are able.
Whatever is implemented must work for both the business and customers, but we are hoping that this time around the benefits and recognition will be more than just a free sandwich!
As LNER is a new company, they were not able to retain all of the previous customer data under VTEC - so we would urge you to ensure you are signed up on their website and you have selected yes in order to receive updates from them and to find out their latest plans.
There is going to be a renewed focus on 'brilliant basics'. We have reported widely on some of the key failings of VTEC, and LNER have assured us that they want to put right some of the things that went wrong, such as ensuring the staff rotas work well for everyone and that the catering service is more reliable. Improvements don't just happen overnight and so we'll be keeping track of any changes they make in these areas.
We also asked some broader questions such as the general tone that LNER will adopt. Defining the LNER brand is still an ongoing process but the intention is to keep the brand friendly but not overly familiar in a way that Virgin could be. There'll still be many examples of the Virgin style on the LNER webpages as it'll take time to update all content but an example is that the website no longer says 'Wahey!' when you've booked a ticket!
LNER wants to be a forward looking brand, although that doesn't mean history has to be removed from all marketing (after all even Virgin Trains East Coast made references to the history of the line where appropriate such as the 'Flying Scotsman' livery). The move to LNER also means they're going to do more to promote the communities they serve, and build stronger relationships with local communities. LNER should be about people - both staff and customers and places; the destinations they serve and the importance of the communities there.
Having to develop a new brand from scratch is a big task and it'll be interesting to see how things develop.
Something surprising was that the usage of Beam (the Virgin Trains branded entertainment platform) was less than 2% on average. This means that a replacement may not be on the cards (but it hasn't been ruled out). Research might show that despite not using it some passengers may still be attracted to train travel due to its availability or there might be other reasons it's not as popular as expected. There's a number of ways that Beam could be improved such as offering live TV (would have been great during the world cup or other live events) or maybe a partnership with a major provider such as Netflix.
As for Save East Coast Rewards we think it's time for a rebrand of our own. It's important to note that our focus has moved from solely being about Rewards to covering the whole East Coast experience. Our aim is to ensure that LNER succeeds in a way that benefits both passengers and the places that they serve. We will see how well LNER does over the next few months before deciding what route we'll take. Hopefully we'll be able to work with them to ensure that passenger voices are represented.