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Richard Holland

Richard Holland Managing Director

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Sometimes Listening Means Being Able to Laugh At Yourself

Tales are told almost everyday of some traveler or another experiencing a travel nightmare. Everyone that travels has an airline that they love to hate. I don’t know that it would be possible for all airlines to make each unhappy passenger happy, even if they tried.

In today’s world, the complaints that typically do get publicity are the most extreme sorts of incidents, and also those which are very cleverly written.

Just this week CNN reported in a blog article that Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, who was once the recipient of what many consider the “world’s best passenger complaint letter”, shared a new complaint letter that a customer had written to another airline, LIAT.  

In that letter, the passenger shared a gruesome travel experience that ended up involving six airports; with corresponding plane changes and security checks at each one; instead of the two on the original itinerary.

Dear LIAT,

May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean.

Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it preposterous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a variety of islanders, well, I feel as if I’ve been hugged by most of the Caribbean already.

I also found it unique that this was all done on “island time,” because I do like to have time to absorb the atmosphere of the various departure lounges. As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry at the end of all that flying anyway? I’m glad the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night — and that all those noisy bars and restaurants were closed.

So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are “The Caribbean Airline.”


P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.”

Branson’s point in sharing the letter on his blog wasn’t to ridicule the other airline but rather to emphasize the importance of listening to your customers. He stated that when he received his infamous complaint letter, he called the customer and apologized. “It is important to take customer feedback on board in order to improve – and also to be able to laugh at yourself”, said Branson. While the letter received by Virgin was not written by anyone famous, tennis legend, Arthur Hicks, wrote the one sent to LIAT.

All businesses receive complaints. That’s just part of doing business. Having a response plan in action to handle those complaints is important. Making efforts to correct issues for customers not only reassures the complainer but, if it’s public, can also serve to reassure potential customers. I truly don’t believe that people expect perfection. I do believe, however, that customers expect a business to help them fix a problem when one occurs.

Complaints from customers come in all forms and severities. Regardless of whether the complaint is expressed in a rational, polite manner or a hostile, aggressive one, it’s important to take all of them seriously. Getting past the tendency to take a complaint personally is important and the ability to listen to all of your customer’s feedback is paramount to business success.

As Sir Richard Branson said in his blog, “…making customer service key to your company will keep your employees motivated and your customers happy. This in turn ensures enduring loyalty, business success and a better experience for everyone.”

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