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Virgin Atlantic: How to lead the creation of a Customer Experience

by Shaun Smith March 25, 2008

Virgin GroupLeading the creation of a unique Customer Experience is a whole new ball game for most leaders. Here's an example to help you conceptualize it and embed how you are going to lead your organization in a way that creates a unique and defining Customer Experience (instead of just focussing on the old, established way of thinking of customers - customer satisfaction surveys etc. - which is now no longer enough).

Virgin Airlines has refined its Upper Class customer experience.

You may have seen their new campaign, which is all about whizzing through security to their clubhouse. The point is that Virgin chooses to compete on the customer 'touchpoints' (the parts of your business process that touch the customer, affect how they feel about you, and collectively make up their customer experience) that other airlines do not even think about. Whilst the other airlines are trying to win the battle on new ways to serve chicken, Virgin has recognised that the average frequent flyer would do just about anything to avoid the zoo they call security at Heathrow. Here's the ad:

It was Virgin that first thought to reinvent the customer experience in airport lounges with its 'Clubhouse'. When Virgin Airlines' CEO Steve Ridgway's team first came up with the idea of transforming airport lounges into cool, relaxing places to be, they came up against unexpected opposition.

They customer-tested plans for a hairdresser, virtual reality ski machines and other novel features that had never been seen in an airport lounge before. But, customers gave it the thumbs down.

Ridgway and Branson decided to over-rule the research and go with their gut feel, which told them that customers couldn't imagine the experience, but once they saw it for real, they would fall in love with it.

It turned out they were right. This is a useful lesson when using customer research to market test new ideas for changing your customer experience - Customers will tend to ask for more, cheaper, better. It's sometimes up to you to come up with the unexpected innovation which the customers themselves might not 'get' until you show it to them. What this requires though, is complete clarity on who your target customers are and what your brand stands for, and a strong sense of leadership. Only then can you innovate successfully. As Richard Branson puts it "Daring to be daft".

Hence the emphasis on the power of instinct in business decision-making in my book See, Feel, Think, Do.

Do contact us for any help you may need on leading the creation of your organization's own unique Customer Experience.