There’s one mode of transport that’s no stranger to the loyalty program. From frequent flyer miles to members’ only lounges, airline schemes are abundant, driving both profit and customer affinity. 

But for on-the-ground transit operators, loyalty programs are few and far between. That’s a concern in an industry where a years-long decline in ridership has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.

It’s also an opportunity – operators who are willing to get on board with customer loyalty stand to boost ridership, encourage eco-friendly choices and keep passengers within the transit network longer. 

But for many operators, a key question is what does a successful loyalty program look like?  

Last week, we joined Vix Technology at Transport Ticketing Digital to discuss the case for loyalty programs and how those programs can be used to incentivise rider behaviour.

The case for loyalty in public transport

A key topic of discussion during the webinar was the importance of choice – for a loyalty program to be successful, customers must have options. Do they spend with the brand in question or one of its competitors? 

If there’s only one service to choose from, any repeat custom is out of necessity, not loyalty.

So what does that mean for public transit? After all, there’s typically only one operator providing the services in a given area. 

But riders still have a choice. Do they take the bus or drive themselves? Do they book a train or call an Uber?

Between MaaS operators and personal vehicles, there’s plenty of choice. And that means there’s opportunity for transit operators – if they can provide a service that’s simpler, more convenient and more rewarding than the alternatives, they can become the preferred mode of transportation.

And that’s essential, given the current decline in public transport ridership. While this trend has been ongoing for several years, lockdowns and concerns around virus transmission have accelerated the decline. While numbers are beginning to creep back up, the latest stats show that ridership across multiple countries is down 66% compared to normal.

Clearly, there’s a need for operators to improve the experience and incentivise riders back onto their services. 

It’s down to more than just the loyalty program, of course. The whole process of booking the journey, getting service updates, changing between modes of transport, and so on needs to be simple and convenient – and contactless, preferably, given the current concerns around virus transmission.

But if the loyalty program is well-integrated with this whole process – if it’s easy to use and quickly delivers tangible benefits – it can be the extra encouragement customers need to choose public transport over a car.

What does a successful program look like?

So what does a seamless, convenient and rewarding program look like within the public transit space? While there aren’t many real-life examples yet to look to, we’ve put together a short video to show what’s possible with the technology available today.

Check out the video to watch as our fictional rider, Maria, goes from using public transit because she has to, to choosing public transit as her preferred option.

Any program you implement will need to be tailored, of course, to suit your service(s), business objectives and the specific needs and desires of your riders. But there are several key insights that any transit operator can take away from the customer journey shown above.

Easy enrolment
Don’t let your customers get stuck at the first hurdle – ensure the sign-up process is clear, simple and not too time-consuming. It can be tempting to collect lots of customer information at this stage, but it’s generally better to focus on the basics for now.

A study of UK consumers in 2020 showed that an easy sign-up process was the second most important consideration in joining a program, after the rewards and discounts on offer. You can always capture more information later, through a member survey or by offering points for profile completion.

Instant loyalty points & rewards
Get new members hooked in quickly by offering a few points and rewards upfront. In the video, Maria earns points quickly – even on the journey she’s already booked – and is immediately presented with offers she can redeem on her very next journey, without spending any points. 

This approach reassures the member that the program will quickly deliver on the benefits it promised – unlike many schemes, where earning points and redeeming rewards is so time-consuming that members soon disengage.

Seamless integration across channels
Make it easy for members to stay engaged with the program – earning points, redeeming rewards, and taking advantage of other benefits – by ensuring everything is connected across channels.

Making use of a mobile app – or integrating the program with your existing app – is a smart approach for members who are likely to be on the move when engaging with your program. And by linking the program to the member’s mobile wallet or preferred payment method, you can make the points-earning experience effortless.

A consistent experience builds emotional loyalty and makes it more likely that members stay engaged.

Contextual communications
A successful loyalty scheme is about more than points-for-prizes – it requires building emotional connections with members, by delivering ongoing value.

Rewards are a big part of the loyalty program, but their only part of the picture when it comes to building true, emotional loyalty. Engaging customers with personalised, helpful messaging is key to the overall experience.

Whether that’s timely updates related to an upcoming journey, rewards and offers recommended just for them, or proactive feedback requests, make sure your program builds a relationship with your members.

Taking the next step

Loyalty schemes have been under-used in public transit for too long. A well-executed loyalty program can have a significant impact, helping to boost ridership and improve customer satisfaction.

And with the right technology in place, getting there doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. In fact, an integrated, engagement-based loyalty program can be up-and-running – and creating customer value – in just a few months. It’s time for transit operators to get on board.

Interested in loyalty for public transportation? We’re partnering with Vix to deliver integrated programs that engage customers throughout their journey. Get in touch to find out more.