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(S)training to Understand VIA’s Loyalty Strategy

By Carol Levine, CEO

Customer loyalty and corporate reputation are high on my hit parade, and for good reason. I’ve spent my long career in public relations helping corporations build their brand, minimize fallout, and grow their business. I travel so often, admittedly by plane for the most part, that ground agents will comment if I’ve had a haircut and a hotel concierge won’t need to be asked to store the toiletry bag that I left for my next stay. As an alternate mode of travel I use VIA, always choosing their premium VIA 1 car. With a lovely meal, nice glass of wine and decadent after-dinner chocolate, it was worth the cost for a five hour trip. Not any more.

For some reason, VIA has decided that the difference in both service and atmosphere between economy and business class is not enough to incent their business travellers and so it seems that they have introduced different “classes” of first. Did they do this without giving any thought to how the rest of us might feel? I had five hours, and an additional 20 minute delay to think about why I bothered to spend the extra cash on VIA 1. Meal choices are offered to the first of the first class passengers which made me, at least, feel that I was travelling in economy. To no longer be offered a choice, or to be told that the choice is only for preferred passengers devalues VIA 1 altogether. Although the car was a little more than half-full, most riders ended up with a tray of hospital looking food, as the fish and beef choices were in precious limit.

So I ask myself what motivated VIA to this change ? I chose VIA 1 as a guilty pleasure. It no longer is. What it is, is a reminder that some first class passengers are better than others. In airline travel the borders are clear and curtains separate first, business and economy. Everyone knows what they are buying into. VIA has taken a premier product and segregated it within the same car. Instead, frequent VIA 1 passengers could have been incented with all matter of other treats from free travel, to points rewards for gifts – you get the point.

My friends and colleagues won’t be surprised that I tweeted the VIA Rail Prez with my takeaway. Instead of asking me to direct message them, or even say we’re sorry you were disappointed in the service, we’d like to make you happy, the response was reaffirming that this strategy is to incent their frequent customers. I see no point in sucking up an inferior product for so long, so I can eventually get the Asian Beef. VIA 1 – it was a fun ride while it lasted.