Virgin America bids to banish ‘command culture’

Virgin America is bidding to bolster staff involvement in its internal communications platforms as it looks to break away from the traditional ‘command oriented’ airline culture.

Virgin America

Speaking at a press Q&A session at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Virgin America CEO David Cush said the company is also looking to get its customers more involved with the brand through increased social activity.

Cush added that the biggest barrier competitors have to adopting employee social networks such as Salesforce’s Chatter or Microsoft’s Yammer is “legacy systems, legacy thought processes and legacy people”.

He added: “Traditional airlines are very command oriented – a lot of guys are from the military – we want to promote communication across groups and collaboration [which is] all part of building our culture. Hopefully after that we can integrate the customers directly into those conversations.”

Virgin America today (20 September) launches a digital marketing campaign that offers its customers the opportunity to take a photo of their flight experience, which is directly uploaded to Instagram. Customers can then opt to tweet the company’s Twitter account for their photo to be uploaded onto Virgin America’s billboard at New York’s Time Square. They can then share an image of their photo in the location on their own social media accounts.

Cush said the campaign symbolises how it is looking to get people, both inside the company and its customers, involved with the brand.

Virgin America is also exploring using Salesforce’s CRM technology to send social media influencers highly personalised messages when they are on the plane or at the airport in the hope that they share their good customer service experiences with others.

In an earlier keynote at the event, Salesforce demoed a customer tweeting about being worried about missing a flight. The customer could then be served a communication on the screen in front of their seat with their social media profile image and information on how they can make their next connection.

The CRM dashboard provides customer service executives with information about that customer’s last three interactions on social media and their flight history, meaning they can easily send targeted communications.

Cush said such software offers “easy to quantify” cost savings and decreases the amount it needs to advertise flights via Google AdWords or with third party travel agents because having a direct relationship with customers can result in direct bookings.

Being a small and relatively new airline allows Virgin America to be more “nimble” with its approach towards social than some of its rivals, Cush said.

He added: “My gut feel is as we go through this generational change if [our competitors] don’t jump on the bandwagon quickly it’ll be like TV, but their customer base is ageing and at some point they just won’t be there.

“Investing in communicating with your people and culture isn’t as important to big established guys but at some point they’ll wake up and realise they need to invest more in it.”

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