Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 23rd 2015 Contents As readers probably know by
now, I started our airline, Vir-
gin Atlantic, as a response to
the poor service that I was
subjected to on other airlines.
What may come as a surprise
is that I ve learned more about business and
innovation from commercial aviation than I
have from any of our other enterprises. In the
last 30-plus years of disrupting the status quo
in the airline industry, I have learned many les-
sons. Here are the top five:
1. Happy employees, happy
The best services can be destroyed by lousy
delivery, so focus on the delivery team, and the
rest will take care of itself.
I have long preached that your people are
your product, but this is especially true in com-
mercial aviation. Talk about a captive audience!
Where else are staff and customers trapped
inside an airborne metal tube for hours on end?
Airline cabin crews are on stage for every
minute of a flight, and their audiences can be
pretty demanding. When someone says, "You
won t believe what X Airlines did to me last
week," that person is usually referring to the
actions of a single employee, but blames the
entire company for a bad experience.
We learned early on that if we wanted happy
customers, we had to have a happy staff, and
that they need a sense of ownership in the
service they offer. We found that including our
airline crews in product development and inno-
vation from the earliest stages makes a big dif-
2. The customer is (not) always right:
This may sound strange as a follow-up to
Lesson 1, but I have learned that while the cus-
tomer is always relevant, he is not always right.
Our customers have shared many ideas with
us, and we have implemented lots of them, but
if your innovation strategy rests solely on asking
your customers what they d like to see, you ll
find that their ideas are limited by what they ve
previously experienced. Innovations like onboard
massages and ordering food via video screens
were suggested by Virgin Atlantic staff. Which
brings me to...
3. No such thing as a silly idea:
Establish a collaborative culture in which
your people get the chance to share their crazy
ideas with those who can make them happen.
When our Virgin Atlantic crews noticed that
passengers in our upper class cabins were con-
tinually "borrowing" our little airplane-shaped
salt and pepper shakers during meal service,
someone suggested that we should print
"pinched from Virgin Atlantic" on the bottom.
What was intended as a joke turned out to
be a brilliant idea: We did it, and they imme-
diately became collector s items. So, too, did
the butter knives engraved with "Stainless Steal
from Virgin Atlantic."
Rather than shut the pilferage down, we
encouraged it, and demonstrated that a touch
of silliness helped us stand out from our more
4. Keep them coming back:
My lousy experiences on other airlines proved
that simply meeting a customer s expectations
isn t necessarily a good thing. Back then, my
expectations were very low and, sadly, they
were usually met with very poor service.
Rather, a key to success in any business is
setting your customers expectations. They
should know what they re getting when they
buy your product or use your service.
A textbook example of an airline consistently
delivering positive experiences that are in line
with its customers expectations (and then reap-
ing the financial benefits) is to be found at
Southwest Airlines. They are famous for their
nothing-fancy low fares and friendly, fun service.
And they haven t had a single unprofitable
quarter for over 40 years; a truly remarkable
achievement in such a volatile industry.
5. Don't mess with success:
Once you find a winning formula, stick to
it. Change for the sake of change can be as
damaging as no change at all.
When your business is established and doing
well, the devil is often in the details. We were
brutally reminded of this at Virgin Atlantic a
few years back when we innocently eliminated
the ice cream bar on our daytime flights. We
thought nobody would notice, but within days
we were deluged with unhappy customers ask-
ing, "What happened to my ice cream?"
It was back within the week.
APRIL 2015 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
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Business lessons I've learned from aviation
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