In Focus: Virgin Atlantic
5 years ago by Sonia Rafi
Nick Parker shares how Virgin Atlantic is optimizing Customer Experience by focusing on all aspects of the Customer Journey. He talks about Virgin’s ‘Loved for Service’ training program, innovative technologies, strong social media platforms, luxurious airport lounges and great rewards programs. In this interview, he further introduces Virgin’s upcoming Passenger Service System, aimed at maximizing customer experience at every touch point.
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“IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR US TO SET MEASURABLE PERFORMANCE TARGETS FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE”
Q: Virgin Atlantic was recently awarded, ‘Europe’s leading Airline in North America’. What is it that you’re doing different for your customers in maximizing their experience?
Nick Parker: At Virgin Atlantic, we are committed to putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. In 2014, the business developed a 5 year plan to deliver a series of objectives pegged against a number of areas across the business. It was important for us to set measurable performance targets for customer service and overall experience as part of that plan and we use Net Promoter Scores to track this.
More recently we have committed to an investment of AED 1.6 billion into customer experience. Part of this investment includes specific projects that will build on our abilities to personalize our service, an area we believe is key to improving customer experience:
- Using wearable technology and facial recognition technology to help deliver our customers with real time information about their flight and destination.
- Using Apple’s iBeacon technology – we envision this to help prepare our customers for their transition through the airport. For example, an Upper Class passenger approaching private security can receive a notification on their phone to open their electronic boarding pass ready to be scanned. In the main area of the airport, passengers can receive special partner offers, such as 0% commission as they pass a currency exchange booth.
Since 2014, we have actioned a number of projects to work towards this goal including the purchase of a new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners (6 delivered so far) and engaging our cabin crew in an intensive training program called ‘Loved For Service’. I’m pleased to say, in just 18 months, we’ve increased our rating NPS by 12%.
Q: When training your Cabin Crew, what are the essential customer service aspects that are emphasized upon?
Nick Parker: Our ‘Loved for Service’ program emphasizes the focus and importance we place on the service our customers receive from Virgin Atlantic.
When the program was launched in 2013, it focused on the key areas that we believe are essential for delivering a strong customer service proposition. It involved increased empowerment for flight crew, developing managers and building on emotional intelligence. The program saw our on-board managers completing a two-day workshop entitled ‘Me and my leadership’, encouraging our people to collaborate with one another, be authentic and promote a respectful, adult and honest staff culture. This investment in our people saw an immediate effect in the feedback we received from our customers.
Q: In what ways do you measure passenger satisfaction?
Nick Parker: We use the Net Promoter Score metric which focuses on how likely our passengers are to recommend us to a friend. We gauge this metric by using a combination of onboard surveys and also follow up surveys after the inbound flight to ensure our scores are accurate. It’s a key part of our strategy to improve our NPS rating.
Q: What facilities and services are available for customers at Virgin Atlantic Airport lounges?
Nick Parker: Virgin Atlantic has nine airport Clubhouses across our network with the flagship lounge being at London Heathrow, Terminal 3. The £11m Clubhouse, which is over 15,000 square feet in total, is designed to feel like a private members club. The space provides the ultimate pre-flight experience for Upper Class passengers and Gold Flying Club Members, where they can enjoy complimentary massages, hair and nail treatments, our in-house spa with steam rooms and a spa pool, the den which features a pool table and retro video games consoles… the list goes on!
Q: In your opinion, how important is online customer service in addressing customer concerns and generating more sales?
Nick Parker: It is integral for us as a brand to make sure we are speaking to our customers through the channels that they choose. Facebook and Twitter as customer service tools allow us to respond in real time to any problems that customers may be experiencing, address that problem and hopefully turn what could have been a negative experience into a positive experience. We have a 24/7 social media customer service team and currently our response rate on Facebook is 20 minutes.
Q: Do you observe noticeable differences in Customer Expectations and trends in the Middle East region as compared to other parts of the world?
Nick Parker: Virgin Atlantic positions itself a challenger brand so we keep ourselves abreast of the service proposition provided by other carriers. We focus on how we can be uniquely Virgin Atlantic and stay true to our brand as we know it’s the brand that drives loyalty in our customers.
Q: Please tell us about Virgin’s rewards, promotions and membership programs for frequently travelling passengers?
Nick Parker: We take steps every day to ensure that our customers feel recognized and rewarded. This most frequently comes through our Flying Club program. We pride ourselves on the strength of our Flying Club program and regularly review our rewards and incentives to ensure they remain highly competitive against our direct competitors.
Some elements incorporated into Flying Club that set us apart from our competitors are:
- Dedicated phone line for our Flying Club members, no matter what tier
- Mileage bonus on your birthday
- Maternity and paternity miles protection
- Guaranteed Economy seat when booked three days before
Q: What are the new developments taking place at Virgin Atlantic to provide a better passenger experience?
Nick Parker: The biggest change being implemented in the near future, is the introduction of a new Passenger Service System (PSS) called Air 4. The technology was developed by our Joint Venture partner Delta and is at the cutting edge of PSS capabilities. The platform will be integrated into almost every part of the business and will allow us to give our customers the optimum experience with Virgin Atlantic during every touch-point on their journey, from booking to check-in to landing. It’s a huge project, but something we’re extremely excited to be launching.
About Nick Parker
Nick Parker first joined Virgin Atlantic in 1999. In October 2014, Nick was appointed Head of India and Middle East, responsible for the strategic development and delivery of the commercial and operational performance on Virgin Atlantic’s Delhi and Dubai routes to London. Within the remit of his role, Nick oversees sales, distribution, airport logistics, contact centre management, marketing, press relations and customer experience.
Previous to this, Nick held the position of Regional Manager of the Caribbean for five years. In this role, Nick led a team of 70 people, across seven countries and was responsible for the operational performance of eight airports. He was also fully accountable for commercial targets and supporting business functions including HR, IT and Finance. During his time in the Caribbean, Nick undertook and led a strategic commercial review delivering considerable efficiencies for the business while improving customer satisfaction ratings.
Throughout his career at Virgin Atlantic, Nick has excelled in varied roles across all sides of the business working in logistics, procurement and sales to name a few. It is Nick’s diverse experience across numerous elements of Virgin Atlantic business functions that has positioned him as a strong leader, industry expert and robust manager for change management.
Nick holds a Bachelor Of Science degree in International Transport, Aviation from Southampton Solent University. He is a member of Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK).