#417: Viva Aerobus Launches Compelling Loyalty Concept in Mexico

⁠Today’s episode features the exciting story of the “Doters” loyalty program launched by Viva Aerobus in late 2022.

Pablo Sordo joins us to share the story of how they developed the loyalty proposition for Viva Aerobus, which is a low-cost airline based in Mexico.

This simple coalition program features partnerships with the local bus company and a banking partner, allowing members to earn miles while flying, taking the bus around the country, and, of course, using their co-brand credit card.

Listen to learn from Pablo Sordo, Chief Strategy Officer for Viva Aerobus, with thanks to the Loyalty and Awards conference team for the introduction!

Pablo will be sharing further insights at the Loyalty & Awards Conference this October in Rio de Janeiro.

Show Notes

1) Pablo Sordo, Chief Strategy Officer for Viva Aerobus

2) “⁠Doters⁠” loyalty program

3) Viva Aerobus⁠

4) Loyalty and Awards⁠ conference

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

This show is brought to you by the Loyalty and Awards Conference, the leading annual event for loyalty professionals in the travel industry. Make sure to join us this year from the ninth to the 11th of October in Rio de Janeiro. For the perfect mix of inspiring content and exciting awards, check out loyalty-and-awards.com for more information and to register.

Hello, and welcome to this episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty, featuring another guest who is joining us as a keynote speaker in Brazil this October for the Annual Loyalty and Awards Conference. The conference dedicated to loyalty professionals in the travel sector. Pablo Sordo is the Chief Strategy Officer for VivaAerobus, a low cost airline based in Mexico.

Which launched its loyalty program Doters in late 2022. It’s a simple coalition model launched in partnership with a local bus company and a banking partner allowing their members to earn miles while flying, taking the bus, or of course, using their co-brand credit cards. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Pablo Sordo, Chief Strategy Officer for VivaAerobus, with thanks to the Loyalty and Awards Conference team.

So, Pablo, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Pablo: Paula, nice to meet you. Thank you very much. 

Paula: Super exciting to meet you, Pablo. I know we are planning to meet together in Rio de Janeiro in a couple of months time for the Loyalty and Awards Conference. And before all of that, I know you have some wonderful innovations and developments for the loyalty industry that we’re gonna talk through, just to get a sense of what’s happening with VivaAerobus. 

So to kick us off for today’s conversation, as you know, I always love to actually just get a sense from my guests, just more on a personal or professional level, as somebody who is working in the loyalty industry, what particular loyalty program would you say you like the most? 

Pablo: Paula, nice to meet you again. Thanks. And I know you told me this question beforehand so I can prepare it, but it’s a tough one. Being an executive, traveling, and being in constant communication with a lot of loyalty, it’s a hard answer, but I think I would like to go back to basics and go back to the time when I was a kid and the bakery in my neighborhood had a punch card loyalty system. 

And for me, that’s very refreshing today because that’s the mechanism that made me understand loyalty. And I was very eager at the time, knowing that it was influencing my abilities with my parents just to take me to that bakery because I wanted to reach a certain level of punches in order to get my free roll.

And I was looking around for people who didn’t get their punch card so I can get mine punch twice and earn my, and earn my way to my reward easier. And I was, and nowadays with all the technology, I think that we have robusted the system, but in the end, it’s still the same mechanism. Right? More complex with many more attributes. 

But whenever I’m struggling, and as I know, and we’re gonna talk later, that I’m not, I’m not the expert in loyalty for 20 years. Right. I mean, I’m, I would say a little bit new to the loyalty world. This brings me back to basics and I understand the principle and I always get like, how would it work in a punch card? Why am I having this trouble and try to solve it? 

Paula: You know, it’s the best advice. Absolutely. Pablo, you know, we used to have like what we would call like the granny test. You know, will my granny understand this? And if she doesn’t, then, you know, we’ve gone too far.

But if I can explain it to somebody who’s not familiar or comfortable with the technology, then definitely there’s something wrong. So I definitely share your admiration for the simplicity of stamp card programs. And, yeah, I think there’s a lot of people still have fond memories like you from our childhood where we actually, again, Probably it’s quite interesting.

You know, I think it’s maybe people who are like keen on business that you will notice that your behavior has changed even if you haven’t got the language around it, of course as a child. But you noticed it and you remembered it and retained the true your career. So it’s actually quite powerful.

Pablo: Yeah, and it took me a while to get into this loyalty world, but I’m very happy that I’m in it. 

Paula: Well, we’re very happy that you’re in it as well, Pablo. And I’m super excited to hear, because correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that low cost carriers with loyalty programs are few and far between.

