#560: Exploring Club Eurostar: Insights from Loyalty Manager Sophia Laban

This episode focuses on the Club Eurostar Loyalty Programme. With Sophia Laban, the Loyalty Manager for the programme. She is responsible for managing the future strategy of the Club Eurostar programme and has previously worked for IAG Loyalty and Sky VIP and brings a wealth of loyalty experience to the podcast.

Today we will be learning about her favourite loyalty programmes, how Club Eurostar is building member engagement and all about their plans for the future.

 Hosted by Charlie Hills.

Show notes:

1) Club Eurostar Loyalty Programme

2) Sophia Laban

3) Mando Connect

4) YouGov

5) European Loyalty Whitepaper

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m Paula Thomas, the Founder and CEO of Let’s Talk Loyalty and also now Loyalty TV. Today’s episode is hosted by Charlie Hills, Chief Strategy Officer of Mando-Connect, a UK based agency that uses smart data to create brilliant partnerships and rewards that really work. 

If you work in loyalty marketing, you can watch our latest video interviews every Thursday on www.loyalty.tv. And of course, you can also listen to Let’s Talk Loyalty every Tuesday, every Wednesday, and every Thursday to learn the latest ideas from loyalty experts around the world.

This show is brought to you by Comarch, a multi-country leader in customer engagement tools that help you forge meaningful connections and boost profits, leveraging over 10 years of experience in utilizing AI technology. From immersive loyalty programs to captivating marketing campaigns, Comarch helps you deliver personalized experiences across every touchpoint, gather valuable insights, understand customer behavior and watch your brand recognition soar. 

Comarch, where innovation meets customer satisfaction. To learn more, visit comarch.com.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. I’m Charlie Hills, the Chief Strategy officer of Mando-Connect, WPPs loyalty Specialist partnerships and rewards agency. We have created a white paper in partnership with YouGov that explores loyalty, membership, appeal, and impact across 24 European markets. And I’m delighted to be hosting a series of podcasts featuring European loyalty experts to help our listeners better understand loyalty across the continent. 

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Sophia Laban, the Loyalty Manager for Club Eurostar. She is responsible for managing the future strategy of the Club Eurostar program, and she has previously worked for IAG Loyalty, Sky VIP, and brings a wealth of loyalty experience to the podcast. Today, we’ll be learning about her favorite loyalty programs, how Club Eurostar is building member engagement, and all about their plans for the future. I hope you enjoy our conversation today. 

So welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. We’re absolutely delighted to have you here today. Thanks for joining us. 

Sophia: Hi, Charlie. Lovely to be here today. 

Charlie: We’re thrilled that you’re here. It’s such a brilliant program. I can’t wait to learn all about it and share it with all our listeners. But before we get into your brilliant program, I am as ever going to start off with Paula’s favorite question. So please, what is your favorite loyalty program?

Sophia: Oh, it’s a tough one. When you work in loyalty, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But I think for me, I think you probably had this one a few times maybe, but I think what Lidl Plus are doing at the moment is really, really clever. And I think I’m a big fan. I think my mom was probably the biggest advocate for the Lidl Plus, I think she’s never been so involved with an order program before, but I just think the gamification, the way they do the spin the wheel, they really bring you back every time you kind of get a prize every time, no matter if you spend five pounds or a hundred pounds, you’re guaranteed to win something and it’s not based on what you spend. I think it’s just really clever. 

I think it’s a great way to hook you in every time you go back to get your prize. You’re not just going back for the free gift. You’re obviously going to buy something again. I just think it’s a really, really slick way of, of kind of giving away prizes that they could have done in a much easier way and just given everybody about sure in their account, but instead they really put that element of you’re winning it, you’re spinning it, you’re going into the app, you’re pressing the button.

So I think for me, just because of the gamification and how there’s, hey’ve kind of delivered it such low value prizes, but people just are hooked. So I think Lidl Plus for me is the one recently that I really noticed that’s doing a great job. 

Charlie: Oh, that’s brilliant. I absolutely love that program and I was privileged enough to work on it as well. 

Sophia: Oh, wow you do.

Charlie: We’ll still do actually. Yeah, so I’m absolutely thrilled. I promise our listeners that we did. 

Sophia: Yeah, it wasn’t, it wasn’t biased.

Charlie: But no, it’s such a great program. You know, every right paper that we do, it gets called out, it gets called out in the British market, it got called out in the European paper as well. It’s such a strong program. And I think my favorite thing about it is just the positive disruption that when they did it, you know, they looked at all the different grocery loyalty programs that were out there and went, no, we’re going to do something different. And now a lot of the other sort of programs are taking their lead.

And that gamification element is so strong and so true to the brand. I always think it sort of replicates the middle of little experience where you go and you get hooked and you go regularly because you never quite know what’s going to be in there. My most recent purchase was Neoprene Canoeing Socks.

Sophia: Just what you didn’t know you needed, right? 

Charlie: Just what you didn’t know you needed from your grocer, so yeah. 

Sophia: I have to avoid the aisle sometimes, just because I know I’m going to come back with something crazy. 

