I seem to be on a Richard Branson roll. Earlier this month I wrote about how I thought Branson’s banking endeavors would benefit from a focus on the kind of personalized customer service that he’s brought to Virgin Atlantic. Subsequently, Flavio Martins at themana.gr took up the theme with his blog on 7 customer service rules from Richard Branson.
There’s no question that Branson gets customer service; that’s one of the foremost reasons I keep coming back to Virgin Atlantic (that, and the fact that they fly where I want to go). But here’s the key question for Sir Richard: Could Virgin Atlantic improve its customer service?
Here are five ideas on how Virgin Atlantic—or any airline, or virtually any service business for that matter—could make me feel like an even more valued friend of the firm.
I noted earlier that the staff at Virgin Atlantic all treat me as a friend of the firm. Some actually do know me on sight; others have never seen me before, but everyone treats me as though I’m someone whom they know to be important.
But what about my bags? If Virgin Atlantic had been taking note, its personnel would know that I always travel with the same two bags. There’s no reason that information should not be part of my personal profile in the Virgin Atlantic CRM system, and there’s no reason why the personnel at the airport should not know that about me and anticipate that I’ll be traveling with the same two bags that they’ve handled so well for so many years.
And if I show up at the airport with two bags, there’s no need for the young man at the counter to measure them to see if they’re regulation size. Instead, he might say, “The usual two bags, Mr. Leaper?” It’s a small thing, but it’s the small things that make a difference.
Recognize my history
Virgin Atlantic recognizes me as a gold card traveler; the company knows even better than I how many miles I’ve flown on their planes. I’ve already commented on how attentive the cabin attendants are, but when I board the plane there’s a curious disconnect. The cabin attendant smiles, looks at my boarding pass, and points out my seat—as though I’d never been on the plane before.
What if she looked at my boarding pass and said, “Ah, Mr. Leaper, good to see you again! I know you know where your seat is and I won’t bother explaining to you how to use the controls.”
Again, it’s a small thing, but I’d be very impressed if the attendant knew enough about me and my history with Virgin Atlantic to know that I was no virgin when it came to flying.
And as above: there’s no reason why the Virgin Atlantic CRM system cannot identify me as someone to be treated as that knowledgeable about its planes and to convey that awareness to the cabin attendant.
When I fly out of Heathrow, I usually have Virgin Atlantic pick me up and drive me in. It’s a great service! The driver phones ahead when we near the airport. Someone is waiting to take my bags and expedite my journey to the gate.
But if I don’t have them pick me up, I arrive at the airport and they have no advance warning that I’m there. Every interaction thereafter has an aura of surprise about it. The staff is happy to see me, but they are not anticipating me.
Virgin Atlantic could put together an iPhone app for its gold card customers that, with the customer’s permission, would alert the airport staff when the customer arrives at the airport on their own. Not only could such an app direct me to the proper gate or check-in line (perhaps even the shortest check-in line), but it could also—and more importantly—tell the counter or gate staff to keep an eye out for me and tell them that, yes, I’ve got to check in those same two bags again. It removes that element of surprise.
By the time I get to the gate or the baggage check-in, the iPhone app should have interacted with the Virgin Atlantic CRM system and the attendant should know everything about me—my name, my face, my destination, and so on—whereupon we can have a conversation that is more familiar and much more streamlined: “Mr. Leaper! Good to have you with us again. Back to London with the usual two bags?”
Bring me my milk with ice
I’ve already noted that Virgin Atlantic is the only airline that seems capable of fulfilling my desire to have a glass of milk with ice before take-off. That in itself earns many points for Virgin Atlantic.
But as with the example of the bags above, is there any good reason why Virgin Atlantic should not have a record of this preference in its CRM system? It’s what I always ask for. And if it were there in the CRM system, it could just as easily be in the mind of the attendant when he or she is bringing drinks through the cabin.
Instead of asking what I’d like, I’d love to hear the attendant say, “Milk and ice, Mr. Leaper?”
Show me you know me
I love the fact that, in so many ways, Virgin Atlantic treats me as a valued friend of the firm. I love the fact that the team is exuberant about the job they do—that’s Richard Branson through and through. But if you want to take it to the next step, treat me as someone you remember.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about flying or banking or buying cars. When you fail to remember me in the little ways, it gives me the impression that you don’t care—and that’s deadly for customer service.
If you were to disseminate the knowledge that you have about me so that all your personnel would know something about me and the depth and breadth of the interactions we’ve had before, I would be locked in as a customer forever.