Does Megabus demonstrate why operating your brand solely on a low-price-focused approach puts you at risk?
For those of us on the Eastern Seaboard, the cheapest way to get from one city to another is usually one of the low-cost curbside bus services that take passengers to a number of different places throughout the US and Canada. It’s an inexpensive way to get from Point A to Point B, but you often get what you pay for, with less-than-timely service and a reputation tied much more closely with price than safety.
On August 2nd, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the online arm of lovably pretentious McSweeney’s publishing company, posted a satirical listicle called “Questions from a Helpless Megabus Passenger.” It began with, “Why is the bus 30 minutes late?” moved through, “why are we pulling over somewhere in the middle of Maryland?” and ended with “Can I afford Amtrak?” [The above quotations are all approximate, since the article was pulled the day after it appeared, following news of a Megabus crash.]
While attempting humorous exaggeration, it was eerily close to reality. Many people who’ve taken one of these buses have had to wait for ages to board, or arrived at their destination several hours late, or with no bus personnel willing to answer questions, gotten on the wrong bus and ended up in a completely different city than the one to which they had intended to travel – one friend of mine had his trip interrupted by the bus’ door falling off.
The point here is that customers can speak for themselves. Focusing on price over customer comfort and safety means that people may try once, but quickly become disenchanted and only return to your brand if no other options are available: have a look at Yelp reviews of Megabus for over 400 unvarnished customer opinions on the “absolute chaos” of boarding procedure, the rash of en-route thefts by bus passengers, and the difficulty of trying to contact customer service with a question or complaint. To their credit, on Facebook and Twitter, Megabus responds directly to customer concerns, but it is hard to tell whether issues get fully resolved.
If your brand is operating solely on a low-price-focused approach, you are precariously balancing on one strategic leg. Brand planning requires a stable platform that will endure for the long term. So far, it seems that low-cost bus brands still find plenty of riders, but I’m betting that over time more potential passengers will reconsider how they travel, and bolstering quality controls, training programs, and the breadth of customer service could protect the bottom line in the future.