Charlie: The only problem is I end up swerving around to the cheese bit, and then I’m, I’ve lost, I’ve wasted hours. 

Sophia: Or they have like Italian week or something, and then you’ve got like six salamis in your basket.

Charlie: So good, so good. Yeah, well, huge fan. Yeah, me too, really good. Huge digital fans of Lidl Plus. Great choice of programme. So tell us a bit about you and you know, obviously we now know that you know Lidl Plus, but what’s a bit more about your background and what do you really enjoy about working in loyalty?

Sophia: Yeah, of course. My background is I started out at Sky a good few years ago now, and I started off working in Sky VIP. So they’d recently launched their loyalty programs. It was quite new in that space, really having a launch program for kind of a television and mobile that kind of provided was quite a new proposition.

So I started off there, worked mainly on the events and the ticketing partnership side of things. So kind of bringing on new partners to the program, giving tickets to sports events, cinema screenings, that sort of thing. Did that for a few years, moved around a bit of Sky, did non loyalty related things, worked a bit in just proposition or strategy just to kind of get that under my belt, really enjoyed that time.

But then I went on a few years ago to work at IAG Loyalty. After Sky I went on there to work there in the propositions team. Really loved that. That was straight into kind of the world of loyalty, but very much different to what I did before going into travel, which is where I’ve stayed now. So working on the kind of the proposition behind more of the Iberia, Aer Lingus and running side of things. But yeah, yeah. rather than British Airways. So looking at how those programs could evolve in the future. So I really enjoyed that role. 

And then earlier this year, I moved on to Eurostar, so staying in a similar world, but working in travel loyalty. And yeah, so I’m now the loyalty manager at Eurostar working in the marketing team. And yeah, my main role is to manage the future of Club Eurostar, the program strategy, the roadmap, how we want to evolve the program going forward. So yeah, it’s been, it’s only been five months. I’m still quite new to Eurostar, but really enjoying it.

And I really love kind of, for me, travel loyalty is so interesting. I’m a keen traveler myself. I love to kind of get the good deals, collect my points, get my vouchers, companion vouchers, all that sort of thing. So for me, I definitely wanted to stay in this world. And I think it was a great move coming into kind of a different, still travel, but very different being rail and more domestic, not domestic, but shorter distances. So I think I was quite interested in moving away from the long haul and all those sorts of things. So that’s a whistle stop tour into what I’ve done. 

Charlie: But yeah really, really lovely, really lovely set of experience.  think I’ve always really admired Sky VIP. Actually, it was the first sort of tenure based program for any of our listeners that don’t know Sky VIP, go check it out. It’s a brilliant, brilliant program, very smartly tiered on tenure and really one of the best I think at those high end entertainment experiences and that only Sky can.

Sophia: Yeah, the money can’t buy like having your way to kind of maybe I think one of the things we did was you could win a part in one of our TV shows, you could be an extra or have a line or that sort of thing and we flew people out to different places to do set tours and things like that, which you can’t buy those experiences. And I think that for loyalty, that’s what our members loved was those experiences, but they would never be able to purchase it or maybe never able to afford one of these trips. And then they’ve gone on this amazing experience and some of the feedback we got was just really special. So I really enjoyed, enjoyed that time at Skype VIP and they’re still doing a great job now from what I can see. So yeah.

Charlie: It’s so interesting, isn’t it? How different sectors have their own sort of hero partnerships, media and entertainment spaces, very much about that money can’t buy once in a lifetime stuff.

But then as you’ve, you know, you’ve talked about then moving across to travel, which is almost at the polar opposite end, isn’t it? 

Sophia: Definitely, yes.

Charlie: It’s all points and tears and complicated mathematical equations.

Sophia: I know.

Charlie: To work out the best value that you can get and how you can then use your companion vouchers to travel and then taken it into Eurostar. That’s really nice. Have you been over to Paris much, she says, which is her, my number one destination on Eurostar?

Sophia: Yeah, we actually go to Brussels more than Paris, which the people will be surprised to hear. So it’s probably a good segue that to mention that we merged last year with Thalys. So in kind of end of last year Eurostar and Thalys came together and created kind of just Euro, the Eurostar brand now.

And as part of that we merged the two loyalty programs team. So My Thalys World and Club Eurostar, the old version, came together to become the new Club Eurostar. I can’t take any credit. It all happened before I started. But they did a great, the team did a great job and yeah. So for us, the other base is Brussels, really.

So kind of some of our old Thalys, well, now Eurostar colleagues are still based out in Brussels. So we go between the two. So half our team’s out there as well. So I’ve not made it to Paris yet, but I’ve been to Brussels a few times. It’s been fabulous. 

Charlie: Waffles, chocolate, and some really, really good beer. I actually started my working life in Brussels.

Sophia: Oh, really?

Charlie: Working for a lobbying company for the European Parliament. I know that city well. Fabulous. We must talk about that offline. 

Sophia: Yes.

Charlie: Nobody else wants to know where the nice restaurants are. 

Sophia: We’ll have to do a travel podcast instead. 