Pablo: I think it’s more common than we think. But nonetheless, I think it started, I mean, if you go from the traditional model, we don’t want to deviate from the fact that we want to have it simple, low cost and manage everything very lead, right? So having a loyalty program was something that was a little bit doubtful in our minds if the strategy was the right thing to do.

But in the case of VivaAerobus, we noticed that our competitors, some of them have it, some of them were in the plans of having it. But more importantly, I would say that our customers were raising their hand and demanding for it. So we were hearing from it and there was, where are you gonna get your loyalty program? 

And it’s interesting to see that in Viva, I would say that we have two types of customers. The really savvy one. The frequent one, the one that is demanding this. And then the one that is so infrequent that it’s more for a, a vacation here and there, visiting their family. So we were, that’s what made necessity, right? I mean, what kind of program should we, should we venture out? But, at the end we work together with the team, we strategize, we kept on thinking if it was, if it makes sense. And at the end we kind of said, I think it makes sense and let’s try it. And that’s also a very nice spirit of Viva. We try things a lot. So we take cautious risks, right, in terms of businesses, but we venture out and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But this loyalty effort, I think has more than all the means to make a successful venture. 

Paula: Well, for sure. From what I’ve heard so far, Pablo, absolutely. I know you’re past 3 million members. 

Pablo: Yes. 

Paula: Which is absolutely an incredible achievement in such a short space of time. So for people who don’t know the airline, Pablo, do you mind just starting at the beginning, tell us a bit of context about VivaAerobus. And we’ve talked about it being a low cost carrier, but just give us a scale of, of what you’re operating there.

Pablo: Yes. So we, VivaAerobus is a 16 year old airline. We currently have around 70, 75 aircraft flying around Mexico and the near country like the US and a little bit of South America. And, we, I, I would, 2022, we transported around 22 million passengers. 

Paula: Amazing. 

Pablo: And we’re the, we’re the second airline in domestic share in Mexico.

Paula: Wonderful. Got it.

Pablo: So we’ve become, we were the fourth and then we started to grow and now I think we’re the second airline in domestic passengers in Mexico. 

Paula: Amazing. Nice to have a little bit of competition. Hey. 

Pablo: Of course, of course. And, and we know it’s getting better and there’s, there’s a market, still to be captured and that, and that we want to keep on growing. 

Paula: Amazing. So you’ve alluded to the fact that strategy is really what I suppose your background is, certainly not loyalty strategy. So I think you’ve embraced our world with the with God. So tell us a bit about what you were doing before you started thinking about this loyalty opportunity, let’s say with VivaAerobus. What kind of work had you been doing? What’s your career history like? 

Pablo: I, I would say it’s a very diverse career here in history. I mean, I’m a mechanical engineer by study. And then I started venturing in the strategic planning, the consultancy work through. I mean, if I can say my, the, my consultant firm, I used to work for McKinsey.

Right. And that kind of opened my eyes for strategic planning and all those type of efforts, I ventured from the hard mechanics engineering into the, into the business world. And that’s where I got a little bit of a feeling from the airlines. 

And, but nonetheless, even though I did work for an airlines as a consultant, I also ventured out for in the agro business and biotech business, also within the role of strategic planning. But, but later on I was invited to lead the strategy team at TACA Airlines. And if you remember, that’s a Central America and airline based in El Salvador that lately merged with Avianca in Columbia. So I worked there for a couple of years.

And then I went to work with GE Aviation, managing their practice in Latin America. And, and I worked there for 11 years. So it was a lengthy career at GE. And then I got the opportunity to join Viva as a strategy lead here in the airline in Mexico.

Paula: Amazing. And I heard you say offline, you know, and when you were talking with us before about, you know, that the airline industry has a real draw, I think for any of us. In fact, I’m ex British Airways. I’m also ex Emirates. So it sounds like once you’ve done your time on the consulting side, you found airlines and you just fell in love with the whole industry.

Pablo: There’s a saying that jet fuel is addictive. Right. And I don’t know, I always, I always mention this to the people I’m recruiting for my team, either loyalty or strategy. I said, be aware that this is an industry that is grabbing. Right? 

Paula: It totally is. 

Pablo: And you’re gonna go to a party and nobody’s gonna talk about the potato, I mean, the chips that you produce or the banking, I mean, everybody talks about airline. Everybody has an experience. And it’s always a topic of conversation, so I don’t know if the word if it’s sexy or not. 

Paula: I think so. 

Pablo: But nonetheless, it’s very grabby, right? I mean, it’s everybody that is hooked with the industry.

