Archive for September, 2009

Virgin on the ridiculous

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Couldn’t resist sharing a hoary old customer relationship management horror story, at the expense of Virgin Atlantic, which is of passing relevance to this blog.

Having secured a piece of work which required me to travel to New York, I decided to eschew my decade-old allegiance to British Airways and give Virgin a try. Some people rave about Virgin and I’ve heard less glowing reports too, but I guess there’s no substitute to trying it for yourself.

On buying the flight, I naturally signed up for their “air miles” loyalty scheme, “Virgin Flying Club”, in order to start accruing my meagre rewards. (I’m not flying up front or traveling that often!) A few weeks later, a mailer arrived in the post (very nicely done, I will say), encouraging me to sign-up to Flying Club in exchange for instant Silver status (the next level after Red, the starting grade.) My first thought, of course, was the slight breakdown in customer data management that had occurred, allowing an already-signed up customer to be sent such a mailer, giving away additional benefits.

Nonetheless, instant Silver status seemed worth having (just) so I visited the campaign microsite to sign-up, with a strong feeling that somewhere along the line Virgin would realise their mistake. Sure, enough, having submitted my details, the process rejected my application with a (rather cryptic) message along the lines “you’re already registered”. No doubt I could have obfuscated my details sufficiently to fool the system, but at this point I was loosing interest. Instead I fired an email to Virgin Customer Services, identifying myself and complaining that I wasn’t able to complete the application.

Back came a response (over ten days later) asking me to identify the email I had received with the offer. Well, the offer came by post of course, so I replied to this effect and queried why they didn’t appear to know what they had sent me? In the next reply (another ten days after mine), I was asked to identify the mailer, with no acknowledgement to my point about joined up marketing. By this time I had mislaid the mailer, so I offered a short description and again made the point that somebody at Virgin must be able to establish what I had been sent.

At this point, I was informed in the next reply (this time a little more promptly), that my enquiry was “referred to the relevant team”, who noted the applicable offer was both mailed and emailed. Regardless, I would now be upgraded to Silver and a new membership card despatched. Splendid, I thought, since the up-rated status came with free upgrades to First Class on the Heathrow Express, my favoured method of transfer to the airport. I’ll use that next week when I go back over to New York…

So, a few days before my most recent flight, I thought I’d take a look at how to claim my free upgrade. Logging into my Flying Club account I hunted for a link to booking a ticket – to no avail. So, off went another email to customer services, enquiring as to how I obtained my complimentary upgrade. The reply (received overnight, they’re getting better!) advised me to use the upgrade vouchers in my membership pack. “Um, what membership pack?” I thought, and emailed back along those lines, adding that I would be traveling in the following week. Predictably I received no reply, so I resorted to calling to see if there was some way of expediting the fabled vouchers. This was now the day of travel, so I held out little hope, and sure enough there was nothing that could be done. And my mischievous efforts to secure a flight upgrade in lieu of a train one also didn’t work!

The key lesson here, of course, is to ensure that customer mailings always utilise the most up to date information possible. There will always be a delay between list extract and mailing, especially/particularly with postal direct mail, but there’s no excuse for these being more than a few days. Don’t let your mailing house tell you they need a week to prepare the data once they receive it (especially in a recurring fulfillment process). The gap between my original Flying Club registration and the mailer I received was well in excess of this, probably by weeks, so it was more than possible that I might have registered in the meantime.

The other comment I would make, specifically in relation to Virgin, is that the childish tone of voice in their marketing communications, website etc is completely at odds with their apparent desire to be taken seriously as a business airline. When I receive breathless emails enquiring as to my level of excitement at my forthcoming flight, my actual reaction is to begin mental preparations for spending another seven hours in an economy class seat! And fulfillment processes that work on a monthly schedule (as it turns out is the case with Flying Club membership packs) is again futile for customers with a more frequent purchase history.

Processes, as well as messages, need to be tailored to the intended audience. I think my next flight will be with BA…