Charlie: Yeah, definitely. Oh, how brilliant. Tell us a little bit more about Club Eurostar. And one of the things that we’re trying to do on the podcast as well is sort of, what is the program and how does it work and what do people get as a consequence of that membership?

Sophia: Yeah, of course. So Club Eurostar is the loyalty program of Eurostar. So for those who aren’t really familiar, that’s the train, the international train that goes, connects London to the continent. So our main destinations, as Charlie mentioned earlier, is Paris. We also go to Brussels. We’ve now extended out further. So you can go all the way into Amsterdam and Rotterdam. That’s kind of our key network. And we’ve still, and then with the merger of Thalys as well, you can now change in Brussels and go even further. So off to Germany and wider places around as well. 

So for us, that’s the, that’s the launch program at that point brand. As I mentioned before, we brought together Club Eurostar and My Thalys World back in October last year. So we’ve got a really kind of quite differentiated base. We’ve got members in the UK who are probably with the more old Club Eurostar members that travel between London and Paris a lot. But now we’ve got more of the old Thalys World users that go a lot between Brussels and Paris. So we’ve got kind of quite a big base of people now with different needs and different travel, not all international anymore. It’s quite mixed as well. 

So the program is quite a traditional travel loyalty program. You go, you can earn points and those points you can spend on travel but also you end points and your tier status. So we’ve got the status levels and as you get points for traveling, you kind of go through the levels and as you can imagine, you earn kind of more in journey benefits. So things like lounge access, fast track and then tier point not tier point, but reward point accelerators as well. So you can earn more points, the higher tier you get.

So it’s easier to kind of earn points to spend on travel. So yeah, it’s quite a simple program. I think I really enjoyed coming to the program and kind of getting my head around it, but I think it’s a really great program for anyone that’s kind of traveling regularly and even leisurely as well, because it’s quite easy to earn and burn and we’ve got lots of partners as well. So yeah, it’s a really interesting part of program for Eurostar. 

Charlie: Nice. And what do you think it is that sets it apart from the rest? Because as you say, travel is such a well established loyalty sector, isn’t it? And there is a sort of pattern that most travel loyalty programs follow, and obviously you’re following that pattern. But what sort of sets it apart from the rest in travel, or maybe actually sets it apart from other sectors? 

Sophia: I think as well, I think for me, and it’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed coming in, is actually how simple the program is and how easy it is to use the points. I think in airlines, especially it’s quite known that there’s a limited amount of reward seats per flight. And if you don’t get that seat a year before you, you’re not going to get it. And you have to set alerts and time as things like that to be really savvy. 

But with Eurostar, there’s no blackout dates. There’s no limits on seats on the trains. As long as there’s a seat for sale on the Eurostar, you can turn that seat into a reward seat and spend your thousand points to kind of get your free travel.

I think for me, that really is what sets us apart from especially kind of, probably main competition, which is the airlines that we really tried to make it as easy as possible for people to use their points. And I think that’s what all the feedback we get from our customers a lot is they really appreciate that, that we’re not saying, oh, it’s 10 seats per Eurostar and then that’s it. When they go, they go. We’re actually saying tomorrow there could be a training you want to get on as long as it’s still commercially for sale, you can go into Club Eurostar and spend your points and get a reward seat. So I think that’s a really good message that we tried to really push that there’s kind of no blackout dates, no limits. And like, yeah, you can use your points when you want. And that’s normally most of the time, unless it’s kind of a sold out train. 

And I think as well for us that’s kind of the message I love. That it shouldn’t be a chore to find a way to spend your points. And for us, it’s really easy. And also it’s quite clear, like, thresholds for the redemptions as well. So it’s a really simple target. You can set in your mind, you know, even if it’s a busy summer holiday period, the price will be the same. There’s kind of set boundaries we have for the certain seat prices and tiers, not tiers, classes. So I think from there you can, I think it’s really quite easy and people can work towards that and targets.

And I think that’s what I love about the program myself coming from potentially a more complicated sector. I think this has been quite a great, great kind of breath of fresh air to see how easy it is for our members to redeem. 

Charlie: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that really stands out for me about the program. And to me, it almost feels like it’s a learning from the retail sector. It almost feels like a retail program in that.

Sophia: Yeah, definitely.

Charlie: It’s quite transactional. It’s easy, it’s effort free. And there’s a real recognition that people have got a lot going on in their lives. And actually, you’re just trying to make this part of it as seamless and pleasant as possible.

Sophia: Exactly.

Charlie: It’s a good UX as well. So yeah, I think that’s a really nice kind of key differentiator, I suppose. And maybe a little bit. sort of aligned to the master brand as well, because it is, you know, the proposition for getting the train rather than on a plane is about simplicity and ease as well, isn’t it?

Sophia: Exactly, that yeah.

Charlie: Just hopping through the station rather than having to go to the airport and move further out. So it’s nice that there’s that bit of brand alignment in there as well.

Sophia:  Yeah, definitely. 

Charlie: What about the trends that you’re seeing? I mean, obviously travel, you know, it’s such a big industry, travel loyalty, it has its own conferences, it has its own communities. What sort of trends are you seeing in travel loyalty or, or broader loyalty as well, given your multi sector experience? 