Paula: For sure. Yeah, I think the right word actually is probably compelling because it’s not always positive. Like when I was with British Airways, for example, we did have a major kind of baggage issue for quite a number of years. So, the conversations at dinner parties were sometimes a little bit challenging. I’m gonna be honest. 

Pablo: So totally.

Paula: And it was an airport issue, actually, to be honest, rather than us as the airline. But I mean, again, people don’t understand that, and nor should they, but we used to say a bit like your jet fuel, you know, comment. We used to say that they would fit a chip into our brain when we joined British Airways. And that’s how it felt. It’s like we loved it. So really cool. Cool. Yeah.

Pablo: And it’s incredible that, that, I don’t know why, but anything that happens in the world at any level always has a toll on the airline. 

Paula: For sure.

Pablo: So if there’s a disease outbreak, you need to stop flying. You need to change the regulations. Anything, anything that happens in the world has a repercussion on your business model. So it’s always entertaining not to know exactly what your day’s gonna be. 

Paula: For sure. And on a, you know, I suppose a very cautious note from the commercial side, I remember seeing Willie Walsh, who at the time was Chief Executive of Aer Lingus, and he was speaking, and it was actually a hundred years after the Wright Brothers you know had the first ever flight from in history and he literally said, in that 100 years, we have never, as an industry made a profit. 

Pablo: Perfect. Yes. 

Paula: And that really, really focused my mind. So, you know, when it comes to this conversation with you, especially at such a senior level, and actually it’s very exciting ’cause we don’t often get C-Suite executives on the show, Pablo, so it’s particularly exciting.

But also, I think what is amazing is, you know, you seem to have found the passion for, for loyalty as well as a powerful tool for, from your own childhood, as you’ve talked about, but also even as a low cost carrier. So tell us the story about, you know, you, you’ve already talked about the consumers asking for it.

Once you started to kind of sit down and say, okay, maybe this is something we should do. I’d love to understand your process with a blank sheet of paper, the sexiest sector in the world, which is obviously the most mature as well from a loyalty perspective. So, like I’m quite envious that you had that wonderful opportunity to craft something make decisions about will we do it, will it, will we not? So I’d love to understand your process. Did you do everything self-taught? Did you go and hire consultants? Tell us about your thinking and how you manage the strategy decision. 

Pablo: I think it was a team effort, and it was a mix between self-taught people experts that we had in our team as well, but we also ventured out and got external help.

We understood that, that this venture was not exactly a one-off bet, right? Because sometimes in the airline we take small betts and if it sticks, we grow. If not, but this one we believe that needed to be a little bit with a more bang, and needed to be a little bit more structure.

So we went out as well and hired some external consultants and we started crafting. We really wanted to make sure that we were not deviating focus from the airline when it came to low cost. Because the last thing we wanted to do was create an additional burden, additional distraction, and even further on, we didn’t want to incur an additional costs that were going to be impactful. Right. 

So we needed to strategize how do we combine it with some partners. How do we do the accounting so that it doesn’t, so that at the end of the day, the benefit, it’s, it stays in our company. Right. And then that we’re not incurring in some absurd, additional cost that is just going to, allows us to not be competitive in the market, right.

Paula: Absolutely. And the justification Pablo, because with the best will in the world, of course, customers will ask for extra things. You know, whether that be a loyalty program or you know, bigger seats or we know that customer’s expectations are always increasing. But what was your actual kind of main justification in terms of like what was the core objective of building a loyalty program?

Pablo: It’s basically to, basically to facilitate, our customers to repeat flying with us. There’s, a lot of customers that fly with us once and then they don’t come back or they don’t, or they come back after a big period of time. So we wanted to make sure that, I mean, a little bit of the trade off is, are we investing on promoting, showing the fares, getting people to know Viva all the time, or should we just invest in keeping Paula flying with me all the time? 

And whenever, even if you fly two times a year only, or one time a year, I want that time of the year that you don’t hesitate and you, you come back with me. And if I can build upon your experience, your life experience day to day, and maybe you only fly one time with me, but you use the credit card from a bank that it’s a little bit more common to your day. And as we grow on, which are our plans into get new partners, I want you to have new partners that you everyday expenditures are adding up a small piece to the punch card that we were talking. You might get a punch card from the bank. You might get a punch card from somebody else. You might get a contract for Viva, but at the end you’re gonna get your reward. That’s exactly what I want.

Paula: Amazing. So, yes. So, again, for listeners all around the world, Pablo, just explain what you’ve built. So what is your value proposition? You’ve alluded to the fact that it is beyond the airline itself. It’s not just an earn and burn. It’s more of a coalition program. So tell us about your launch partners and who you’re already working with. 

