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.
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.