Sophia: Yeah, I think it links back to what I said at the right at the beginning around Lidl Plus and the way they’re really using the gamification. And I think that is definitely a trend that I’ve seen kind of in the last couple of years is where people are really trying to get people to engage with their program outside of maybe when they’re, on the flight or when they’re earning their points or when they’re spending their points as getting people to come back and kind of do things within the app or kind of spin the wheel or chance to win all that sort of thing, the gamification or even just things like collecting stamps for where you’ve traveled to and having that.

I think it probably goes back to something. From childhood, where you kind of, I think, more so kind of my partner was saying when I was talking about this earlier, like how he used to collect FIFA cards and then you get the reward and all that sort of thing. And I think apps, I think where people are trying to lean into more and giving people that real feel of kind of instant gratification and a reason to come back to the app, I think you can see that not just in travel, but obviously retail as well, but I think the way with that I’m starting to see more in the travel industry is around milestones as well. So kind of breaking up that long trek between tier status levels, maybe and giving people that rewards along the way and things to strive towards.

And I think that’s a trend that I’ve seen a lot of kind of the US airlines have done it. Hotels have always been known for that as well. Doing things like the amount of nights you get, you get something along the way, like a little reward. I think that’s something that I’ve definitely seen more and more brands doing recently.

And it’s something I’d love to kind of do more of us, Club Eurostar as well and kind of give people those rewards. Give people kind of, yeah, things along the way. It’s not such a long journey to earn status or earn a benefit. They can get small things, even if little giving away bread. But I think people love it.

It’s just something that you kind of feel that you’ve earned something instantly, rather than having to wait to save up your points to kind of get a bigger redemption or money off a flight ticket shop. So I think, yeah, for me, that’s definitely a trend that I’ve seen that I really like. And I’ve kind of definitely, and some of the programs I’m members of really enjoyed doing as well.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s a really nice way, isn’t it, of building little moments of extra positivity, but also giving people a boost and actually making them feel that the next reward is coming. We’ve seen quite a lot of surprise and delight as well coming in as well, which is a really smart way of programs managing their budgets as well. You know, you’re not promising one reward to everybody, but you are actually kind of selecting people or letting people self select actually when they get those extra moments of engagement. I think that’s a really nice a really nice trend. 

My next question is about brand partners, and I always think this is fascinating in travel because you were one of the first industries to do sort of really deep and meaningful mutual brand partnerships. But what role do brand partners play in your program? Who do you partner with? And what are some of the best partnerships that you’ve done? 

Sophia: So I think for us, I think we’ve probably always been around way before me. And I think brand partnership has always been the key part of how we’ve kind of run as our program, but lots of things like exclusive events and all this sorts of things.  So working with kind of the main hotels, some of our destinations for example, in St. Pancras, like the Renaissance hotel, things like that, but we’d have exclusive events for our members. I think that’s always been where we’ve done partnerships as well. 

I think one thing people don’t realize potentially is how many kind of cultural station partners we have as well for you when you’re a member of Club Eurostar. For example, in St. Pancras, you could get discount in some of the cafes there and some of the shops there. And I think that’s for us where we really can value on these kind of brand partnerships is when people are already traveling in our stations, they’re already in St. Pancras, they’re already in Gare du Nord in Paris. Potentially, they don’t realize that there’s partnerships there that they can use and kind of benefit from being a member of Club Eurostar. For us, I think that’s where we really want to kind of spread the message more and share people that there’s really strong partnerships for them as part of their travel so that we know they’re already in these stations, you know, they’re probably going to spend a couple of hours there.

Why not benefit from being a member of Club Eurostar and kind of getting some discounts, getting some freebies along the way as well. And that also extends out to our main cities as well. So some of the museums and kind of cultural destinations as well, you can benefit from being a Club Eurostar member.

And I think that you mentioned around our brand as well before and around how we kind of conveniently connect major cities that have got some really great attractions. I think that’s something that Club Eurostar can really bring as well. So people are already traveling there. We know they’re in Paris because they’ve got the Eurostar to Paris. Why not tell them about all the partnerships they can benefit from when they’re at the station or when they’re walking around? That’s popping into one of the museums or something like that. 

So for us, we really want to build out now. So now we’ve become kind of one brand and we’ve got kind of members in lots of different places, whereas we’ve kind of had more of a UK base before. For us, that’s something I really want to build out is creating this kind of more unified portfolio of brand partners and having kind of people that might not realize we’ve got all these great partners in the UK, or maybe we’ve got some in Paris and kind of having a kind of a suite for benefits for everybody to use as well. So that’s something I want to move going forward and keep kind of building out this brand partnership space to give members across all our destinations, more access to more things. 

Charlie: Yeah, I think that’s a really key. It’s another trend, actually, isn’t it? I think we’re all seeing in the industry, which is that whole more for less principle. You’re talking about retention partnerships and engagement partnerships and partners there that make before and after the journey as good as when you’re on the train itself. I think that’s really smart thinking. And obviously by doing it in partnership, you then get all the benefit for your members, but without all the costs on your bottom line as well. So yeah, that’s really nice. 

