The finish is just as important as the start of any experience – Interview with Pauline Wilson of Virgin Holidays


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Today’s interview is with Pauline Wilson, who is VP of Operations at Virgin Holidays. Pauline joins me today to talk about going undercover, better understanding their customers, their customer journey mapping initiative and the improvements that have sprung from that.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Relevance, personalization and what many firms are missing when it comes to GDPR – Interview with Rob Walker of Pega – and is number 271 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Pauline:

  • Pauline has worked in a number of roles in the travel industry.
  • She is now VP of Operations for Virgin Holidays.
  • We met a year ago at a conference where she told an interesting story about Virgin Holidays’ and her own journey to start to improve and deliver a better customer experience for their customers.
  • Pauline’s journey started when, on taking up her new role as VP of Operations, she and the marketing director (at the time) decided that they would travel incognito and as customers to one of Virgin Holidays’ destinations.
  • They did this because they wanted to experience the holiday through the eyes of their customers.
  • There is a danger that folks in head offices can stuck in an ivory tower situation when it comes to having an accurate and representative perceptive on their customers and the issues that they face.
  • They went through the exercise they did to really spend time talking to their customers and to try to understand from them more about their experiences and what was really important to them.
  • It’s not about we think is important, it’s about what they think is important.
  • There did come a point that they had to ‘break’ cover.
  • This is not really that normal for many in large organisations i.e. to experience their businesses directly and incognito.
  • They wanted to really understand how they were and how they could set themselves up for the future.
  • That, in turn, acted as a catalyst for kicking off a piece of work to really interrogate and understand the entire customer journey.
  • One real light moment from the trip came when their customers kept telling them how much they didn’t like the last day of their holiday. Not because they hadn’t had a great holiday but more because after they had checked out of their hotels and were waiting to go to the airport to catch their flight home they felt forgotten and that the company had switched its focus to new arrivals.
  • That was a real wake-up call and made them think about what they could do to alleviate that feeling.
  • That thinking has produced a new concept: The Departure Beach, which is effectively like a Virgin Holidays departure lounge but it is situated at the hotel and, importantly, is still on a beach.
  • They realised that the finish is just as important as the start of any experience.
  • Most, if not all, senior leaders are busy so you have to make time for this type of activity.
  • However, this is made easier if being customer centric is part of your DNA as it is within Virgin Holidays and the broader Virgin brand ecosystem.
  • This undercover trip, the subsequent customer journey mapping effort and all of the resulting actions that have come from them has driven significant improvements in their NPS scores.
  • Here’s some additional insights and activities that came out of their extensive journey mapping effort:
    • They realised that they were communicating so much with their customers that they had started to overwhelm them and, in some cases, confuse them.
    • As a result, they completely overhauled the communications that they were sending their customers to make the information they were sending them personalised, easier to understand, clearer and the task of finding more information much more intuitive.
    • They carried out a review of under-performing properties to make sure descriptions matched what they were presenting to their customers. That has enabled their sales team to better match the right hotel to the right customer.
  • Whilst they may have generated the same insights and results a few years down the line, Pauline believes there is no substitute for actually experiencing your business as a customer and listening to your customers.
  • It will make your experience and your insight much more visceral and, as a leader in the business, it can accelerate an experience improvement/transformation programme.
  • Try not to fall into the trap of the shiny and pretty and make sure you get the basics right. It’s more sustainable and will give you more longevity.
  • Pauline is excited to announce that Virgin Holidays has recently announced a partnership with Next that will see them open up “20 new concession stores across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland”.

About Pauline

Pauline WilsonPauline Wilson is the VP Operations at Virgin Holidays and has over 20 years of operational and customer service experience in the travel industry, leading teams to achieve service excellence at optimal cost.

Joining Virgin Holidays in 2005 as Head of Customer Service, then General Manager – Service, and in 2015 was promoted to Operations Director. In this role she has developed the customer experience strategy across operations both in the UK and overseas.

Prior to joining Virgin Holidays, Pauline worked for a number of leading travel brands and is a Board member of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean and also the charity, Ideas Foundation.

Check out Virgin Holidays, say Hi to them on Twitter @VirginHolidays and connect with Pauline on LinkedIn here.



Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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