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Richard Branson is a man who has built his business empire around the customer experience. Regardless of whether it is on board a Virgin plane, using Virgin Fitness or Virgin Media, he has always believed in putting CX and empowered employees at the centre of everything he does. His favourite CX story is a simple one.

One day a family arrived to check-in to a Virgin flight from the UK to the US. They must have been re-locating, as behind the parents stood their little 5-year old boy, holding a goldfish. In a clear tied plastic bag. Now I can imagine the conversation that had already taken place en-route to the airport between the parents. Who was going to tell the little guy that goldfish are not an ‘allowed liquid’ on a plane? That you can’t just ‘import’ a live animal to the US that easily, even if it is just a goldfish! (side story: I have a client whose partner was held for hours by US immigration for the ‘illegal importation of pork’ as he had made himself a ham sandwich for the flight – too funny!)

Now I am sure this little boy’s parents had already considered the consequences of letting him bring the fish to the airport, and figured it was just going to be easier to let the airline staff be the ‘bad guys’ and tell their child that he wouldn’t be allowed to take the fish on board. At least they wouldn’t be blamed as parents!

Employee Empowerment

But what actually happened is the magic created when you empower every employee with a CX vision. On check-in, faced with breaking the heart of a little 5-year old boy, the Virgin staff told him that although he would not be allowed to take the fish on board, they could put the fish in the VIP Goldfish Hold in the plane, along with all the other fish flying that day. Delighted, the little boy handed over his pet to the safe care of Virgin Atlantic.

The staff then contacted their counterparts in the US, who went and bought another goldfish, identical to the one handed over in the UK. When the boy landed,he was re-united with his fish, who was remarkably alive and relaxed after his 7 hour flight!

For a brand, making a difference with a customer and creating a brand ambassador is often done in these small moments. They are impossible to predict, but the front-line response have the power to turn any interaction into something magical.

Will I Make It?

I was reminded of this last night travelling home from an event in the UK. Sitting on an Aer Lingus flight waiting for the doors to close, the last passenger burst through the door. And I do mean BURST. She was red in the face, out of breath, hand luggage flailing around her, with eyes that had just lived through that “I am never going to make it” feeling we have all had at some point in an airport. But she had made it, only just. While the plane had not yet been delayed, we had all been waiting on this one last passenger to board before we could push-back and hit that all too precious Heathrow take-off slot.

The usual reaction of air cabin staff to a late passenger would be to take your boarding card with a thinly veiled smile that really says “we were all waiting for you”. Because lets face it – if you work as cabin crew, nearly every flight is probably delayed by some idiot who is late, your working day being pushed longer and longer in 15 and 20 minute increments. It would be hard to keep a smile. But last night, on entering the cabin the staff smiled, reassured her that it was no problem, and as one showed her to her seat, another brought her a glass of water to refresh her and to replace all that sweat you generate running through airports! A little touch that said ‘we care’. A little moment that cost the company nothing but creates significant experiential equity for the brand. These little moments can make all the difference.

Optimising the customer experience has always been important. But as we move into an omni-channel world it becomes imperative. We have to deliver perfect CX at every touch point. And that needs, not only the systems in place, but also employee empowerment and the creation of a CX culture.

It is why Zappos offers new employees $2000 to LEAVE after their initial training. They know that the employees who want to stay, who believe in the brand after their initial training, are the ones you want. The ones that truly believe in the brand and the company CX culture. The $2000 spent on getting rid of an employee who did not have this belief is money very well spent.

Making an Impact

I am currently working with a large financial services client on CX. So before Christmas I sent all 20 senior managers a package. On opening it they receive a Christmas Cracker and an envelope labelled “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOU HAVE PULLED YOUR CRACKER WITH A COLLEAGUE”.


They pulled their cracker and got … well nothing. I had secretly opened them all, and had removed the paper crown, the toy and even the crappy joke. I had also taken out the BANG strip. Pulling this cracker was the emptiest, most pointless moment of their day. They pulled and the cardboard simply tore in two, leaving a gaping silence where there should have been a bang, an empty tube where there should have been little presents. And that my friends is the reality of most customer experiences.

Yes I know giving them empty crackers was cruel but it is a point well made. Prior to pulling the cracker, even as an adult, there is a little expectation. You wait for the BANG, you want to see what cheap tacky toy you’ve won, you want to read the Christmas joke, knowing it will be awful, your guilty pleasure. And so it is with customers.

They all have expectations, every time they interact with your brand, even B2B. But ask yourself this. How many times do they get an empty cracker from you? Be honest. Just a transactional moment, fulfilling their basic needs but not offering anything else? No Brand love, no experience beyond the norm, no BANG! If we are to recruit and retain customers in this competitive environment, then we have to give them the BANG they deserve every time they interact with your brand.

Feel the Pain

Of course there are also the negative CX stories, and these can really damage a brand. Sticking with airline examples, just watch Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video below (trust me, it will make you smile).


Negative CX can ripple out today in a way that should strike terror in to the heart of any brand. But there will always be negative CX moments, negative customer experiences and system failures. How you choose to handle these failures is what makes you a CX Centric organization.

Your response to frustrated or annoyed customers offers a golden opportunity. Every time. You should look at these moments as experiential equity gifts. This is how you recruit brand ambassadors.

In the run up to Christmas, one of my many ordered packages from Amazon had yet to arrive. It seemed to be lost in space. I waited a few days, and then foolishly a few days more and still nothing. I had ordered different items across 7-8 different occasions, so I kept waiting and hoping the gift would arrive in the next package. It never did, and as Christmas approached I was short a ‘gift’. I contacted customer service who within 20 minutes had emailed me back saying they were looking at my case. Another 10 minutes later they called me. Did I want a refund or a replacement order? I still needed the gift so I chose a replacement. And so it was – the next day the courier arrived with the express replacement delivery. Painless. No forms. No arguments. Just painless perfect CX systems running as they should. It is Amazon.


Compare that with the luxury BRICS weekend bag I ordered directly from their website. It arrived just in time as a Christmas gift, but was judged too big by the recipient. No problem – we will pick a smaller one from their wide selection and return it in the New Year. 30 days is standard enough and so I thought nothing else of it. Christmas and the New Year holidays passed, and so back to work in the new year I sent the company an email enquiring about their return procedure. They hadn’t put any information in with the delivery on returns (which was their first fail) so I emailed customer service.

They replied 6 days later (which was a huge second fail – today CX response needs to be as close to immediate as resources allow, without question). Their reply was short and curt. We have a 14 days return policy, so no. You have to keep it. Honestly, I just laughed! Now remember this is a premium LUXURY brand we are talking about. Their bags retail at €400-€600. You would expect their CX approach to match their brand, but sadly it does not.

Of course a 14-days return clause is very tight for international returns, especially over a holiday period where you are missing about 4-5 working days. But if you are going to set such tight T&Cs to do with returns, you would expect them to be communicated very clearly. But again they do not. Other then ticking that T&C box (that we all tick at the end of every online transaction trusting that the retailer isn’t going to try and cheat us) this returns policy is all but invisible. Nowhere in the package received does it say “Return in 14 days”. Nowhere during the purchase forms does it draw your attention to this unusual returns timeframe.

This is a typical example of a company that does not put the customer at the centre. No flexibility and no customer centricity. They haven’t even bothered replying to my email challenging them on their returns policy. Just that quiet silence you get from a brand that truly doesn’t care.

So will I ever buy a BRICS product again? Of course not. Will I share my negative experience with others? Of course I will, and unfortunately for BRICS because I am a CX speaker, their approach and reaction will be shared all over the world, in speeches, training courses and blog posts like this one. But even if I was just an average customer the reaction is the same. Today’s disappointed customers share their experiences and damage your brand equity day by day.

Negative CX is an Opportunity

Negative CX experiences offer a golden opportunity to really make a difference. To show a customer that even though you may have ‘dropped the ball’ on this one, that you want to keep their loyal custom, that you care. Every negative CX that has to be ‘dealt’ with by a company offers a unique opportunity like none other that day. An opportunity to surprise a customer, to show you care, to go beyond their expectations. While no brand wishes for disappointed customers, if you do get them, see them as an opportunity for your brand to shine. Invest in the systems and foster a culture of employee empowerment to make that difference.

Buy the goldfish and be there with that glass of water.

Oh and if anyone would like to buy a BRICS 55cm Travel Bag let me know. But just like BRICS, my returns policy will be hard to find and I might not talk to you once I have your money!

A blog to  inspire and delight

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A blog to  inspire and delight