Richard Branson's next billion-dollar brand won't be ferrying people to the moon, nor deploying a fleet of self-driving aircraft. In fact, it's likely to be something much more grounded: Virgin Hotels. But there's just one thing: Virgin Hotels currently consists of just a single flagship hotel in downtown Chicago--the beautifully renovated former Old Dearborn building.
There, Richard Branson and his lieutenant, Raul Leal--CEO of the Virgin Hotels brand--are setting out to reinvent hospitality in ways subtle and unsubtle.
Here are 5 industry-busting customer service secrets that separate Virgin Hotels from the rest of the pack.
1. They're striving to never say "no"--and to make it clear before you even ask that "yes" will be the answer
Telephones throughout Virgin's flagship Chicago hotel--in each guest room and in the hallways--have just one cartoonishly simple button proclaiming, in huge red print, "YES!" Press this button and you'll find a Virgin employee on the other end ready to assist you with your issue, no matter what it is.
Customer service expert Micah Solomon--author of the book, The Heart of Hospitality--interviewed Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal to find out the origins of the Virgin approach to phones. Says Solomon, "Raul told me he designed these phones for his new hotel after a frustrating stay he'd had at a competing hotel brand. Their guest room phones had nine--literally nine--different icons on them: to call housekeeping, valet, bellman, doorman, and so forth. As a guest, I just wanted one button--and I wanted to know that the answer was 'yes' without having to fiddle around figuring out the right department to ask the right question in the right manner. So that one button is all we have now at Virgin Hotels, and the answer there is 'yes'--even before you ask the question."
2. Virgin Hotels has done away with the stuffy, mothball-scented ideas of luxury service that they feel are anathema to travelers today
Branson feels that the type of customer service desired by customers today is authentic and entirely unscripted. Says Branson, "Although Virgin Hotels is a luxury brand, we don't feel that luxury has to mean formality and stiffness. Customers want service that's delivered by a personable employee and tailored to the customer and the customer's situation."
3. No more crazy overcharges
Virgin is a pioneer in doing away with the $3.65 Snickers bar. Rejecting the ridiculously overpriced traditional minibar approach taken by other luxury hotels, Virgin installed adorable miniature, red (Virgin's signature color) in-room fridges with reasonably--affordably!--priced snacks and other cheeky Virgin innovations like an "intimacy kit" (which includes exactly what you think it does).
4. Make it shareable
A very clear phenomenon among guests today, including the enormous (and enormously important) millennial generation of travelers, is the feeling that if it's not on my phone, it didn't happen. Says Solomon, "Guests at the Grand Opening were tempted by an invitation reading 'Sleep with Richard--we promise we'll tell.' Guests, one at a time, were then invited to recline in a lascivious position in one of Virgin's custom designed guest room beds, while an image of Branson was digitally entwined with them to create a salacious photo for social distribution."
5. Monitor social media, to be able to respond more quickly
In addition to sharing on social media, Virgin Hotels monitors social media. Responding to customer complaints--and customer praise--means responding quickly. The Virgin brands together have 30 million followers and they're very active in monitoring anything posted by those followers--including complaints. Complaints, says Richard Branson, aren't something to be afraid of, but rather a chance to grow. If the complaint is properly handled (and you can bet it will be at Virgin Hotels), it brings the guest closer to the brand.