Customer Service - The Branson Way

Over the last year, The Customer Service Blog has featured several articles about the importance of keeping your staff happy in order to deliver exceptional service to your customers. In this fascinating interview, Eric Schurenberg of Inc magazine talks to Richard Branson about this very subject.
Schurenberg: Not just customer service matters to the Virgin brand. Virgin is one of the few companies that puts employees first. Why does that matter to you and why does that tend to result in better customer service?
Branson: It should go without saying - and it's surprising that it still doesn't go without saying at some companies - if the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the job they're doing, if you give them the tools to do a good job, they're proud of the brand, if they were looked after, if they're treated well, then they're going to be smiling, they're going to be happy and therefore the customer will have a nice experience.
If the person who's working for your company is not given the right tools, is not looked after, is not appreciated, they're not going to do things with a smile and therefore the customer will be treated in a way where often they won't want to come back for more.
So my philosophy has always been, if you can put staff first, your customer second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and yourself are happy.

Schurenberg: You talk a lot about a management technique that you practice called, 'The Walkabout', or in the USA, 'Managing by walking around'. Tell me how that works.
Branson: I think that in this day and age, I like to think I practiced it all my life, but I think in this day and age, it is very easy to be out and about and not stuck behind a desk. And you're going to learn so much more. I mean, if I'm on one of our airlines, I will make a point of getting out and talking to a lot of staff, talking to as many of the customers as possible, having a notebook in my back pocket, listening.
I think, one of the key attributes to a good leader is listening, making sure that you write down the feedback that you get. And very importantly, make sure you act on that feedback when you get back to base.
An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. And the people out on the front line, they know when things are not going right and they know when things need to be improved. And if you listen to them you can soon improve all those niggly things which turns an average company into an exceptional company.

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