There aren’t many brands I spend more time with than the Belgian and Dutch railways (NMBS and NS). The last few months I spent an average 15 hours a week in the train. I think only Apple (MacBook Pro, iPad) has more quality time interacting with me.
And, I just calculated that over the last 8 year, I spent approximately 30.000 euros on train tickets.

On top of that, I am a true train ambassador. I prefer the train over a car (I still don’t feel the need to get my driver’s license, frustrating the hell out of my girlfriend) because the train gives me a relaxed environment to prepare meetings and write powerpoint presentations (or even take a quick nap). My most productive hours are on the train.

One-sided loyalty: the NMBS and NS story

But being a true train ambassador and spending 30.000 euros did not get me any love from the NMBS or NS brand. Even worse, they usually fail to communicate when delays occur, train delays are pretty common (on average, 80% of my connecting trains in Antwerp are delayed or cancelled) and they occasionaly steal my money.

And that bugs me. And it bugs me that it bugs me.

Arrogant as I am, I feel, that as a 30K customer, showing consistent loyalty over the years, I deserve some kind of loyalty back from the brand. Why? I guess I’m conditioned that way. It becomes more and more difficult for consumers to understand why being a 30K customer at your local bar will get you quite some free drinks, being a 30K customer at Vodafone will at least get you an inflatable crocodile and a balloon flight and being a 30K customer at NMBS/NS will get you … nothing.

Another by-effect that bugs me: since I realized I am a 30K customer without benefits, my tolerance level for NMBS and NS fails dropped dramatically. Every time my train is delayed, every time I have to wait in line for over 30 minutes to buy a ticket or every time communication is lacking, I get reminded of this one-sided loyalty.

Brands in all categories are conditioning consumers to expect love from brands. To expect some kind of loyalty system. To expect to be appreciated as a customer. To expect a random act of kindness. To expect to get some kind of affection when you spend 30.000 euros. I don’t want platinum card, a VIP treatment, or an inflatable crocodile. I want a hug.

The more consumers get conditioned to expect return for their loyalty, the more brand and categories that aren’t used to reward loyalty will suffer. Consumer expectations have changed and expectations will keep getting higher, towards new service normals. Oh and NMBS, I still want my money back.

9 comments

  1. well, don’t expect that from a governmental organisation. I know it feels f*cked up, but it is hard to change. It’s the 99%

    1. Well, that’s exactly my point. Government and more traditional institutions (banks, etc) will see an ever widening gap between the commercial parties that have 24/7/365 webcare and smart loyalty programs and their own acts. Consumers will be trained to except nothing less than 24/7/365 and loyalty programs. Pretty much like a websites: there was a time that it was a satisfier to have a site, now it’s a dissatisfier. 

  2. Damn Polle, 30K? You should have bought a small car years ago… The hours you’ve wasted waiting for a train, you could have spent being productive at home or at the office. On top of that, travelling by car is faster in most cases, so that would have saved you some time as well. I really don’t understand why people keep defending travelling by train. It’s expensive, tiring (for me it is more tiring than driving a car) and completely unreliable.

    1. Haha. My main clients are either in London, Amsterdam or Brussels. There is no way you can get things done in a car, so 100% of that travel time would be wasted. In the train, however, I can use most of my time working. So actually, I’m way better of 🙂

  3. Damn, You should ask for a “Gold Frequent train card” with trainmiles…

    You’re amount of train-miles should be enough to upgrade you to a taxiride everytime your train is 30minutes late or an exclusive train-lounge in the stations.

    1. Hahaha 🙂

      Yes I know, I should stop complaining, but it just is annoying. My guess is more and more consumers will have simlar feelings towards companies.

  4. Perhaps the difference here is that both NS and NMBS are monopolists. They know that you have no choice and will keep coming back, even if they keep delivering shitty service. It’s bad for PR when their customers get to complain in the media every now and then, but do they really care? Let’s have a look at the last ten years: delays are still the same (no improvement), price keeps rising (every six months or so), and NMBS has introduced plans to close certain lines. All things considered, that’s not a pretty picture. But it’s not like they customers have another choice. Also — for the NMBS — if they lose customers and need money, the government will chip in and help with funding. No motivation to improve the service.

    Now imagine this framework in any other company sector.

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