IAM a long-time fan of Richard Branson's work.

I have read a number of his books and genuinely enjoyed the times I have transacted with his businesses.

The most recent of which was last week when I flew to Australia on Virgin Australia.

I was booked with Air New Zealand but the flight was a "code-share". Now, my experience was fine and the service on board was great and enjoyable.


Unfortunately a colleague of mine was not so lucky. While the rest of us were going through Australian Customs they were staring at an empty bag carousel and a long wait to be reunited with their travelling possessions.

Now, I realise that this situation happens all the time but the tail of their experience was longer than it needed to be.

I also think it is important that a business' back office completely reflects the face and personality of the business it represents.

From what I observed, my colleague experienced a mix of bad attitude and ineptitude which did not in any way match my positive perception of Virgin Australia nor of the Virgin empire at large.

When you have two bags checked in together and one arrives 24 hours later and the second arrives 48 hours later there is something seriously amiss.

The situation was less helped by Air New Zealand representatives stating either a) it wasn't their problem or b) that it was a good thing that "we are cutting our ties with Virgin Australia in the near future".

All in all minimal comfort was served up very cold over a long period of time. And it created unnecessary stress for my colleague and their partner - I wonder if things would have been different had frustrated customers been able to charge an airline by the hour for their time wasted?

Contrast that with an airline which continues to astound with its quality service levels - Air Chathams (due to a policy decision by Air New Zealand to move its fleet to other centres, Whanganui is now serviced superbly by this growing little airline).


The final stage of the travel mentioned above had me staring down the barrel of an almost four-hour wait at Auckland's domestic terminal, this being due to timing of my international return flight.

However, the international flight was shorter than anticipated (only enough time to view the movie Black Panther) and we arrived at the Air Chathams check-in desk just as the earlier Whanganui flight was closing.

Without asking we were offered a seat on the earlier flight. The process was simple and best of all clearly explained and flexible - including getting our luggage onto the plane. This got me to thinking about both of the situations - is it because the larger an organisation gets there develops a bureaucracy and antipathy towards customer needs? Or is it that can-do attitude dies on the vine? Or is it just that the smaller organisation is more attuned to the experience of the customer? In this case, a small operator in New Zealand outperformed two international brands and performed more like the "Branson business".

■Balance Consulting is a Whanganui consultancy specialising in business strategy, process excellence and leadership mentoring - contact Russell Bell on 021 2442421 or John Taylor on 027 4995872