Amtrak: Train Yourself To Deal With Millennial Service Needs

Amtrak: Train Yourself To Deal With Millennial Service Needs

Growing millennial service demands bring Amtrak to a spending junction: invest in their capital infrastructure, or focus on service amenities to better align with the millennial demographics.

On several recent trips on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train, it became apparent that while Amtrak has made great strides towards increasing its appeal, the company has yet to reposition itself for the next generation of travelers who will soon be deciding if it’s worth saving the few extra bucks by taking the train over faster options like air travel. Here are 4 ways Amtrak can better align its service delivery to delight and further attract millennial riders:

Better Food and Beverage Service

Millennials know what they want. It’s safe to say that microwaved cheeseburgers aren’t high on their list. Amtrak should take note of our friends across the pond. The Spanish national train company, Renfe, offers fresh baked breads, pastries, and sandwiches, including the famed jamon serano.

A sad microwaved cheeseburger from Amtrak.
Photo Courtesy of Matt Lynch/Thrillist

Better Pricing

Often the Amtrak routes will be priced higher than airfares along the same routes. Amtrak has been known to be a price discriminator that nearly doubles or triples fare prices as the trip date comes closer. The high variability of prices and the uncertain amount of time needed to book a trip at the optimal price often leaves millennials searching for a less expensive option.

Enhanced WIFI

While the Northeast Corridor offers select WIFI service on many trains that travel along this route, not all of the train origination points offer WIFI service. Notably, trains that originate in Vermont, dubbed the Vermonter line, don’t offer WIFI options in the train cars. With airlines offering connectivity at 30,000 feet, it is hard to understand why Amtrak hasn’t yet equipped all of the cars with WIFI options. If the company fails to invest in its network offerings, many younger travelers may choose to fly, enjoying entertainment options such as JetBlue’s DirecTV offering.

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More Loyalty Perks

Amtrak’s loyalty program, Amtrak Guest Rewards  offers three unique tiers that require yearly qualification points. At major stations, none of these tier levels allow early boarding, which can be a bit of a hassle at the major hubs. Enhancing how the carrier identifies and treats its loyal guests will increase customer satisfaction and ease of travel. Much like purchasing extra leg-room on an airline, travelers appreciate the little things.

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Millennials are known to marketers as expecting a higher service standard without having to pay for the upgrade. The younger generations, fueled by the increase in mobile technology, has created new demands and service requests surrounding travel.

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My Two Cents: I would go as far as to guess that Gen Y’s would choose a slightly longer travel time in favor of increased WIFI and connectivity options onboard trains. It is now up to Amtrak, as well as other transportation giants to determine how they will focus their spending when upgrading their infrastructure. Whether this upgrade be to include more service options to meet customer demands, or to increase infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels to ensure business growth.

While these suggestions aren’t going to make or break Amtrak’s future success, they would further entice millennials to fall back in love with rail travel. With airfare cutting the travel time between some points by a third, there is heavy competition in the travel industry to capture the business of the Gen Y’s. Service delivery is important for all industries, including ones that are semi private (like Amtrak) and competing with other modes of transportation seeing heavy investment in en-route entertainment technology.

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand manager based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.

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Loyalty Program Devaluation Lessens Brand Loyalty

Loyalty Program Devaluation Lessens Brand Loyalty

As a marketer obsessed with brands, it is easy to understand why I fell in love with loyalty programs at such a young age. I remember the first time my mother introduced me to Starbucks, a worldwide purveyor of coffee and pioneer of the growing American coffee shop culture. My mother, a self proclaimed coffee junkie, refuses to “Get her fix” from anywhere besides the green mermaid. In early 2008, her coffee addiction awarded her a Starbucks Gold Card, a significant milestone given to the most loyal of customers. Back in 2008, I wasn’t aware of this significance for loyal customers who spent well over Starbucks’ expected customer life amount in a matter of months. When paying with her brand new gold card, I was amazed that a huge company, with thousands of locations, would recognize my mother for being such a loyal customer.loyalty_infographic1As of late, it seems that the Starbucks Gold Tier rewards program has lost its way. Pre-April 12th 2016, earning “Gold” status required 30 visits within one calendar year, regardless of dollar amount spent. The new Starbucks rewards program modeled the one utilized by Dunkin Donuts. Rather than include their own loyalty model with the new offering, Starbucks wiped away the frequency rewards in favor of the dollar-spent model. Essentially, anyone who spends $62.50 or more will instantly be awarded the perks of Gold status regardless of how long you’ve been a loyal customer.screen-shot-2016-03-07-at-8-20-46-pm

Under the old rewards program, anyone who made 30 purchases in a calendar year was awarded gold status. This devaluation caused a large uproar from current gold members who threatened to frequent Dunkin Donuts in favor of a brand that maintains their rewards status quo. With some critics of the program saying Starbuck’s previous rewards program was overvalued since the start, this devaluation, essentially returning it to an industry standard valuation, wasn’t much of a change. While the program now rewards customers for dollars spent, there is a lingering feeling of distrust between the ex elite and the coffee giant.images-1.pngTaking advantage of the strife felt by Starbucks gold members, Dunkin Donuts fired right back. Dunkin sought to capitalize on its own successful loyalty program to capture disgruntled customer’s business through clever social media campaigns. It worked.images.pngThe rise of loyalty programs has become both a blessing and a curse. Often, those customers in the higher echelons of loyalty programs feel a larger sense of entitlement. This feeling of entitlement, speaking in terms of bringing a rewards program valuation back to industry standards from an inflated high, offended long time clients who enjoyed their exclusive-elite status. In a time when one person’s dollar is worth the same as the next, it is up to large brands to create loyalty programs for their frequent visitors and generate demand for their products. With customer acquisition costs skyrocketing, companies such as Starbucks can’t afford to lose market share simply because the company overvalued its rewards program and only now decided to make such a drastic devaluation. A devaluation intended to increase brand engagement and reach can backfire on those who supported the initial rewards program, propelling them to choose to frequent competitors who have listened to the call of the consumer. The importance of creating and retaining a higher-level loyalty program for members that will be sustainable throughout the growth of the business is becoming more and more important in today’s customer centric world.images.jpeg

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand manager based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.