Pablo: Correct. So we are a coalition program. We, I wanna say that we’re very ambitious, but today we have three, three partners and some a little bit. Maybe by Rio I can announce a little bit more, but right now we have Viva as the airline and the main, I would say the key stakeholder in the program.

But we also have three very well established Mexican bus companies that we kind of tailor the another part of the business, right? I mean, there are a lot of people in Mexico that take buses. And if you, if you compare the bus market size in Mexico compared to the airline, is I would say 200 times. I mean, the bus market in Mexico is amazing. 

Paula: Oh my God. 

Pablo: So we wanna capture all the people that travel in bus. Right. We want them to earn also points that then later on, they can redeem into a nice family vacation at the end of the year to Cancun. Those are the type of things they wanna do.

As you know, Mexico is very diverse in terms of socioeconomic profiles.  So we wanna tailor a little bit the program to different individuals. And we also have a partnership with HSBC as a co-brand in order to tackle another segment in which all the day-to-day activities are also being purchased with the card and getting points. Those are the three partners at the moment and very, very closely to announce some additional partners into the ecosystem. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. So exciting. Yeah, and again, I’ve never had the opportunity myself, Pablo, to launch a co-brand card. I’ve done other sector partnerships, but a brand like HSBC is absolutely extraordinary.

And again, they would have I’m sure plenty of global expertise. Certainly here in the Middle East. They have a loyalty program in partnership with Air Miles, so I’m sure you did go and, and meet with all the different options and had some wonderful time negotiating all of these things. 

Pablo: It was, and yes, I like negotiating. It was a tough decision, but at the end, HSBC, they have been a great partner. We have exceeded expectations, which we’re very happy working with them. And I think that we have partner very, very nicely in complimenting each other. I think that we have created a product that is accessible in terms of the credit world.

Which is that the banking world’s a different one, but compared to, to the type of, very aligned with the type of passenger that we’re flying. Right. So the product, the reward that we’re providing is very attractive to that market. When you were saying about the plan sheet of paper, we, in the same way that Viva wants to democratize travel, right?

We wanna make it accessible for everyone. In the same way I mean, and leveraging on that, leveraging on that ability that Viva can provide because they can, we can provide the lowest fare we want you to get your rewards in the fastest time. We want you not just to, we. 

I don’t know if I can say it, but I want to democratize rewards. I want for everyone that stays in the program to get a reward very, very easily. Right. 

Paula: Beautiful. 

Pablo: It’s, it’s not that I want them to spend four years saving in order to get a cup of coffee. Right. I want them to get their benefit, use it, and then get them hooked and travel, and I think we can do that with the low fares that Viva is putting on the table. 

Paula: It’s funny, you know, you’ve just reminded me, Pablo, I’ve recently managed to have a wonderful redemption experience here in Dubai on, on Emirates. And I, you know, I managed to get a business class ticket to London, which is amazing and I’m thrilled to bit.

But what struck me is I have been telling so many people about this free ticket, but I totally forgot that I did actually have to pay a thousand dollars for the taxes and whatever. So there actually was, but I’m so excited that the fare is worth whatever five times that I totally forgot I’d paid anything.

I just looked it up today and I went, oh my goodness. It’s the halo effect. So, there is that joy. And I love the fact that you have that commitment to creating the joy for your passengers in terms of that vacation or, or the cup of coffee.  

Pablo: And, to simply the experience because you mentioned tax. I mean, I don’t know if it’s gonna come back to haunt me. I believe that our strategy is gonna support it, but you can pay taxes with points here in our program. So I want you to be able to check out and not take out your credit card to pay anything. Right. I want you, I mean, you, yes.

You, you need to earn your points, right? But you can, but, but you, you should be able to check out seamlessly out of my program and say, I have a round trip Mexico to New York.  And everything was paid with points, and I just get my PNR and I’m flying the next day. 

Paula: Yeah, I know. 

Pablo: And, and we can do it.

Paula: That’s incredible.  I also think that’s quite a unique benefit then that you have for the Doters program. I don’t believe any other program that I’ve come across, as all of the taxes and everything available on points. 

Pablo: Correct. No, that’s something that we researched and at the end, I don’t know if we’re either breaking the mold or shooting ourselves in the foot, but I believe that, at the end, again if we are capable of providing that joy to our customer and making that customer come back to Viva, or come back to the bus companies or use their credit card more often than we that’s our purpose. I mean, we wanna be measured by how many times Paula is coming back to us. 

