Learning From Richard Branson: Your Greatest Asset
Employees come first; customers come second.
That’s Richard Branson bringing 50 years of successfully leading the Virgin brand to bear.
The Virgin brand started with the Student Magazine in the 1960s. It was to give a voice to the anti-war campaign by young people towards the Vietnam War. It gradually expanded into music publishing, aviation, hospitality, health, money, transportation, telecommunications, entertainment, and many other sectors. The group brings in more than $21 billion in annual revenue.
In his book, Like A Virgin, Richard Branson summed up the key to success in three words: “People. People. People”. He pointed out that: “good people are not just crucial to a business, they are the business!”
Your team members are your key assets. They can either make or break your company. You need your employees to treat your customers or clients right. This is what will make the profits flow.
A staff member at Virgin Active (the brand’s health club chain), South Africa, did something quite spectacular. He noticed that as a regular member drove away from the club, the brake light was out on his car. The next time the member came for workouts, the appropriate replacement light bulb was waiting for him. The health club is not an auto shop, yet a staff saw a hole for great customer service and plugged in.
Unlike many brands that would just pass it off as ‘being nice’ on the part of the employee, the employee and his wife got a free weekend stay at a vacation lounge. More, the Virgin Active management team highlighted the feat as an example in internal education programs.
When employees or members of your organization start to refer to your brand in the third person plural, there is a problem. For instance, ‘they have management issues’, ‘they don’t understand the plight of employees’, ‘they treat us like slaves’…
Notwithstanding the size, your employees are your teammates. They should feel proud to associate with and refer to your brand in the personal pronoun ‘we’. Consider this: ‘we are sincerely sorry for the delay you experienced in getting our feedback’.
Bad news tends to be delivered more in the third person. However, in an organization where everyone sees themselves as part of a team, they will apply a personal touch.
When there is a gap between the leadership and the staff in an organization, the two parties refer to themselves in the third person. The staff would say: ‘they don’t care about us,’, ‘we get all the work done and they get all the credit’, …
The management would say: ‘they are heavily compensated, yet they get nothing done!’ ‘they don’t know the risks we took to get to where we are’…
But as Richard Branson said “just as two wrongs don’t make a right, these two conflicting ‘theys’ will never make a ‘we’.
There must be a synergy between the management and the staff. The staff must be carried along in new developments. Don’t make some drastic decisions without consulting your team members. You may overlook some apparently insignificant detail, but they’ve got more eyes than you and would see the oversight.
At Virgin, when a new aircraft is being designed, the product delivery group (cabin crew) is involved in designing their new workspace. With this, they avoid expensive retrofit. Imagine the crew walking into the newly completed cabin for the first time and saying: ‘this is very nice, but where is the trash compactor?’
Learning to appreciate the spectacular deed of a team member goes a long way in motivating innovation. Recognize even the smallest of acts because it matters a lot.
A Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class customer failed to connect with his free limo ride to the airport from his hotel in Newark. It turned out he was standing at the wrong door. He took a cab to the airport and he was caught in terrible rush-hour traffic. By the time he got to the airport, he was very angry and panicky that he had missed his flight.
The first Virgin agent he located took control of the situation. She calmed him down. Apologizing profusely, she assured him that he would not miss his flight. She refunded the taxi fare from her own pocket and got him through the staff lane to the gate with 10 minutes to spare.
A spectacular case of customer service! The spontaneous and proactive action of the employee would leave a lasting effect on the passenger and would definitely get out through the word of mouth.
The news got to Richard Branson and he made a point of seeking out the agent. That’s a way to motivate innovation.
Richard Branson noted that “No company can train its front-end people to handle every situation, but you can create an environment in which they feel at ease ‘doing as they would have done by’.”
What environment are you creating? Is it one where there is a glass wall between you and your team?
Your customers matter, but if in the bid of putting your customers first, you relegate your employees, you would lose those customers. Those front-end employees are the ones who deliver your brand messages to your customers. Their reactions, passion, and interest in the brand matter a lot.
Don’t forget that good people are not only crucial to business, but they are also the business.
Originally published on Ourhoodspace