Are you thinking about partnerships in other areas as well, like promotional partnerships or partnerships to get new members into the program or get in front of people or corporate social responsibility is another real growth area we’ve seen. 

Sophia: Yeah, definitely. I think I mentioned before, because, because we were just, the main priority last year was bringing together the two programs.

I think now 2024 and 2025 is really a place for us to really expand. And like you said, looking for new partners in different areas, maybe kind of less related, maybe slightly different industries, even to kind of bring them together. That’s obviously where we want to get to as Club Eurostar, obviously we’re a lot smaller than some of the major kind of airline programs, but for us, there’s definitely some opportunity for people to to kind of have these partnerships and more lifestyle brands and kind of earn their points when they’re doing different things.

I think that’s something we’re definitely looking at as a strategy of how can we just keep bringing on new ways, people to earn, but also to be rewarded. So whether it’s kind of a, like you said, like a different partnership completely, whether it’s in retail or things like that. So I think for us, definitely on the roadmap, that’s why now we’ve got the one program, we’ve kind of got through the merge.

I think for us it’s all about kind of bringing new things to the program now and bringing value. And I think that partnership’s definitely one space we wanna play more in where we’ve kind of, we haven’t got that many partners today in the traditional sense. We’d like to kind of bring more of those key partnerships through and yeah, keep expanding for members to have, find new ways to earn and burn. 

Charlie: Well, you’ve heard it here first, everyone.

Sophia: Exclusive.

Charlie: If you’re interested in partnering up with Club Eurostar, get in touch with Sophia.

Sophia: Yeah, definitely. 

Charlie: All her details will be at the bottom. It’s a really interesting area and we’re seeing just explode across so many different programs and people thinking so much more smartly about the role that brand partners can play in. As I said, how they could do that for less. 

What about the importance of your program? Obviously, you’ve had to merge two, well, not you personally, but two programs have merged together, which I’m assuming puts it right up at the top, but in your company, how important is your loyalty program? 

Sophia: Yeah, for us, it’s really important. We’re a very small team, which I think people might not realize. Like when you think about quite a big brand like Eurostar, we sit within marketing we’re doing not a whole set for loyalty function, we sit within the wider marketing team. So for us, we’re a small team that is trying to do a lot, but for us, it still is really, really important for the, for the business, I think, especially in travel, loyalty can be a really key differentiator against competition. And although potentially today we don’t have a direct capacitor doing a train between kind of Paris and London. We still have other competitors. So you’ve got the airlines, you’ve got people driving, you’ve got the ferry. So there still are other ways to connect some of our routes. 

So for us, having a really strong auto program is a great way for us to kind of differentiate against some of those other ways people could make the journey. And I think for the business, If everyone registers recognizes that, and obviously they’ve seen the value of kind of bringing together the two programs, still putting that as a top priority when we did the merge between Thalys and Eurostar. So for us it’s super important. And we definitely especially recently going forward, like we’ve definitely be able to show the value of loyalty. We’ve done lots of work in that area of showing people how much value our members bring to the program. And I think that’s really helped. And we’ve definitely seen more and more commitment from the business to kind of invest into loyalty, which is great.

Charlie: Oh, that’s wonderful to hear. Obviously, I’m personally very biased and think loyalty should be at the top of every marketing and sales agenda for almost every brand, but that’s really great to hear. I’m guessing that one of the challenges you face is small team. I don’t think you’re alone in that, you know, big ambitions, there’s never enough hours in the day, isn’t there? But what are some of the other big challenges that you faced and how you’ve addressed them? 

Sophia: Yeah, definitely. So obviously emotion, the small team is the biggest one for us. But I think as well, it’s just, I think lots of programs feel as an equity, not just a loyalty thing, but it’s just trying to get on roadmaps when everybody’s got priorities. And I think everyone’s got good priorities. Everyone’s got strong priorities. I think for us being a small team and also Eurostar as a whole isn’t a very large company. So I think for us, we’re very always very much limited by roadmaps and resource. So what we’ve tried to do and it’s working really well is just be really collaborative from the start.

So when we’re looking to bring on new benefits or new projects on just doing new initiatives, we’re looking at, we’ll do kickoffs and we’ll get everybody involved from the offset, not make it a loyalty thing. And then six months down the line, turn up at the digital store and say, Oh, we want to do this. And then they said, well, our roadmap’s full now. It’s really bringing that journey from the beginning and having these joint roadmaps across the business. So we know what is the key priorities from marketing, from commercial, from all the different areas, and where do we fit on those roadmaps in terms of the key business priorities,

So since I’ve joined, that’s one thing I really tried to do is make sure we have these kickoffs, make sure we’re really transparent from the start that this is what we want to do next year, but let’s not just focus on 2024, let’s look at 25 and 26 and really lay down the groundwork of the things we want to do so we can kind of shoehorn that resource from the beginning, rather than having to try to find it when it’s kind of last minute and you’ve and you’ve got no other way to do it.

