I admire Richard Branson. Actually, I am awed by his business savvy, drive, and style. This month's Fast Company (Sept '06) highlights his customer service mindset. [Subscription required.] My experiences with Virgin Airline have been above average. I believe the brand lives in the mind of the consumer and is based on these experiences we have and the dealings we have with the organizations' employees. Yesterday, Virgin brand took a real hit as I watched one of their employees in action at Logan airport.
I was sitting in the Northwest Airlines World Club with my dear friends and colleagues from tpc!UK, Richard King and Madeleine McGrath. Virgin apparently has some kind of agreement that allows them to share the space with Northwest. Overall, the World Clubs do a nice job. Open bar, cappuccino machines, free snacks, free wireless, and friendly staff. As we were enjoying the amenities, the Virgin hostess set up a hot buffet with a pretty good spread. There was no indication that this was for Virgin customers and was set up just a few feet from the NWA snacks. Rick and I stood up and got in line. Then the Virgin Food Police sprung into action. In a very stern voice, she let us know that the food was for Virgin customers only! She even physically grabbed a plate full of food from an NWA patron! Later she walked around with ice cream going table to table making sure that she only offered it to the right people. We openly wondered what Sir Richard would have thought about the display of Virgin hospitality. I even found myself watching how many Virgin customers were helping themselves to NWA crackers and stale cookies!
I certainly have no problem with Virgin's doing something exclusively for their customers. They paid for it, they are entitled to it. But a sign might have helped. Or perhaps a separate seating area. But not the food security force. The episode left me feeling that these are not pleasant people to do business with.
Also, a quick note to NWA execs. While sharing your World Club with another airline might help offset cost, your crackers and cheese looked pretty cheap compared to the other airline's buffet. That is not doing your brand any favors, either.