The Virgin Brand: From Customer service darling to sales driven beast

May 8, 2014

It is a sad time when I have to write a blog to explain my disgust at the changes to the Virgin brand.  I grew up with the Virgin Brand being synonymous with Quality and excellent customer service – Look at this slide from Virgin in 2008…..

Virgin Group Bad customer service

….but the last few weeks have made me write this blog, about Virgin Active and Virgin Media – both are now sales driven and customer un-focussed.

My Virgin Active issue has been brewing for a couple of years – I have been a member for as long as it opened 5 years or so ago, and my membership fee increased every year, as the service and building deteriorated.

All attempts to discuss this were ignored and brushed over by staff, who only cared about one thing – Sales and NOT the customers.  I have spoken with many of the staff and they have often mentioned the pressure from the management for sales, sales and more sales.  This has meant they have no time to do the basics to keep the existing clients happy.

To entice you to join, Virgin active offer a reduced rate – this means that long standing members like me pay 6.8% more than a new member!! Why????? Because they cannot keep existing customers happy and they have to drop the rates for new customers.

Three months ago, I thought things were changing…..we were having a “Brand Spanking New Gym” (as the posters say)……. but this is not good news for the members!

For the last three months (and counting) we have worked out in a construction site! The pool has been closed for weeks, the air conditioning is not on and the equipment is about 60% of what it was…..and when you complain…you get no answers!  Staff are discussing the issue, but the management say No refunds or reduction on the membership fee as you will have a new gym soon!!

This is a disgrace, and last week the changing rooms were totally closed for 3.5 hours on a weekday evening…..when most people want to use the half useful gym.

I completely understand that refurbishments take time, after all I was the Finance manager for the Marks and Spencer refurbishment programme in 2001 to 2003.  But at M&S we had to think about the customers and refurbish around their needs and not the needs of the sales team.

The Virgin Active team do not respond to the members and have ignored my communications – I would like them to hear the words in the changing rooms that describe them: Disgraceful, dirty, unsafe, do not care, money grabbers

I once thought the Virgin Group, and Richard Branson, would never have these words said about them…… it is now common at Virgin active.

What could Virgin Active do to improve the situation? 

1) Reduce the membership fee’s in relation to what is available – it’s only fair to pay for what you can use

2) Use the staff to introduce the members to new equipment – even though 40% of the equipment is not there, most members have not used all the machines and would happily try a new machine during this period

3) Hold a members event – thank the members for sticking with the company and offer a few drinks and nibbles

4) Ask the members themselves what they want…..come on Virgin get back to your customer roots!

Unfortunately, My experience is not just with Virgin Active, but also with Virgin Media – Where do I start on this one?  I am now a Sky customer after using Virgin for the last 12 months.

I previously used Virgin Media three years ago, and found the internet service patchy at best.  Whenever I complained I was taken through the restart process and then left to “hope it got better” and it never did.

When I moved house last year, Virgin was there and “over 20mb fibre available”.  I would love to have used 20mb, actually I would have been happy with 2mb – if it was stable!

The whole issue with Virgin Media is the same as Virgin Active, they focus on sales, sales, sales and deliver an appalling product.

Every evening, I would be lucky to get a stable connection and then it was normally below 2mb, and when I complained….Please restart, etc, etc, etc

On top of the inadequate service, Virgin Media call you often for “Great Deals” on phones and TV packages.  They normally call around 7pm when you are trying to relax and when you ask them to remove you from the list, they do not.  I even had a call last week when I was on holiday and I asked them to remove me and said I was away….two days later they called back….A sales driven monster of a company

What could Virgin Media do to improve the situation?

1) Offer the service the customer has paid for – Super fast broadband does not work unless you have a stable infrastructure – make our internet connections stable before “selling” the speed dream

2) Stop pressure selling – you are Virgin and you should be active selling by providing good services – get that right and you can reduce your sales teams!!

3) Ask the customers themselves what they want…..come on Virgin get back to your customer roots!

As a retailer, I understand there is one person that is important – THE CUSTOMER.

In the good old days Virgin used to apply these principles, but now I am afraid Richard and his team have become Sales focussed with no care for existing customers.

I hope Richard, and his senior Virgin team, read this, but alas, I fear they will ignore my communication’s like they do with all customer complaints.

For a business built so well and for so long I fear bad times are coming for Virgin Active, Virgin Media, and this will knock on to the rest of the Sales monster that Virgin has become

Please leave you own experiences below – maybe I have just been very unlucky!