Great customer service starts at the very top

I  have always liked Sam Cooke’s old hit song,
“Chain Gang.” It really comes in handy when I’m talking about customer service.

That’s because delivering good customer
service requires that a frontline worker receives supportive assistance from an
entire network of co-workers – in effect, a chain reaction of teamwork, one
that is consistent from beginning to end. And when it comes to helping a
customer, the chain of assistance is only as strong as its weakest link.

I love hearing reports of good care,
especially when they’re shared by a Virgin customer. But no matter what the
source, there’s usually a lesson to be learned.
Just to prove that I’m not always bashing our competitor, British Airways, I’ll
tell a consummate customer story that involves that other British airline:

An Executive Club passenger sitting aboard
a jumbo jet about to leave London for New York suddenly realized he’d left his
beloved leather coat in the airport lounge. He rushed to the front of the plane
and asked if he had time to get it. “Sorry, sir, too late,” replied a member of
the cabin crew. “But don’t worry. I’ll tell the ground crew and they’ll have it
sent to you.” He returned to his seat, convinced he’d never see his favourite
coat again.

Seven and a half hours later, when the
flight arrived at JFK International Airport, the passenger was amazed when an
agent met him at the door of the aircraft and handed him his coat. They’d put
it on a Concorde flight that had beaten his slower 747 across the Atlantic!

Let’s look at another story that clearly
demonstrates the importance of every link in the service chain – this time
involving Virgin Atlantic. An Upper Class customer’s free limo failed to
connect with him at his New York City hotel. (It turned out the customer had
been waiting at the wrong door.) He jumped in a cab to Newark Liberty
International Airport, a fair distance from the city. Rush-hour traffic was
bad; by the time he got to the airport he was very angry, running late, and
panicking that he’d miss his flight.

The first Virgin agent he located
immediately seized control of the situation. She calmed the fuming customer,
apologizing profusely and assuring him that he would not miss his flight. From
her own pocket, she refunded the taxi fare he had paid, then she rushed the
passenger through a staff lane and got him to the gate with 10 minutes to
spare. Truly a job well done

During the post-flight debriefing, the
agent told her supervisor what had happened and asked to be repaid for the $70
cab fare. Rather than congratulating the agent on saving the day, the
supervisor asked whether she’d gotten a receipt for the fare. When her answer
was, “There was no time for that,” he actually chastised her. He said, “No
receipt, no reimbursement. You’d better take more care next time.”

Clearly, the supervisor was more concerned
about rigid adherence to accounting practices than about employee initiative.
One thing was certain: Any Virgin employees witnessing their supervisor’s
scornful reaction to their colleague’s exemplary deed would be unlikely to
display the same resourcefulness. Which means that the customer loses – and so
does the entire company.

Happily, the story came to the airport
manager’s attention and he quickly took steps to redress the imbalance between
company procedures and customer service. He advised the finance team that he’d
approved the cash shortfall, while the supervisor got a quick refresher on how
important we at Virgin think it is to “catch people doing something right.”

Good customer service on the shop floor
begins at the very top. If your senior people don’t get it, even the strongest
links further down the line can become compromised, as the story shows.


Richard Branson is the
founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin
America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at You can follow him on Twitter at
To learn more about the Virgin Group:

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