This is How Virgin Atlantic Surprises and Delights its Customers

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Reuben Arnold, Senior Vice President – Marketing & Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic, discusses providing memorable experiences for customers on the ground and in the air.

Reuben Arnold is the Senior Vice President – Marketing & Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic and is responsible for the airline’s customer experience. He also oversees all aspects of brand and design across the business and leads all worldwide marketing and communication activities, through advertising and Customer Relationship Marketing, as well as sponsorship and brand activation.

In the first part of his interview with CX Network, he discussed the challenges of continuous innovation to meet customers’ needs, empowering employees as a driver for brand advocacy, linking physical and digital experiences, moving away from traditional marketing methods, and the changing model of the airport experience.

Today, he talks about the difference between providing customer experience on the ground and in the sky and gives examples of some unique experiences they’ve created to surprise and delight their customers.

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Customer experience differs depending on the industry that you’re working in, can you give an example of an innovative way in which you enhance the experience, both on the ground and in the sky, that differs from other industries?

We’ll continue to roll out wifi over the next 18 months on our fleet and you’ll see a lot more of this starting to take shape. What are the services and what are the offers that we can present to customers when they’re in the sky? And what content can we start to offer customers that they can look at on their own devices, either with or without external connectivity?

I think there’s a lot more to come there. It’s being quite innovative and wifi enablement on aircraft is not just about saying you can now access the internet, but there’s a whole wealth of content that we can provide our customers when they’re on board with us. And also how you can form things like communities within planes and how you can form communities across aeroplanes. There’s some quite exciting stuff that we can do and I think if we think about creating some of those memorable experiences for customers when they’re in the air, digital and wifi enablement can play quite an important role.

We’ve tested some of those things already and it really works so well with our customers, both within one plane and across different planes that may be in the sky at any one time, or even from the plane to the ground. Last year when we launched our new 787 Dreamliner we had an event on board where we had two bands, Rudimental and Gorgon City, who did a live stream, so it was both an experience on board the aircraft for our customers but there were also thousands of fans on the ground who were able to enjoy the same experience because that was being live streamed to the ground.

Wifi enables you to do so much more and pretty much every one of our customers comes on board with a device, so the opportunities are even greater. We did something last Christmas where on a flight to Boston we created a sort of digital physical experience where, in a nutshell, we landed Father Christmas on the roof of the aeroplane using some quite cool digital tech projections and then he came into the aircraft and met customers. And I think that’s a nice example of how you can create a memorable experience on board an aircraft for a group of customers, using both physical and digital as your enablers, but also share it with people on the ground.

Connecting with our customers and being able to tell stories is a great way of driving advocacy and loyalty.

Do you find there are also additional challenges to working within travelcompared to other industries, because you communicate with your customers in a different way?

I think some of those challenges may be applied differently to different sectors but we all face the same challenges, particularly around data.

Data on your customers is very important so that you can serve them relevant information and relevant content at the right time, so if you want to really drive personal connections with customers you have to know who they are to do it in a meaningful way. But at the same time you have to be very respectful of the data that you hold on customers and it is about making sure that you’re adding value to the customer and that you’re responding to their needs in the meaningful and relevant way, otherwise it will only ever seem like spam and that has no value for customers.

I think that challenge is exactly the same whether you’re working in travel or financial services or retail, it is being able to serve very relevant content, and I think a mistake that a lot of marketers can make is that content is king and you need to get content out there to drive engagement. But unless it’s relevant and it’s inspiring people to want to interact with you, then it will only ever be seen as junk or clutter.

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What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of working within customer experience?

I think for anyone who works in this area it is about having a real, tangible impact on customers, on what customers’ experiences are when they travel or consider you, and that what we do, certainly from a customer experience side, makes a difference to how a customer feels about the brand.

We already spoke about this a little bit and you gave some great examples of how you guys differentiate with the live stream of the concerts and with the Father Christmas experience, but I was wondering if you can tell me about another time where Virgin Atlantic went above and beyond to deliver a memorable customer experience either to one individual customer or a group of customers?

We did something quite similar for a group of customers on a recent flight to Detroit where we had a primed flash mob of the Motown the Musical cast who entertained our customers on board. That went down really well and got absolutely phenomenal coverage. Again, the fact that people were able to share it through their own social channels meant that everybody else got to experience a little bit.

These are some of those big events, but I would like to say that every day we try to surprise and delight our customers. It’s about empowering our people to allow them to surprise and delight, and it doesn’t always have to be going above and beyond, but just doing stuff to really reinforce the fact that people are able to use their initiative for the customers, so making the customers’ experience better.

A very recent experience, that I happened to experience myself on a flight, was when one of our flight crew noticed some great views outside the aircraft window. I think it was over Greenland and there were some phenomenal views because it was so clear and he put a little message up on the inflight entertainment screen not to interrupt customers but to say: ‘if you’re interested, if you look out of the window on the left you can see some fantastic views. It’s really clear today’. And those are the sorts of things that are not scripted, that’s just our people who are empowered to think about how to change things to surprise our customers.

We had another very similar one a few weeks ago where a customer in Economy had a problem with her inflight screen and tweeted about it because it was on one of our wifi-enabled aircrafts. The crew picked up on it through their feed and went and found the customer and offered to bring her up to Upper Class and give her an ice cream. It is finding those little examples of where our people are empowered to think about how they make can things better for the customer.