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. And I did want to ask a bit more about the bus company, Pablo. How did they react when you, I’m guessing you approached them given that the timing, had they ever considered launching a loyalty program themselves, given the scale of the, you know, the habit, obviously and for, for Mexican people?

Or was this something that took a lot of, you know, convincing? I’m just very curious because the scale of what they’re doing, I mean, it could be a very expensive proposition for a brand like that. 

Pablo: I would say, I mean, twofolds. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, because then the, my, the audience is savvier than me, but the bus companies are also share owners of Viva. Right? So we, so it was a little bit easier value proposition because you’re not convincing every single step in the way. You just needed to have two very solid conversations. But nonetheless, I mean, we could have been standalone, but we invited them to the party because we believed, I mean, we, as an airline, work very closely with them. We certainly tried to migrate bus part, bus travelers to the airline. That’s an active stuff. 

And, and, and it’s, if you go back to the share owner’s mind, they, they understood that the low cost carriers, and I’m talking 16 years ago. The low cost carriers in Mexico are going to come in with or without you, and the bus company’s gonna suffer because all the very long haul, the 36 hours, 48 hours bus rides that we used to have in Mexico are gonna be completely migrated to local. So either I fight with them or do I create my low cost airline to capture that market? So they created Viva. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. Brilliant. 

Pablo: So, today, if you go to a bus station and you wanna, you wanna pay a ticket for a very long run, long haul ride? The bus company is gonna tell you, do you wanna go 36 hours or do you want to catch the next flight with Viva and get you in two? 

Paula: Amazing. 

Pablo: So we work very, very jointly because we understand that, we want to migrate the bus companies to the airline.  So, whenever we are thinking about, now the market is very big, right? So, I mean, it’s huge. It’s 30. No, I mean, I can send you a note with the specific data  In terms of the bus company.  But, when it comes to, when it comes to, they already had some, the bus companies already have some ideas and some loyalty processes in place that working to a certain level. 

But when we joined forces and piggybacked on the fact that we were building this airline loyalty, and if we made a coalition, it would be seamless because, in the same way we want to transfer some of the boss travelers to the airline. We wanted to say there are plenty of people in Mexico that travel on bus every week. Every week they go to a near state. I mean, they travel two hours. Work, come back. What if we, if the loyalty could be redeemed in a flight for their family at the end, for a vacation in a beach in Mexico. Right. That there’s some market for it. 

Paula: Beautiful. Yeah.

Pablo:   So, so, so they, they combine it, they love the idea. And then when we, when we also partner with, with a bank,  Then it, it got a little bit more, more, more traction. 

Paula: Amazing. Amazing, very exciting conversations, and thank you for sharing the ownership because yes, I can see how that would simplify everything I was imagining. I was like, how did he do all of that? That’s amazing.

Pablo:  Nonetheless, it was a hard sell because they didn’t need to to do it. Right?

Paula: Of course, of course. No, and it’s, as I said, it’s something that’s, you know, perceived as, you know, potentially high risk, potentially very expensive and difficult to measure for many of us, you know, in terms of what return will the bus company get versus the airline versus obviously HSBC is the partner.

Pablo: And that has been a challenge.

Paula: Really?

Pablo:  And a challenge. Because the fact that every time that they wanna say, I’m investing X amount of money, I want all the people to redeem in my, in my business and net it out. And the challenge is shifting the conversation to the value of the customer that you are getting back. Right. 

Paula: Of course. 

Pablo: I mean, if Pablo is coming back and he’s spending amount that’s a guaranteed spend.  And yes, you need to invest to keep that guarantee spend on, on your right. So, or your airline or your bus company. So it’s been challenging, but as a consultant, love the challenge. Right. 

Paula: Of course. 

Pablo: I’m always working trying to find different ways to sell the idea that this is working.  And it is. And we do have share owner backup and they love the idea, they love how it’s performing. So, nine months in the making, we are still here and we are very happy. 

Paula: Amazing.

Pablo: Exciting times to come.

Paula: For sure. And talk us through the timelines, actually, Pablo, because, you explained that obviously you did go and get some external specialist support, which I fully advocate because, you know, that’s something I was never aware that would’ve been a good idea when I was building my first loyalty program.

And again, didn’t have a background in loyalty and I was figuring it all out in my own until I discovered some wonderful consultants. So, you did go out, you got some consultants on the technology side? Did you guys decide to build something or did you go external on that piece as well?

Pablo: We did go external on that piece as well. We didn’t want to, we didn’t have, I mean, we might have had the internal capability, but we didn’t want to deviate our focus from this and understanding that there’s somebody out there that has done the homework and could be a little bit of unguarding in the way that we’re doing.