Charlie: Yeah, I think the importance of internal communication when you work in loyalty, because you touch so many areas of the business, don’t you? I think that’s a common theme from all our guests across the podcast is, you know, you’ve got to have great relationships with finance, with IT, with marketing, with internal comms. There’s so many different touchpoints. So those internal kickoffs sound like a really smart way of doing it. 

Sophia: And we can’t do anything on our own. For everybody, loyalty is one function, but you can’t do it without the, what are the rest of the business? So yes, I think really important is bringing people along for the journey and I mentioned before, but showing the value of some of the things that we could do.

I think people it’s probably changing a lot now, but I think historically people see loyalty is kind of a bit of a spend center rather than the kind of a profit center. And I think that that view has changed over the years, which is really great to show that it’s not just giving away freebies, like we’re bringing so much value back.

And I think you’ve probably seen it a lot across your career, but how that view is changing now. And people are seeing that, yes, it’s actually really valuable to invest. It’s not just giving away free gifts and free prizes and things like that. 

Charlie: Yeah, I think that’s another sort of an internal trend maybe in the industry in terms of how people are reporting the successes of their loyalty program and actually demonstrating that value to the business because there was a long time and it was just seen as a cost center.

And actually, now there is that real recognition that, you know, delighting and engaging your existing customers is well, the return on investment versus acquiring new customers is so significant. That brings us on nicely actually to sort of KPIs that you look at, like what does success look like for your program? And how do you measure that? Please don’t worry, you don’t have to give away any commercially sensitive data, but at a high level, what sort of stuff are you looking at? What matters? 

Sophia: I think for us, I think engagement is really, really important. I think it’s all well and good being able to sign up millions of members and having this huge membership base, but if you’re then you’re seeing your engagement rates are really low, you’re not doing something right because people are finding that hook.

They obviously signed up for a reason, but then they’re not doing anything with it. And I think for us, as much as the size of the base is important, it’s really the engagement that kind of trumps that. And I think for us, that’s probably our key KPI for loyalty is to say, what are these people doing? We’ve got all these members, are they earning, are they burning, are they kind of working, spending with our partners? Are they even just booking travel and building up a balance, that sort of thing. So I think for us, engagement is really like our top KPI. And I I think, yeah, just seeing that grow across our regions as well, where we’ve maybe had less engaged members in the past.

Now we’ve got kind of the new program, the bigger route, are we seeing kind of growth in our engagement rates? And that’s obviously really important to us. But I think also membership growth is important, obviously, too, especially in some of our new regions where it might have been Thalys before. And now we’ve got the new Eurostar brand and where we’ve expanded, I think for that membership growth is important. But number one for us is engagement rate to see these members actually doing. 

Charlie: It’s nice to hear as well that you’re talking about engagement rates so broadly as well actually, active in the program, earning, burning, spending with partners. That’s quite a nice holistic definition of engagement rather than just I’ve opened the app once every three months.

So it’s really nice you’re thinking there about how that actually drives value back into the business. And interesting as well, I suppose that you’ve now got regional variation and market variation. We’ve, we published the Understanding Loyalty in Europe white paper in April 2024.

Sophia: I read that.

Charlie: Oh, brilliant. The reason that we started doing that was because I think we got a bit tired about people going, Oh, Europe, it’s just one region. And there are so many variations by market. And then you’ve also got the maturity of the program in different markets. Have you noticed anything interesting by market, different things that work in different markets or, or different ways that you put the program in, into different audiences?

Sophia: Yeah, definitely. I think we can definitely see that market difference across our programs. I think it’s really good what you mentioned there around Europe isn’t just one base. Like we’ve got, we’ve got obviously members in the UK, but then which is quite a separate market, but then yes, we’ve got Belgium, we’ve got France, we’ve got Germany, we’ve got the Netherlands and all those are very different.

And I think the way they interact with the program is different as well. I think, I think potentially in the UK, we’re a bit more of a mature loyalty market. I think people are a bit more up for doing things like calculating how many points I can get and being a bit more savvy, setting alerts and all this sort of thing and having that spreadsheet that you mentioned that earlier, I think in more of kind of continental Europe, that’s definitely not the case.

And I think that’s where I mentioned around simplicity and ease of use. That’s where we really try to push that message for those markets as well. To be like, it’s not a chore having a loyalty program. This can be one of many programs you’ve got and it brings value to you. And I think that’s something we’re really trying to keep pushing in these markets where potentially we are a new brand and Eurostar hasn’t been there for 30 years, like it has been in the UK.

I think that’s definitely differentiator we’re seeing. And I think as well, potentially people expect different things in different markets in terms of the in journey benefits. I think when you’re traveling across the channel, you’re doing, it might be seen more of a holiday or leisure route or where you kind of want things like access to the lounges and fast track, I think for those travelers potentially in Europe, it’s a bit more of a standard train journey. Maybe you’re not going to go to the lounge. Maybe you don’t need to kind of have your champagne while you wait for the train. So I think we’ve definitely got different types of people in different markets. So we need to make sure that our program appeals to leisure, business, families, across kind of all these destinations and not just the typical kind of what you might’ve thought was Club Eurostar traveler of five years ago. It’s quite different now. 

