Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 26th 2013 Contents Ihave been thinking about that question
quite a bit this past week, partly
because of a recent New York Times
article about one of our airlines, Virgin
America, describing what some see as
a tension between making profits and
creating a company that people love.
Virgin America has just turned 6 years old,
and over that time we ve put a lot of thought
and effort into making flights enjoyable, while
almost all of our competitors have focused
solely on their bottom line.
As a result, our airline has established a
loyal following in a very tough market. Matt
Richtel, the reporter, pointed out that a Con-
sumer Reports survey found that respondents
ranked us first in a list of airlines; in fact, the
customer satisfaction scores were some of the
highest seen in years.
Essentially, Richtel looked at Virgin America
startup finances in terms of when the company
will start working for its investors. We are
confident that it will. That s because the ques-
tion he was essentially asking was: Do you
sometimes have to choose profit over good
I m asked this often, and Virgin America is
a textbook example of why I always say no.
The Virgin Group has started many businesses
with the goal of prioritising people, the planet
and profit equally, and they thrive despite
occasional economic dips and competition
from much bigger companies that were specif-
ically built to bring in cash.
If you win people over, the profits
The first step in building a customer-focused
business is to ask yourself: What can we can
offer customers that others aren t, or won t,
because they are so narrowly focused on profit?
If you base your new business on this premise,
it will be much easier to find an edge over
Unfortunately, this means that you will
probably face a lot of opposition and second-
guessing from others in the industry when
you launch your startup. Back in the 1980s,
when people were wondering whether Virgin
Atlantic, our other airline, would survive, some
critics said that few people would fly across
the Atlantic on an airline called Virgin. We
responded that since we only had one 747
plane, we d be just fine with only a small num-
ber of passengers!
As it turned out, those customers loved our
airline and were very loyal, and we were soon
competing with the major airlines.
Build on your employees' ideas
The second step involves encouraging your
staff to think like and empathise with cus-
tomers, and then tell you about any ideas that
they may have for innovations to your product
or service. Find a way to empower your people
to follow up on their ideas.
At the Virgin Group, we put a lot of effort
into this: One example that comes to mind is
that everyone at Virgin America--- the CEO,
the pilots, the accountants, everyone---attends
an annual training programme called Refresh
to celebrate their achievements, build team
spirit and encourage creativity. We run sessions
where teammates brainstorm new ideas.
Many of the best ideas are free; it doesn t
cost much to make someone happy.
Increase profits by being nice
In some American classrooms I recently
visited, there were signs posted that read:
"Work hard, be nice." That sign should probably
be hung in boardrooms too. There is no better
way to improve the bottom line than to go
the extra mile for your customers.
The other day I heard about an entrepreneur
who arrived at our terminal in Portland, Ore.
He was frantic: He d been preparing for his
new company s launch the night before, and
then he woke up 20 minutes before the depar-
ture of his flight from Portland to San Francisco.
His flight had departed, and there weren t any
other flights to San Francisco. He was alone
and out of options - have you ever been in
a situation like that?
Our team rallied and got him on a flight to
Los Angeles with a connection to San Francisco.
It would be tight because the connection
departed the same time as the flight to Los
Angeles arrived, but they were rooting for him.
They assigned him a seat at the front of the
plane and told him about the quickest route
to his connection.
A crew member told the pilots about the
rush, and they managed to get the plane to
Los Angeles seven minutes early. When the
entrepreneur reached his connecting gate on
time, the pilot and crew on that flight con-
He wrote on his blog: "They had gone above
and beyond that day. Each and every one of
them had a hand in making my experience
not only successful, but enjoyable; and the
best part, I didn t once feel as if I was incon-
veniencing any one of them." Such effort and
kindness can earn you a customer for life.
Once you ve completed these steps, you ve
created an innovative, unequaled product or
service, and through the kindness and help-
fulness of your employees, you are winning
new loyal customers every day. Stop and take
a look around: you just built a thriving busi-
SEPTEMBER 2013 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
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Q: How do you build a company culture based on customer service?
Richard Branson is
the founder of the Vir-
gin Group and compa-
nies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America,
Virgin Mobile and Virgin
Active. He has recently
published two books:
"Screw Business as
Usual" and "Like a Vir-
gin." He maintains a
branson/blog. You can
follow him on Twitter
branson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from read-
ers will be answered in
future columns. Please
send them to
s.com. Please include
your name, country, e-
mail address and the
name of the website or
publication where you
read the column.)
@2013 Richard Bran-
son. (Distributed by the
New York Times Syn-
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