Virgin's Cut-Price Promo Goes Off the Rails

08 February 2001

The self-proclaimed ‘world’s biggest rail offer’, launched earlier this week by Virgin Trains, has resulted in a Niagara of complaints as its call centres and website failed to cope with the response of travellers eager to claim 50% off almost all the operator’s rail fares.

Swamped by demand, the call centres' automated system put hundreds of thousands of frustrated callers on hold, telling them: “For your added convenience you can now book tickets through the internet – why not go to our site now.” Many then did so, only to learn that the site “was busy, please try later”.

According to executive commercial director Mark Furlong, Virgin’s call centres in Scotland took 376,000 calls on Monday, compared to 20,000 on an average day while the online reservations site experienced a 600% increase in business over the daily average.

One seasoned fulfilment observer concluded that Virgin’s failure to anticipate – let alone cope with – this level of response suggests that the promotional enthusiasm behind the ‘world’s biggest rail offer’ far outweighed the company’s competence in promotional logistics.

Brushing the egg from his face, Furlong admitted to the BBC Radio 5 Live show that there were massive queues - but he assured that the cut-price tickets would not run out. He also promised free refreshments for those kept waiting at stations.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)