Charlie: Yeah, yeah, that’s fascinating. I haven’t really thought about that, actually, that in Europe, a train journey across countries is just a train journey, whereas in Britain, that actually is more of a destination. It’s more of an occasion as we leave. Yeah, how interesting. 

Sophia: Yeah, like in London, you have to turn up an hour before if you’re travelling in different, depending on your class, and you do have to be there early, but across, you know, Europe, you don’t have to do that. You can get, let’s get to your platform. There’s no passport checks, none of that stuff. So it’s a lot more similar to us traveling London to Manchester. So we have to remember that there’s quite different people doing different journeys down on our routes. 

Charlie: Oh, how interesting. And then how you tailor the loyalty proposition to that very different mindset. Oh, that’s very cool. 

Is there anything else that really stands out as actually, wow, I’ve really learned this either the hard way or the easy way? 

Sophia: I think it definitely links back to that point around markets. And I think it’s around this one size, doesn’t fit all. And I think a lot of brands really are pushing that message of kind of we’re one program and we are, we are as well. Well, I think we understand that there will be differences and I don’t think you’re ever going to get it 100 percent aligned across all markets. I think we are humans. We’re all different, not even markets, but even just within the UK, there’s different types of people. Me and you might want different things from a loyalty program.

And I think that’s one thing that I’ve seen from my experience across kind of Sky and as your loyalty and now Eurostar is that choice is really, really important. And I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned as a lesson to show that you’re not ever going to, as much as that is the kind of holy grail goal is to have this really aligned program and everything the same for everybody and equal choice. 

I think people want different things. And I think that’s one thing that I’ve definitely taken into the rest of my kind of career and how we develop our roadmap going forward is we need to have that choice and personalization because humans are different. Everybody wants different things. People are traveling for different reasons. And I think that’s, for me, is really important and something that I want to keep pushing as I go forward as well. 

Charlie: Yeah. And I think that importance of that recognition of the individual is so key in loyalty now, isn’t it? Like one size doesn’t fit all across markets. It certainly doesn’t fit one size fits all, even within a market. And every comms, every reward that you offer is even used so differently by people. It never ceases to amaze me how, you know, a cinema ticket, you know, one of those classic sort of rewards out there for one person is a date night for another person is actually a family trip for another person is something that they could give to somebody else. And, you know, that’s just one reward that we’re all using so differently. It’s fascinating. How lovely. 

And also in that lovely kind of, you know, at least a little bit of holiday mindset in there as well. 

Sophia: Yeah, exactly. 

Charlie: Chunk of your audience. You’ve probably got more people going on holiday than do with Lidl Plus, although you can use Lidl Plus across different markets. 

Sophia: Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.

Charlie: So they have a whole audience of people who are on holiday using their same loyalty program. 

Sophia: That’s brilliant.

Charlie: It is. It’s very cool, isn’t it? What about, you know, updates on the loyalty industry? It’s really nice, again, that, you know, you’ve got two different sectors. You’ve got media and entertainment, and now you’ve kind of come into travel. But what resources do you rely on for your updates in the loyalty industry? 

Sophia: I think for me, things like conferences and seminars that you mentioned before around how we have these whole dedicated things to travel loyalty. But I think those are really great ways to see what’s going on. I think I went to one just last week and it was just great to kind of hear the challenges. And it’s also a way to see, okay, we’re all facing probably similar challenges, similar things going on. It’s probably, I think someone said it was a bit like having like a AA meeting last week. Sometimes people on this panel were just talking and they said, Oh, it feels like we’re just getting everything off our chest, which is nice, but it’s a way to kind of where you pick potentially loyalty is quite small in some businesses. It might just be a couple of people to come together and meet other people that are facing similar problems. So I think that’s a great way to see what’s happening and, and what’s changing in the market. 

Things like this podcast as well. Like I listened to, I always Kind of keep an eye on who’s on there and listen in. And I think it’s great just to get people’s insights of what they’re working on, what challenges they’re facing, what new things they’re bringing out. I think that’s really interesting. 

And of course, I can’t come on here without mentioning all the blogs. I think when you work in the travel industry, especially the blogs are the, one of the main ways to see. Kind of the updates, but also how customers are reacting to things as well. I think they’re a great way of kind of bringing together all the updates that you might not be super close to. But also when you read the comments, you can really see kind of people’s opinions and how they’re reacting to changes. So that’s been really great for me. I think I always have a look at that on there and read the comments and see how people are interacting with each other and how they kind of react to any changes. 

So I think for me, those are kind of the main ways I stay up to today. And yeah, any sort of, can you mention around the white paper, anything like that, which is really interesting. I always try and kind of make time and dedicate time in my day to things like that, because I think that’s how we’re going to learn and see what’s going on and trends to kind of build into our changes as well. 

Charlie: Yeah. It’s so hard, isn’t it? To get off the hamster wheel of the day job and actually take a little bit of time out to kind of think about what else is out there, but.

