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Edition 364 – All Night Long

I recently ventured to Perth to present at a CPA Australia event at the Rendezvous Hotel, Scarborough Beach. The hotel is perched right on the Indian Ocean, so the view up and down the coastline from my balcony was magnificent.

Given the delays to air travel post-pandemic, I built a buffer into my flight from Melbourne, where I’d been to visit clients. I flew out Wednesday evening, even though I wasn’t presenting until the post-lunch session on Friday. The old Scout motto from my younger years is still part of my makeup – “Be Prepared”.

Returning home, I checked out of the hotel just prior to 8pm on Friday evening as I’d lined up the red-eye flight back to Sydney. Within minutes of checkout, and whilst awaiting the cab, Virgin Australia sends a text advising a flight delay of 40 minutes. Oh well! It could be worse, I said to myself.

Not long after checking in at Perth Airport, a second text came through advising the flight was now delayed until 6.45am on Saturday morning. What then ensued was a classic case of poor customer service on Virgin Australia’s part, involving:

  1. Waiting in a line for over an hour to find out what your options were for the night.
  2. Finding out, after that hour, that it’s a case of “you’re on your own” in terms of finding accommodation. My return flight seat companion phoned 7 hotels after 10.30pm before finding a vacancy.
  3. A copied piece of paper was handed out advising the rules for seeking reimbursement of “reasonable costs” for accommodation and meals.

For the first time in my life, I spent the night sleeping in an airport departure hall. My reasoning – by the time I travelled back to a hotel, it would be close to midnight before I entered my room, only to have to be up again at 4am to head back to the airport. Why bother?

Things started to get busy early at the airport, so before 4am, I was back in yet another queue to have my boarding pass and bag tags reissued. Virgin’s poor service continued:

  1. After lining up in the first queue, the counter representative advised “you’re in the wrong queue”.  There were no Virgin representatives walking the floor, nor signs notifying passengers of this. My vocal announcement to the remainder of the queue saved 20 people the long wait I had endured.
  2. At the end of the “right queue”, the counter representative advised “you’ll need to join that queue over there to drop off your baggage”.
  3. Others in the “right queue” had access to a Virgin Australia app which invariably had one traveller on a 12.15pm flight to Sydney (his journey originated in Port Hedland) and another on a 9.45am flight. The three of us were scheduled all to be on the same flight.

All the time, the announcements from Virgin Australia staff were silent. There was no signage and minimal electronic communication. It was beyond poor.

I understand that flight delays happen all the time. However, why are Virgin’s systems so deficient that, in effect, they turf their customers out on their own, make them fend for themselves, then treat them with such disdain by giving very little in the way of updates, or for some travellers, incorrect updates, that only generate anxiety and concern?

For the executives at Virgin Australia and the spreadsheet gurus at Bain Capital who, recently, are talking up a sharemarket float – you’re deluded! You build value in any business by treating your customers as people, not as numbers that only mean something when their bums are placed on a seat. Leaving people to their own devices after 10.30pm on a Friday night, including families with young children, is a case of pointing at the consumer legislation and saying “this is the bare minimum we have to do, so that’s all we’ll do”.

The message for every business owner is this. Once you start treating your customers as something other than a person, you’ve lost that customer. Maybe not now, but eventually, people will say “that’s enough” and will look elsewhere.

This Week’s Tip

“Goodwill is not merely a number on a valuation report.
It’s the manner in which you treat your customers and invest in the relationship.”