We just venture out to see what was out there. And some very nice folks convinced us that they had the right, the right tool that can compliment with our vision. So we went external. 

Paula: Amazing. Yeah. And again, that was always something that I would have advocated and actually still do. And I know other programs have decided to build, but over time they always seem to eventually go external, purely because you know, again, your core skillset operationally, of course, is to run the airline. So any of the internal IT resources really need to be focused on your own systems and stuff. 

Pablo: And the external, the external system has a lot of inputs from many other programs that enhance it a little bit faster than the way that I would enhance my, on my own.

Paula: Exactly. 

Pablo: Yes, I could. And maybe I’m losing a little bit of tailoring capabilities, right? Because maybe I wanna do it precisely in one way. But nonetheless, the benefits from, and a more robust system that is being tested and experienced, I don’t know. Being used by many, many folks rather than my team. I think it’s a nice venture. It’s a sure bet for us. 

Paula: Exactly. Very reassuring. As you said, you can talk to existing clients of the platform providers of course, and understand practically then day to day, and again, I think there’s always that level of expertise as well on the technology side to add to the consulting people that you, you obviously did engage as well. So I think that the technology consultants are always very good as well because again, they’re doing it day in, day out. Quite a mature sector. 

And did you find that process daunting, Pablo? Again, I just tended to, this is part where, you know, there’s, there’s parts of loyalty I love and parts that still scare me. So the RFP process and going out and really kind of specifying the full end-to-end capabilities and requirements for, again, literally a brand new program. Was that a huge piece of work, would you say? Or did you have an immediate shortlist or just talk me through how the decision was made. 

Pablo: It was also, it was, I would say, one of the key parts of the process, right? And we did it with our team, with the external consultants that we hired as well to help us guide.

And then we went a little bit further out and we just, we just for a very small period of time, or let’s say for that effort, we did hire a technical expert as well that could provide us a little bit more finesse to the decision because, we had the big questions, but then when it comes to the nitty gritty parts, we just, I could have been worded out by somebody and be totally sold something that was not right.

But, I got the experts  to play hand and to cover us and help us guide it. Right. And, I think that, I think that, when you say the short list, I think that from the big list to the short list was an, was a very straightforward task, right? Because in some ways it was more of a culture. And do you see that company fitting in with the culture of Viva?

Right. And how do they tackle the approach? So, going from the big list to the short list was, I would say easy going from the short list to the making the decision was extremely tough. Extremely tough. 

Paula: Absolutely. And you can tell me over a cocktail in Rio, perhaps some of the inside secrets in terms of what went down there.

Pablo: Of course. I will.

Paula: So it’s always super fun without doing it too publicly. Of course.  So, and the final question on that piece then, Pablo, just in terms of how it was built. Again, I’m just always super curious cause I’ve never built from scratch. How much time from the, you know, serious time you guys sat down and said, let’s think about it to, you know, the whole thing of getting it in market? How long was that whole process end to end for you?

Pablo: I would say around two years.

Paula: Two years? Yeah. Yeah. I’ve certainly worked on one where it was three years and we talked with Asda in the UK recently, and they were given three months and they managed to get something to market within three months. So it’s quite amazing the scale of what can be achieved, or not, depending on the complexity of what’s happening.

Pablo: Correct. And, and I think, I think that we were two years, but maybe when we said we’re launching, I would say it was one year. Right. 

Paula: Okay. Amazing. Yeah.

Pablo: And, we had a hard deadline because otherwise I would still be in the drawing board and fixing it, and testing it, and all that. So it’s better to have a launch date and commit to it.

And maybe you’re gonna sacrifice some of the features that you would love to put in, but yeah, but you need to be in the market to test it and get the feedback and work it before you have an incredible product that nobody knows. And, just when you launch it and then you go back like, how did I launch with this flaws or without this feature. Without that, but, but you just need to fix it. And we’re there, right. And I think that from now until forever, we’re always gonna be fixing, improving, and adjusting.

Paula: Of course. Absolutely. Well, I mean, the sheer fact that you did get it launched and get 3 million people onboarded in such a short space of time is a huge credit to you and your team. So definitely want to congratulate you. 

Pablo: Thanks.

Paula: The proposition sounds beautifully simple as well. So also want to acknowledge that that’s, you know, I think one of the key success principles because it is very easy to overcomplicate and just kind of keep adding and confusing people and everything else. So the fact that you’ve managed to keep into that.

