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by James Hickman James Hickman


  • Posted on Wednesday 20th May, 2015

When it was announced that Virgin/Stagecoach were taking over the East Coast Mainline, I personally felt that this would be a good thing for the service and the commuter.

At the start of my career I lived and worked in Birmingham, and pretty much caught the Virgin Trains service from New Street Station at least once a week.

I always found the whole experience fantastic. The branding was a breath of fresh air, the Pendolino trains were fast and efficient, the cabins were comfortable and roomy and the staff well informed and friendly. It was like (I imagine) flying first class with Virgin Airlines.

So, when it was announced that Virgin were coming to Yorkshire, I saw this as only a good thing.

Fast forward a few months and I can honestly say I’m yet to see any of the Virgin I know and love.

Within minutes of taking over, the much loved loyalty scheme was scrapped and replaced with a generic Nectar points system. If I’m correct for every 936 trips we make to London we can now get a £20 voucher for Homebase.

Apart from a few Virgin stickers hastily applied to the main locomotive section of the old East Coast rolling stock, the whole rebrand has been disappointing and half arsed with a juxtaposed mix of East Coast Mainline blue and the odd smattering of Virgin red.

It’s the communication that seems to have taken the worst hit. Internally staff clearly haven’t been ‘Virgined’, with many of them still talking about the halcyon days of the East Coast and having the occasional moan about their holiday entitlement and Virgin discounts, while the website and onboard media offerings are simply poorly re-skinned versions of the old East Coast platform.

However, the thing that irks me the most is the consumer communication. There was the usual Virgin fanfare when the inaugural train left Leeds bound for London, with journalists boarding the train and interviewing spokespeople who waxed lyrical about all the benefits and proposed costs savings (NB. The majority of these interviews, from what I saw, always took place in a carriage vestibule emblazoned with East Coast Mainlines branding?!?)

But, since then it would seem that the social media platforms have become the main channel of distribution for all the latest goings on. From the outside this may seem like a great thing. All the news. Instantly. The second its available.

In theory that’s fantastic. The reality though, is that all this sharing is beginning to make me see the Virgin brand in an increasingly negative light. Its not the fact that I’m being kept up to date with the latest goings on in the world of Virgin East Coast that’s offending me, it’s the vast over sharing of issues.

Prior to Virgin taking over, the East Coast feed was used as a direct customer service tool and to provide info about promotions, menus and general Yorkshire stuff. But now, it would seem, I am being told about every single service disruption, signal failure, leaf on the line and reason for said leaf on the line. And the sheer volume of this information is having a detrimental effect on my views of Virgin.

For example, at the time of writing, over the past 56 hours I have counted around 27 different tweets about interruption. This isn’t including the valid information about the RMT strikes, the latest menu change or the ‘Selfie’ promotion at Kings Cross. These 27 odd posts are just notes to EVERYONE about the problems they are having.

This over sharing by Virgin reminds me of the friend that appears in everyone’s Facebook feed. You know the one. The one who’s in the process of splitting up with a partner and insists on posting every minute detail of the ‘conscious uncoupling’. The series life affirming quotes, pictures of them ‘enjoying’ themselves and the drunken late night passive aggressive rants.

Ask yourself, what do you tend to do with those people? That’s right, you block them.

I am beginning to have the same feelings toward Virgin East Coast. The apparent strategy of being honest and efficient is almost too honest and efficient and it’s putting me off.

So, it begs the question, what is too much when it comes to social and where do we draw the line?

Personally I believe the strategy should be to pair off the Twitter channel to form a customer service channel and a general news channel. Posting on the CS channel valid disruptions and interacting with disgruntled customers and keeping the general channel open to news, views and general customer communication.

Some may disagree. If so, here’s a little food for thought. If you were about to board a Virgin plane from London to New York would you really want to see a twitter feed littered with tweets pointing out air traffic control issues, power failures and diversions, or would you like to see images of the cabin interior, tips for travellers and info on the days menu?

I know which I’d prefer to see….