Richard Branson on customer feedback lessons at Virgin

The Virgin Group founder explains what he and the Virgin companies have learnt from listening to feedback from both staff and customers over the years...

"At Virgin, we know that the best way to drive positive change is to learn from our mistakes and hear what our customers have to say. Our companies thrive off customer feedback. It helps us to innovate and disrupt, and keeps us relevant," writes Richard Branson.

"Likewise, employee engagement is very important to us. Those working with our products and services on the front lines are often best placed to make improvements and come up with solutions. Innovation isn’t just reserved for leaders or so-called creatives - it’s for everyone.

"Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that feedback from our customers and employees has returned again and again to the same theme: the importance of purpose. Our customers want to know what we are doing to build a better world, and our employees want to feel that they are contributing to that better world through their jobs."

For Branson, his desire to be a part of something that has a positive social impact, as well as financial result, dates back to his teenage years.

Richard Branson: make profit or help people?

"It has always been my objective to create businesses with a defined purpose beyond just making money. At the age of 15, I started Student magazine to campaign against the Vietnam War and mobilize the opinions of a younger generation concerned about the world. Almost 50 years later, Virgin’s recent investment in OneWeb is a continuation of my focus on purpose-driven businesses. OneWeb aims to create the world’s largest constellation of satellites in order to bring web access to the billions who don’t have it.

"Each and every one of our companies has a defined purpose, but the truth is that we haven’t always made that clear to the public. That’s changing. These days we’re working hard to communicate effectively about where we do business, where we invest and how we are using our influence to be a force for good in the world - beyond just making profits for our shareholders. In a nutshell, we believe in protecting the planet, advancing equality of opportunity and ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect."

This clear focus on purpose from the Virgin companies has not only had a positive impact on those outside the business, but also those based inside them.

"Purpose-driven companies can make a positive difference in the lives of their employees, their communities and the world. But that’s only half the story. These companies also function better. Why? Their employees are happier," notes Branson.

"We’ve found that many Virgin businesses have significantly higher rates of employee engagement and retention than is typical of their industries. In fact, research from Harvard University has shown that companies that have a “higher purpose” are more than three times as likely to retain their employees. And keeping a great team together is key to business success.

"Being purpose-driven also helps to align your business with your customers. A recent survey from the marketing firm Edelman found that global consumers believe businesses should put at least as much emphasis on social interests as on business ones.

"That’s why, acting on feedback from our customers and employees, we’re being more outspoken this year about the purpose of our businesses. And this makes perfect business sense: Companies that strive to do more than simply making money - to put their business in the service of society and the environment - tend to attract the best employees, have more loyal customers and enjoy a better reputation."

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