Pablo: And that’s a challenge. Paula, I mean, I would love for you and for all the audience to log into Doter’s understanding. And I’m very, I think that we’re very open to friction hunters. If you see something that you don’t understand or, or something that we can improve, send it our way.

I’m not gonna be, I mean, if it’s in the proper feedback tone, I’m gonna take it and improve it, right? Because sometimes I, I mean, I like to sell it as simple, but then I go in and say, man, this is not simple at all. These uncomplicated things, and I would like to, I always challenge my team and myself, hey, can we do this better? Because it’s very confusing. Right. 

Paula: For sure. Well, I like your term friction hunter. I’ve never heard that before, but it’s a really important mindset. 

Pablo: We need to, we need, I’m not, I mean, we’re very proud of what we’ve done. And what we have on the table, but we know it has a lot of areas of opportunity. So if people are upfront and telling me, Pablo, this is crazy. I’m gonna take it as is and try to fix it, or I can teach it away, or if it really resonates, fix it. I mean.

Paula: Absolutely. No, it’s the right approach. And as you said, we’re never done. Everyone thinks once we launch a loyalty program, you know, they sit back and have a big sigh of relief, but actually. 

Pablo: Exactly. No, no. It’s the other way around. 

Paula: It’s the other way around. The work is just getting started, so, no doubt you had a crazy nine months and I’m sure we’ll continue to. Is there anything coming up in the future that you’re thinking about Pablo in terms of things like subscription?

Or other things, because I know that’s something within the airline, for example, itself. You do have a proposition, I think that you explained to me off air kind of coexists, but anything you’re thinking about either from a loyalty perspective or trends that you are thinking about in terms of this evolution and always improving it? 

Pablo: I think we need a separate chat, Paula, like two hours more if I wanna share all the things that we want to do. I think that the task here is how do we prioritize, right? Because there are a lot of things in our minds, in terms of what we wanna do. As an airline, we do have a subscription model in which you get a lower fare by being part of the club. So it’s, and, and it’s connected to the loyalty program because even though you’re getting a cheap fair, you’re still getting points on that, on that, on those flights.

But we wanna find more attractive ways to link it to be compared. I mean, we talked, people tell me, do you have a point subscription plan? Not yet. We are probably gonna have, but on the other hand, I do want the program to mature a little bit more because being fair to my program, if I punch around in Mexico and say, who is Viva? I would say that a big share would say, I understand Viva is the local terabyte.

But if I probe around and say, whose Doters. I’m still not there yet. Ah, it’s pretty much linked to making, so creating a subscription program from Doters it’s a little bit hard right now to get traction, so I’m waiting a little bit for the program to be a little bit more mature.

But all the ideas that I see from gamification, and when you talk and listen to all the different loyalty programs that are so very well established, I mean, they have so nice ideas, but sometimes you need, you need, you need the customer engagement, the mass, the, the infrastructure, right? So I’m, we’re building, so I have a list of tons of things that I want to do that are gonna create a lot of value. So I’m just prioritizing which ones comes first. 

And I still need to work on the product stabilization. Right. There’s some little things here and there that we wanna work. Just to make sure that it’s seamless. Right. Instead of complicating things, let me get the first things that I promised perfectly simplify them to the best level that I can. And then I start adding up. 

Paula: Amazing. So I do think we should plan to have that two hour conversation, Pablo at some point. 

Pablo: Exactly. I’m very happy. I mean, and that’s, I’m eager to the conference that we’re saying, I just want, I’m just gonna there as a go there as a sponge, right? And get to understand what everybody’s doing. 

Happy to share what I’m doing as well and see some interactions, because sometimes yes, we do want to innovate. There are little things that are coming here and there that you’re gonna see later on that you’re gonna say that that was a good idea.

Right. And which we’re simplifying things and working with technology. But there are some other ideas that come from other parts of the world that if I can, I would say tropicalize them to Mexico. They could work nicely. 

Paula: Super, super well, again, another new word, which I absolutely love Tropicalize. I could do with a bit of that.

Pablo: Because the ideas, the ideas don’t, they don’t seem to work. And the key example that we use in Viva is when we launched the airline 16 years ago, we were gonna be a copy paste of Ryanair. It was, we, I mean, we love the idea that was the part, but something that is different that we needed to tropicalize was in Mexico, the people are, I mean, they, even though you are getting the best fare, if you’re not treated very, very nicely, you’re gone. You’re not gonna come back. 

Well, and we were thinking, we were thinking, ah, if we just charge the dollar and we cancel the flight, they’re still gonna come back. And the Mexicans are not like that. They’re very remorseful. They have this resent and then they’re gonna, they’re never gonna, they’re never gonna come back. Just because you treated me bad. Right. Which happens differently in other markets. 

Paula: And it may be because we are a very small island Pablo, so I am from Ireland, so Ryanair is a hot topic and has been for its entire career. So we do love it because it gets us off our little island, but we also do give out about it and complain. And maybe it is changing. And I have heard them talking about, you know, trying to deliver at least not upset their passengers. Let’s just, just say that’s, that’s as far as I’m aware in terms of their intention.

But they’ve never gone as far that I’ve seen to kind of look, to create joy. And to me, that isn’t something that brings with it a cost necessarily. You know, it’s not expensive to have nice stuff to get the flight out on time and all of those things. So it always seems unnecessary what they do, you know?

Pablo: But if you do a little bit of example in Mexico, I mean if I would say, and being exposed to different cultures in some other cultures, if I don’t say hi to you, they say, oh, Pablo didn’t say hi to me. What happened? But then the next day you’re not gonna be, you’re gonna be worried about it. Right? 

You’re not gonna say, Pablo, I’m not, I’m not gonna give you this, this item because you didn’t say hi, right. You’re not gonna take it back on me because something that I did in the past. In Mexico, we do, right. In Mexico we do, you didn’t say, hi Paula. Then she’s mad. And then we create this whole story. And then Paula is my enemy. 

And she goes like, why? Oh, just because you didn’t say hi. Right? And I was like, well, I didn’t know, I didn’t say hi. I forgot. Right. So, so that little behavior that Mexicans have, and I’m stereotyping completely and we need to delete this out of the conversation. We do. 

Paula: That’s totally fun. No, I love it.

Pablo: No, but I’m, I’m, I’m mimicking a little bit. But in Mexico, we’re a little bit more resentful. 

Paula: Interesting. Culturally.

Pablo: So, culturally, we’re like that. So if you treated me bad, then I’m not going, I’m not  going back. 

Paula: Well, no wonder you have a loyalty program.

Pablo: That’s why. That’s why we need it. Exactly. Exactly. But that, those are the little things that change the airline. Right. Because we needed to invest more in customer experience.  In order, in order to make sure that we were treating our customers right. Even though we were not providing their expect even, no, we were not meeting their expectations.

 Paula:  Okay, yeah. No, it totally makes sense.

Pablo: And that has complete, that has completely changed. 

Paula: Incredible. 

Pablo: I think that nowadays, our customer experience is our pillar. 

Paula: Wow. Beautiful. And again, very rare in a low cost carrier, but clearly feasible and clearly working very well for you guys. 

Pablo: Exactly, exactly. We’re investing. It’s not an, it’s not an easy task and  and, and, but, but we believe that, that joy, as you’re mentioning that customer experience is getting us a long way. 

Paula: I’m sure. I’m sure, no people talk and that is the nature. And Mexico is such a huge country. So, you know, and I know families a very important piece as well, culturally add there. So people do expect to be treated, I guess almost like family. So as you guys seem to be totally nailing all of that in terms of growing the business, growing the loyalty program.

So I think that’s all the questions I have for today, Pablo. I will of course be looking forward to, you know, the all air conversation that we talked about for a couple of hours.

Pablo: For sure. We’re very happy. Yes.  

Paula:  Really looking forward to that. So, is there anything else that you wanted to mention for our audience before we wrap up? 

Pablo: I would just like to thank you and, and your whole team for setting this up and again, promote Doters, join in, get, test us and let us know any comments if you have very, more, more than happy to to receive feedback.

Paula: Wonderful. Okay, well I’m gonna do that. I can’t promise it’s gonna be today, but I’ll go and have a look and, yes, I’ll, I’ll test my Spanish and my Google translate and see how far I can get with the Doters program. And of course we’ll link to it in the show notes as well as a link to your LinkedIn profile as well, if that’s okay, Pablo.

Pablo: That’s okay. Perfect. 

Paula: Just if people are comfortable and just have questions for you, there’s often a really nice kind of follow up that happens all air. So we’ll make sure for the audience that’s available. 

So with all of that said, I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I really do hope that we get to continue it both in person and of course back on air, over the months and years to come.

So with all of that said, Pablo Sordo, Chief Strategy Officer at VivaAerobus, thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Pablo: Thank you very much, Paula. And thanks to everyone.

Paula: This show is sponsored by The Wise Marketer. The world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing, news, insights, and research. The Wise Marketer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which is already certified over 500 executives in 38 countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals.

For more information, check out thewisemarketer.com and loyaltyacademy.org.

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