Richard Branson has this nice guy image, he wants to create the impression that, at Virgin, they do things differently. They're a company that puts the customer at the heart of everything they do. Although Virgin Trains East Coast is only 10% owned by Virgin they appear to, at face value, be adopting all the Virgin values. Now Branson has finished his photo shoot on East Coast and spreading spin and misinformation to reporters it's time for a reality check
The first bad sign was in their first 'Red Report' which is a quarterly report on how VT East Coast are doing and their plans to incorporate feedback on customers, they stuck a picture of a Nectar card on the page saying how they're listening to customers. VT East Coast could put our "Save East Coast Rewards" campaign on hold immediately by acknowledging the feedback and reassurances they were looking into improving the loyalty scheme. However, instead they seem to want to stoke the flames by keep telling everyone how much they value feedback and then promptly ignore anyone who says something they don't want to hear (they've also ignoring those asking about the promised free WiFi).
Despite us calling them up on not listening about Nectar or the free WiFi they continue to ignore us while still claiming to listen. This is not what we expect of the Virgin brand. Unfortunately the press, with some notable exceptions, still haven't seen beyond the spin and take every word from Branson as if it's gospel even though Virgin are minority shareholders.
Richard Branson always posts inspirational Tweets on his Twitter feed, such as this one I seen on Friday:
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) March 6, 2015
If Richard Branson really believed that then why has Stagecoach got a 49% share in the original Virgin Trains (now just West Coast, but used to also have CrossCountry) and of course more recently 90% of East Coast? Surely if Richard Branson believed in his message he'd have nothing to do with Stagecoach. Why? Because the founder and CEO of Stagecoach is Brian Souter someone who was happy to spend millions of his own money promoting homophobic laws. Richard Branson is a billionaire, there's no need for him to partner with someone who supposedly differs significantly from his beliefs. He wants other people to stand up and do the right thing, but he just goes where the money is!
So whether it's a commitment to listen or posting about core beliefs, you need to take anything said under the Virgin umbrella with a pinch of salt, just like you would if any other company/businessman said it.