I’m 36,000 feet in the air as I write this and have just come off the back of a two day program on how to ‘Think Like a Customer’. It’s a Friday night, I’m tired and just want to kick back for a couple of hours and unwind with a glass of wine and read.

Instead, I’m writing this article because of what I have just experienced for the first time on a Virgin plane, but sadly have seen the pattern on so many occasions elsewhere. My message, whilst a pointed one, and overlooked too many times in business today, is unfortunately the difference that makes the difference in the demise of so many brands. This story also proves how one person, at any given time, has the power to positively or negatively impact a company’s competitive advantage.

Like many , I have considered the term ‘the WOW! Factor,’ a fairly much overused cliché and never really given much thought to the importance of it or, in fact, that there are actually two WOW! factors.  Up until tonight.

I love flying Virgin. The service is great and they go out of their way to cater to one of my many failings –  the inability to eat cheese! As a result, I will usually whisper that fact to the hostess and hey presto! I will always be given a choice of M&M’s or a pretzel and nut mix to enjoy with my glass of wine.

I like people who think outside the square, who break the rules and who also make me feel special by doing so. To me that is the ultimate in customer care. People like Tony Hsieh from Zappos who won’t charge you for the return postage on your shoes if you stuffed up with the sizing, and of course, people like Richard Branson who pushes boundaries all the time to please his staff and customers and provide the right WOW! factor.

So, imagine my surprise a minute ago. The flight attendant offered me the usual biscuits and cheese, I smiled at her and whispered, ‘I can’t eat cheese’ and she matter of factly responded with ‘these are complimentary and that is all there is’.  In other words ‘put up or shut up’.  WOW! Really?

So, in the tight confines of the aisle I whispered back to her how I had just done a training on how to think like a customer and how we had used Richard Branson as one of our examples. I then asked her what Richard would do to create a WOW! moment for a customer like me who couldn’t eat cheese?  Her answer flawed me, ‘We only have biscuits and cheese, and they are the rules!’        WOW! Really?

WOW’d for the very first time with the words ‘they are the rules’. Is Virgin an operationally driven business now? I thought they were customer focused, market driven and real time, service based rule benders.

End of story.

Until… the second cart came toward me with the wine! Knowing one of Virgin’s values are ‘we think customer’, I thought  I might try a little more market research and so explained to the second flight attendant my plight relating to cheese. Can you guess what her response was?

Ssshhhh! Don’t tell anyone and she then gave me BOTH!

The M&M’s and the pretzel and nut mix. The cost was so minimal and yet a couple of dollars had the potential to be so great at the same time.

Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker

When the guy next to me, a national manager for a large hair care company, said he couldn’t eat cheese either!! I offered him one of my ‘gifted’ packets.  He graciously declined my offer and the flight attendant offered him the salad roll instead,  before telling him it was $9.00. He declined her offer as well and explained that it wasn’t the cost of the roll; it was that he was allergic to carbs. She handed it to him regardless, at no cost and suggested he work around his dilemma by only eat the filling! God bless Chantelle!!

The difference was ONE CART but the impact huge – empathy, care, disruptive thinking and trust!

Was that a WOW! moment?  Not quite. The second flight attendant, whilst thinking like her leader would have expected, only brought my faith in Virgin back to where it initially was.

Creating not just WOW! moments, but the right WOW! moments is what differentiates us today and it takes so much more than doing what the customer expects and bringing the bar back to where it should be. It’s doing what the customer doesn’t expect and raising the bar even higher? It’s about practicing ‘we think customer’ and that means listening and really hearing what the customer actually thinks and feels.

Q. What would I have wanted Richard Branson to have done in that moment that would have created a real, off the planet WOW! moment for me?

 A. Teleported me home so I wouldn’t have had to write this article and could have kicked back and read my book instead.

On that note, enough food for thought – it’s time for me to start my weekend.

Be Bold and Brilliant!

Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker

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