In a joint project between Virgin Atlantic (VA) and the Virgin Group Loyalty Company (VGLC), the goal was to understand how to design the optimal user experience for members of VA Flying Club to be made aware of and sign up to, the VGLC reward scheme.

The average consumer might be surprised to know that Virgin companies like Virgin Active, Virgin Media, Virgin Money, Virgin Holidays and Virgin Trains are separate businesses that have no connection to each other beyond their branding. So when the Virgin Group Loyalty Company (VGLC) was formed their ambition was nothing less than to create a customer recognition program that would bring together all the Virgin companies (Vcos) through a single platform.

Their loyalty program would enable a customer to redeem points collected from one Virgin company with any other Virgin company they are also a customer of. It was an idea that, if done well, could potentially bring more value to all the Virgin companies and their customers.

But because Virgin businesses were their own islands, getting separate buy-in from each of the companies early-on was going to be a big challenge for the VGLC. A pilot example for the product was needed to show potential partners.

The Results

Moved from big idea into a tangible prototype

In four-weeks we rapidly understood, built and tested a prototype that considered the business requirements, technical questions and early proposition statements. The feedback from customers gave us insights on how to improve the experience to ensure a good user experience.


Early project momentum

There were many unanswered questions that needed to be surfaced. The project was not only a great pilot for an early stage product concept, but it was an effective way to stimulate necessary conversations between the partnering organisations.


Socialised the project insights

At the end of the project, we presented the the findings and designs with the wider group at the VGLC and VAA. We shared the insights and circulated a comprehensive document about the project so that the project could be well understood by teams who might need to oversee future designs.


The Full Story

How do you start to make your product idea a real thing?

Until this point, there had been a year’s worth of conversations and meetings. Sign-off and approval had been given, and a lot of people were eager to finally see something.

Design is a great way to begin to transform abstract ideas into reality, while sniffing out early where the biggest barriers to success might be.

We wanted to frame the project around something tangible and well-defined. Through an initial opportunity workshop, we identified that a viable solution for sign-up and on-boarding for Flying club members onto the new Virgin loyalty programme needed to be understood before any more of the product could be designed.

We collaborated with the project owners from VAA and VGLC to carefully frame the project and ensure alignment from both businesses.

How do you create an additional experience that benefits all?

The VGLC needed cooperation from the other Virgin companies in order for their idea to work. To earn the trust of potential partners, they needed to make sure their product idea was easy-to-understand and desirable by Virgin customers themselves. This was going to be a key factor in winning ‘buy-in’ from the other Virgin companies (Vcos).

Virgin Atlantic Airlines (VAA) was an early partner. They already had a rewards scheme called Flying Club in which customers would earn points based on their flights with VAA. It was a way for the airline to reward their loyal customers.

VAA wanted to maintain their reputation for high-quality customer service. They were keen to work closely on the project to ensure that Flying Club members would have as ‘frictionless’ a journey as possible in merging their FC account with the new VGLC platform. VAA wanted to continue to keep their customers happy and the on-boarding journey had to have a customer experience that was in line with what they’ve come to expect from the VAA brand.

Ensuring the right on-boarding experience early-on in the project for Virgin customers was going to provide value for both organisations.

Both the VGLC and the VAA were gonig to see direct value from this product if the customer experience could be done well.

How do you transform complex ideas into design solutions in a short amount of time?

We started with a week of intensive interviews with members from both businesses. We spoke to members of teams from Technology, Legal & Compliance, Marketing & Proposition and Data insights. The aim of the week was for the entire team to reach a shared understanding of the project’s ambitions and goals and to get as much information about the constraints and challenges as possible.

Right from the kick-off we started sketching out what the on-boarding system looked like. We also did some light research on what other rewards programmes were like in the market.

Following the project discovery, the core project team undertook a week of rapid investigation, exploration, sketching and iteration for a range of potential design solutions based on the findings of the discovery week. We continued to talk to engineering and product teams.