Sophia:  I am guilty for getting on the train and just going on Instagram and for an hour, I could have done something a lot more useful at the hour on my way home. 

Charlie: But for me, it’s podcast when I walk the dog, actually, that’s when I use my kind of free thinking time. And I think it is, it’s absolutely essential that you, you know, you look out and you look up and see what’s going on in other industries as well.

And I think a lot of the other sectors really look to travel just because the programs are so established and there’s always so much innovation and new news. So it’s fascinating to hear that you’re sort of looking outside as well. 

On that topic, is there anything in that kind of ideas and innovation space you’ve seen that you particularly admire or you’re particularly proud of recently, or do you think our listeners should go and check out?

Sophia: I think for me, I’ve, it’s been touched on a couple of times, but I really do admire when a brand with potentially different businesses within one big group bring together a unified loyalty program. I think one big example that everyone’s seen recently is kind of Expedia Group creating One Key.

And I think that for me, I think it’s, I can see how much of a challenge it could be. I’ve worked in a group where there’s been lots of different airlines and they are so different. And I think I can imagine for Expedia, they have the same thing, lots of different brands, different users for the different websites, people might not even realize they were all part of one group to then kind of bring together and create one program. I think that is definitely something that I think is really innovative and I could appreciate the challenge they would have gone to get there. I think you can imagine some people would have found that it’s evaluation, some people might have found it really positive and obviously you can’t please everybody but just to bite the bullet and do that I think is really quite forward thinking and innovative and I think for the in the long run it is better for the members as well. 

I think having this opportunity to kind of go on any of these kind of really big brand websites, book your travel, and you’re going to earn the same currency. You can earn and burn on them all. You kind of, if you, if you’ve got tier status, it’s going to be valid for across everything. I think that for me is really innovative. And I think it’s where kind businesses that have this similar setup and moving towards. So I think, yeah, that’s one thing I’ve seen recently that I can only imagine the hours that went in, that went into that project. 

Charlie: I like that because I can hear the admiration in that both ways. I can hear the admiration of actually the consumer proposition being so strong, but also the admiration of the team who would have had to work through that, try and make it all work behind the scenes. Yeah. It’s a classic kind of swan program, that one, I think, where it looks quite seamless on the outside. You can go 900 miles an hour under the water. I think that’s a great one, actually, and coalitions and what’s happening in the coalition space in the last couple of years is fascinating, you know, they’d almost disappeared completely from the face of the planet. And now they’re coming back. And I think that recognition of the value to the customer is what’s driving that. And that opportunity, as you say, to book with all those big companies, but have a single kind of, you know, benefit structure that you can use is great. 

Sophia: And I think you can imagine how many loyalty programs people are members of. Like obviously we work in the, in the industry probably more than the average, but having that way to reduce down from maybe four programs to one, I think people will definitely appreciate. And I think it’s where brands are moving to and yeah, I really, I appreciate it as a consumer, so definitely. 

Charlie: Yeah. Well, I mean that’s what we did in our British research this year, you know? The average kind of Brit, the average British adult is a member of six programs, which is up from four only two years ago. And you just think, wow, and that’s actually in the context of research, they’re saying six. So the reality is obviously going to be much higher, you know, and then they’re really active in at least half of them.

Yeah, there is a really interesting benefit. I think, you know, I only open up my phone obviously, I’m such a loyalty nerd. I’ve got like pretty much every program on there. It takes me ages just to get through all the apps, you know, it’s the one I’m looking for or, you know, the new one. I try and join a new one every sort of couple of weeks just to sort of see what’s happening and what the membership journeys look like. And yeah, I can only imagine what that’s like for the average Brit who’s got a whole job as well as, you know, loyalty is not top of their agenda. 

As we move out to our closing kind of questions, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners? Anything else you think they should go and check out or see?

Sophia: I just want to say thank you for having me, really. I really enjoyed it. And I think what I’d like to share is that everybody that’s not seen Club Eurostar or potentially not thought about joining the program, definitely check it out. It’s a really great, program. I think it’s relevant if you’re traveling for leisure or traveling for business, definitely something to have a look at.

And I’ve really enjoyed my time there so far, and I hope we’re going to make it even better as time goes on. But if anyone’s got any questions or wants to find out more or anything around partnership, definitely do reach out to me and I’ll be happy to answer them. 

Charlie: Oh, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. You’ve been an absolutely brilliant guest. I’m hoping lots of people will reach out to you after this. So what we’ll do is we’ll put your LinkedIn handle and the ways to contact you all in the notes as long as well, along with some more information on the program and the links to the website. So that’s really it for today.

I just wanted to say thank you ever so much for your time and that’s goodbye from Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Sophia: Great. Thank you for having me. Goodbye. 

Paula: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty. If you’d like us to send you the latest shows each week, simply sign up for the Let’s Talk Loyalty newsletter on letstalkloyalty.com and we’ll send our best episodes straight to your inbox. And don’t forget that you can follow Let’s Talk Loyalty on any of your favorite podcast platforms. And of course, we’d love for you to share your feedback and reviews. Thanks again for supporting the show.