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Communication - Virgin Active, you're doing it wrong!

I really like the Virgin brand, I have a gold card membership for air-miles, a Virgin Amex is my main credit card, I have Virgin Media supply my home broadband and I am a member of the local Virgin Active health and fitness club (The Glamorgan in Swansea). Heck I'm even a big fan of Mike Oldfield (though technically he's no longer part of Virgin). All in then, I spend easily in excess of £10,000 each year with the Virgin group of companies and three or four times that if you add in the money that goes through my credit card.

As such, it came as a surprise when through my door arrived a debt recovery letter, from Virgin, for £58.49 (That's fifty eight pounds and 49 pence).

You see, a little while ago I transferred my current bank account to a new bank, and part of the process was that they also transfer all of my direct debits for me, it's part of the service. Somehow though, Virgin Active made an administration error and while they successfully stopped the direct debit from my old account, they forgot to set up the new one. This led to an earlier letter from the club a few weeks ago, a letter which I promptly responded to and a new direct debit was set up. Lucy, the helpful retentions manager at the local club even added a note to simply take a double payment for the month where the direct debit was in transition. Simples, and all sorted, or so I thought.

Turns out though that James Ace of Virgin Active does not read the notes put into the system. James it seems, decided that I was a defaulting customer and began debt recovery proceedings against me, including a threat to damage my credit rating (something I'm fiercely protective of).

Needless to say, this letter made me less than happy. Were it not for the fact that I have a personal trainer at the gym who I get on very well with, and that I regularly hold informal meetings and even work from the club restaurant, I would have politely told Mr. Ace what to do with his gym and his threats.

Perhaps I'm over-reacting, but I get quite annoyed when something as simple as this gets out of hand by a failure to communicate, especially when people start to make threats that can impact my business and credibility.

It also goes to show just how important communication and customer service is. When I spoke to the staff at the club this morning, they told me that this is certainly not the first time that this has happened.

As an aside to this, it made me personally more aware of how important good communications are. I wonder how many of us in business have lost clients over something as simple as this.

Top tip then, keep an eye on your communication. Good communication is not always obviously rewarded yet poor and miscommunication can result in an immediate loss of customer confidence.

Update: Virgin Active have responded to me on Twitter, they say they are going to try and ensure these kinds of things don't happen in the future.

Update: Other than the above Tweet from Virgin, I have had no response from the gym. Even though I made a direct payment ahead of the Direct Debit date agreed with Lucy, I don't know whether the matter is now resolved or if I should expect to have a bailiff knocking on my door...

Update: Crikey, the media and social attention that my story has received seems to have been notices by Virgin. Louise Ramsey from Virgin Active just rang me to apologise, Louise is the area manager and is contacting the club directly to find out what's going on.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm sure this is just a case of ditching the dreadful management culture that Esporta had and dragging it kicking and screaming into Virgin's far more customer focussed ways. I shall post an update when Louise calls me back.

Update: Louise called back from Virgin Active. Perhaps unsurprisingly she was unable to get hold of anyone at the club who could help either. If the regional manager can't get hold of them, what hope do customers have? The good news is that Louise is going to sort it out, and I have every confidence in her. She's been working for Virgin for years (according to her LinkedIn profile), so she understands customer service and what people expect from the Virgin brand.

Thanks to Louise stepping in, my faith in Virgin is restored. It might take time for the club to fully embrace Virgin's standards, but I'm now happy that they are going to be addressed.