We found that both groups had different ideas about the optimal technical solution for when customers first signed-on to the platform. Without the ability to come to a consensus at such an early stage, we designed the test for where we thought we could learn the most, which was the solution that would create the most friction with customers.

Meeting with experts from both businesses, resulted in continually refining the drawings.

After a lot of sketching and conversations with both businesses, we began to build a hi-fidelity prototype with which to test and evaluate the proposed design solutions. In the end we wanted to design four possible on-boarding journeys for Flying Club customers.

We made sure that the journeys were:

  • Immediately relevant: they represented the fundamental ways VAA Flying Club members would come into contact with the VGLC proposition in the digital space.
  • Varied: they corresponded to different contexts that could have an effect on the on-boarding journey itself.
  • Scalable: what we could learn from testing could be applied to other possible future customer journeys.
  • There was also a strong need to show stakeholders how the product would all fit together, so the prototype also needed to at least hint toward the bigger picture. The wider organisation was eager to begin to see how the product idea in total could possibly work.

    Moving from sketching to high-fidelity prototypes: one of the journeys of customers who learned about the programme through an email.
    Another possible journey. Flying club customers could learn about the new rewards programme on the VAA website.

    In preparing for testing, we made our learning objectives very clear.
    We wanted to get feedback from customers about the proposition, the on-boarding journey and their comprehension of the product itself. All three of these things influenced each other in the design of the product in subtle but complex ways and speaking to users was the only way to really improve our designs.

    Some of our questions included:

    Proposition
    Do Flying Club members understand the offer?
    Do Flying Club members find the offer desirable?

    On-boarding
    Do Flying Club members clearly understand what they are doing and why?
    Is it a process they are willing to complete?

    Comprehension
    How do participants understand the Virgin Group loyalty programme?
    Do participants understand the relationship between the two brands/websites?

    Our location for the first round of guerrilla testing.

    At the start of the project, we had agreed to conduct usability testing in a lab with recruited participants. Midway through the project we realised how many undefined aspects there were surrounding the new product, and decided that while it was important to learn stuff as early as possible, the level of fidelity the prototype was really at due to other factors in the business, did not line up with the more formal research method.

    We decided to do guerrilla testing to get early insights. By switching methods, we did make some trade-offs. Some of these included: not having the precise demographic and having shorter interviews, based on how long a participant wanted to stay and talk to us. But by testing with potential customers that were close to our target audience, we would still get useful, fundamental feedback. What we did gain was a testing environment that was much closer to the real context customers might be in when looking at the prototype (i.e. on their mobile phone at a cafe, or in transit); when their attention and focus was low. Guerrilla testing also cost us less, and we could do it more quickly, without as much lead time and preparation. With this money saved, we could iterate designs based on the insights and later produce a much more informed journey to test in a lab setting later on.

    In the final project week, we produced and tested the prototype. We also summarised and presented the project findings with wider business stakeholders.

    We found that the product was generally something that people would want. But there were clear differences in the way the offer was understood based on the way they first found out about it. Participants who were actively addressed via email or personal messages understood what was happening and what the offer was better than customers who found out about the offer on their own. When being contacted by email, people wanted to see more data about themselves to verify that it was not fraudulent.

    A quote from a participant commenting on the initial product idea.

    Immediately after testing we had validated evidence on what we needed to double-down on in order to get the experience right for customers. We also had clarity on the optimal technical solution to invest in, which would feed in to on-going conversations between the organisations.

    After testing, we wanted to make sure that the project and the insights were translated to the organisation effectively. So we brought together the process and learnings into a project presentation that was delivered to both Virgin companies. We told the story of our design process and insights. Project owners were also able to take the same presentation material and show other managers weeks later. Marketing teams felt engaged and inspired to work more closely in the next round of design.

    It was a tight timeline to solve a complex problem but the objective was to learn quickly as much as we needed to. The project in itself was a pilot, not just for the actual prototype but for how the two organisations could collaborate on the continuing development of the product in the future.

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