How To Damage Your Brand: Lessons From Virgin Trains

Brand Virgin Richard Branson

Richard Branson is brand Virgin

On Tuesday I travelled on Virgin Trains from Manchester to London.

When I was booking my ticket, I mistakenly chose the option to print my ticket.

      I usually choose the option to collect my ticket from the machine for which reason I did not read the confirmation email.

      I just took a picture of my reference number because it’s all I need to collect the ticket from the machine.

      Few minutes before my train, I went to the machine, put in my payment card and reference number and my ticket did not come out.

      I went to the ticket counter and explained to them that I was having difficulties getting my ticket.

      The lady at the counter took a look at my reference number and told me that I ought to have printed my ticket before my journey.

Branding strategies

Virgin branding strategies

      I explained to her that I am constantly between Manchester and London and I usually choose the option to collect the ticket from the machine, this was the reason I did not read my email.

      She told me she could print the ticket for me but it will cost me five pound something.

      I thought I did not hear her well, so I asked her to repeat what she said.

And she repeated the same thing.

It was going to cost me over five pounds for her to print an A4 copy of the ticket for me.

I was so outraged I simply walked into the train without the printed ticket.

When the ticket inspector arrived, I showed her the email.

      She too attempted to lecture me about the virtue of printing my ticket however, when she realised I was in no mood to listen to her lectures, she was smart enough to back off.

This was not the first time I have had such a poor level of customer service from Virgin Trains.

      Sometime last year, I booked a ticket with the wrong time, when received the confirmation, I realised the time was wrong, I immediately called Virgin Help line.

They told me it could not be changed.

      I knew I was obviously speaking to someone in Asia, so I decided to go directly to the counter to speak to someone.

How to brand your business

How to brand your business

      At the counter, they told me it was an e-ticket so they could do nothing about it but they could put me on line to speak to someone in that team.

      Thinking I was going to speak to someone in the UK, I agreed, only to realise later that I was stood at Virgin ticket counter in Euston Station in the middle of London speaking to someone in India.

      But I told myself, it was my mistake, my time is too valuable to be wasted trying to educate bunch of robots who cannot think.

I decided to purchase another ticket.


How to Destroy Your Brand

I am not one of those people who complain about the cost of things.

      For me, we live in a free market economy, where everyone is free to charge any amount they like for their product or service.

      If as the customer you do not like what you are being charged for a product or service, you are free to go somewhere else.

      So my issue with Virgin Trains is not the fact that they charged me five pounds to print a simple A4 sheet of paper, as extortionate as that might sound.

I am viewing the encounter from a business perspective.

Personal Branding

The lift attendant who branded  herself by putting her humanity into her work

For me, it was the mother of all bad customer service.

      I am your customer I have paid for my ticket, ideally they should be pleased to have the opportunity to serve me as a customer.

      But the lady viewed it as doing me a favour that she even agreed to print the ticket for me at an extortionate price.

      In an ideal situation where there was an open competition between Virgin Trains and a few other service providers, they would have acted differently.

      The only reason they are allowed to get away with such level of customer service is, they have a monopoly on the train line.

Most people view the Virgin Brand as one of the most successful brands in the world.

      Richard Branson is hailed as this brilliant serial entrepreneur building multiple successful businesses.

      Indeed he needs to be respected for having the brain to choose markets that Virgin either has monopoly like the train or he is the best of the worst like the airline.

      Every industry Virgin has entered in which they were met with stiff competition, they have either failed or are struggling.

      Check out Virgin record: Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Brides, Virgin Vie, Virgin Clothing, Virgin Cars, Virgin Flowers, VirginStudent (“Virgin Facebook”) even Virgin’s airlines aside from Virgin Atlantic the rest of them are dismal failures.

This article is not a Virgin bashing article.

I like and admire Richard Branson. 

But his staff are very unhelpful because they have not been properly trained and empowered. 

      Frontline staff need to be properly trained and empowered to make the right decisions in the interest of both the customer and the business, not to simply read policies to customers to compensate for their lack of power. 

My goal here is not to disparage Virgin.  

The goal is to provide an example of a good brand that is destroying itself.

Virgin Trains is surviving because it has literal monopoly.

Only the government have the resources and the capacity to build train lines.

Therefore, it will be difficult for another company to easily take on Virgin Trains.

      Virgin Atlantic is in an industry where it is the best amongst the worst, so of course it will strive.

Virgin is viewed as the caricature of a successful brand.

I am saying that’s not true.

      What Virgin has working for it is either in a monopoly or it is in industry that it is the best amongst the worst.

      Therefore, you cannot build your brand using Virgin as an example, you will fail miserable as Virgin fail in industries with stiff competition.

      Successful brands are those that understand that good customer service and excellence are the key to success.

Richard Branson antics is not a business strategy

Richard Branson antics is not a business strategy

      At present, Virgin is surviving on Richard Branson antics, but that’s not a good business strategy.

If you don’t believe me ask low cost airline Ryanair.

      Years ago they were the biggest dog in the low cost airline kennel.

      Its staff were arrogant, they tricked passengers into purchasing cheap tickets and when they arrive at the airport, they were charged extortionate luggage rates.


      They got away with it until competition became fiercer in the budget airline space then they were forced to make a U-turn.

      For now Virgin can afford to charge five pounds to print an A4 sheet of paper and provide crappy customer service.

That will be until they lose the monopoly.


***I received a customer satisfaction survey from them after my journey, I wonder it they study the response.

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