Plane, air tickets, passport, notebook and phone with headphones on pastel background. The view from the top. The concept of planning and preparing for the travel

You’ve probably heard, or thought it all before. No one reads these things, so why bother filling out that pesky airline survey that zaps into my inbox after a flight? It’s not like anyone cares…

That’s the main feeling travellers, and let’s be honest, probably you too – have towards airline “how did we do” surveys, and I’m here to tell you that-that’s the wrong idea. Completely. Well, now it is. At least, at one airline.

How would you feel if you boarded a flight home after a bad outbound experience, and seemingly out of nowhere, a member of the cabin crew addressed you by name, apologised for the specific incident or grievance from your outbound flight – even though they personally weren’t on it – and did a little something nice to make up for it?

Most airlines use “net promoter score” (NPS), or “voice of customer” (VOC) tools to measure how they’re doing, but with most airlines and industries, that means nothing more than a pat on the back for well heeled executives at the end of the month,  for not letting things go to the wolves, and in all honesty, absolutely nothing for you.

Virgin Atlantic is changing that, and if their initial success is any indicator, other airlines will be jumping on board like Backstreet Boys fans at the turn of the millennium. A new tech based customer service system deployed by Virgin Atlantic takes those pesky “how did we do” surveys and helps facilitate personal contact with passengers within 24 hours, not to mention a few little somewhat mind blowing tricks along the way, if things were below a certain standard – or wildly exceeded them.

“The goal is ultimately for you to have great memories, drive loyalty and when you’re ready, come back to us.”

Virgin now operates a customer survey system that ensures that 100% of people leaving feedback below a certain score – we could tell you which, but then we’d have to kill you – will be contacted within 24 hours by phone, email or both. And no, not one of those generic “thanks for the feedback” emails, but a personalised, issue specific email aimed at turning a detractor into a fan.

The 100% means everyone, not just frequent flyers or commercially important passengers with blue tick boxes next to their Twitter or Instagram accounts.

The airline wants to win people back before the end of their “end to end” customer journey, if things go array, whatever the reason may be. Speaking to Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss in Tel Aviv, during the launch of their new route, it was ultra-HD clear that this new “closed loop” system of making travel personal and winning people over every time, not just some of the time – is everything.

Sure, that’s all sounds fine and well, but so do lots of airline initiatives which don’t actually mean jack for the people taking the journeys. It’s the finer details, the deep richness of the data and the speed in which actions to win back customers are created that are creating a “secret sauce” for Virgin Atlantic right now. In early customer feedback it’s legitimately dropping jaws. People can’t believe someone is actually listening, as simple and pathetic as that sounds.
Of course, when one airline gets something right, others will follow…
People expect that their surveys are filled in vain, that it’s all just some big number and, and then in the case of this new Virgin Atlantic system, find themselves being addressed personally, regardless of cabin with an aim to make those early issues a distant memory before the end of a round trip journey. Perhaps even more importantly, the data is then used to flush out root causes, and with time, squash them.
This is something that the most revered hospitality brands like Disney have pushed, and it’s great to see airlines make a foray into not only transportation, but hospitality too…
“We don’t benchmark against other airlines, but against best in class companies in customer service, where our customers spend time and engage. We launched a new survey this year, on a new technology backbone, which is best in class by any industry, and by far best in class across the airline industry”
 – Daniel Kerzner, VP Customer, Virgin Atlantic

Oh, and hot tip within that survey… you’ll want to fill out the form before you fly back home.

If your journey hasn’t yet been completed, customer data from your outbound flight is automatically fed to the fully connected crew iPads used on your flight home, with a note to look after you. This is all discussed and briefed during a pre-flight meeting, to make sure the entire crew is ready to make the ordinary into something extraordinary, or at the very least, memorable in a good way.

Whether that win back entails a better seat, glass of champagne or just a “we’re sorry, and we’re here to help” will depend on a variety of factors, but just about anything is possible. If you, like me, just often wish that someone cared – it’s really just nice to be heard. I don’t need gifts, ceremony or gestures, but a sincere apology actually addressing the issue is priceless.

Tel AvivCrucially, Virgin Atlantic has created customer journey teams to look beyond the immediate issue, to find root causes of any dissatisfaction and take steps to improve. Breaking the data down further, root causes can be weeded out like any Hollywood plot, where themes become identifiable and efforts can then be undertaken to address issues from the source.

The only thing worse than someone having a sh*t flight, is someone else having a sh*t flight for the same reason.

Of course, the system will offer fail safes to guard against frequent abuse, and really, anyone who falsely files a complaint in hopes of getting something out of nothing has a special place reserved in hell. Historically speaking, it’s always been hard enough to get issues resolved without people faking issues in hopes of bagging an upgrade, so don’t be a contributing factor to that!

But if something does actually happen to you, it’s cool to know that those days of no one reading are over, for good, and that there’s an entire team of people aiming to turn your sub par experience into one where Virgin Atlantic becomes your most loved airline…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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5 Comments

  1. Well, I that’s it BA have lost and should be forced to compete (with nps) and for their dominance of slots in UK…
    They know how bad the service is but actively choose to ignore feedback… I still flying dirty cabins on ith broken IFE and inadequate catering loaded… I to my certain knowledge each of these issues has been fed back to them for at least 5years.

  2. Few months ago, I filled a survey that Iberia sent me after flying with them in Business from Bogota to Madrid. The flight was kind of bad, several minor issues and a not very enthusiastic cabin crew . Customer service called me the same day apologizing and offering me 5k avios! Furthermore, as I was flying with my wife, I asked if she could receive the avios too, since the issues were the same, and she got them!

  3. Hilariously (and tellingly), the only customer surveys I’ve ever received after flights are when those flights were in business/first.

    Airlines couldn’t care less about economy class passengers.

  4. I don’t believe it! I am VS Gold and fly all the time, I always fill in surveys and I guess it’s because I say I will recommend them to other people at the start. No one has ever contacted me from my feedback on broken screens, poor service, grumpy crew etc etc…. so who are they contacting?

  5. They’re definitely not contacting me either. Filled out IFE survey and the emailed one after a LHR-JFK flight complaining about food, grumpy crew etc etc and nada. Also didn’t care about power outlets not working, chipped glasses etc. And not sure why they say you get a newspaper in Premium if I’ve never ever received one. They answer compliments, not complaints.

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