Virgin Blue’s mistake reveals countless selfish whingers

Velocity Rewards logo

Thank you, Virgin Blue, for sending your “erroneous” email Friday night. You’ve done us a great public service. You’ve exposed a pack of greedy, selfish, shallow tools who deserve to be ridiculed publicly. Thank you.

On Friday evening, Australian airline Virgin Blue sent an email telling some Velocity Rewards members they’d been upgraded to Gold status. But as documented at mUmBRELLA, the email went not just to those entitled to the upgrade but their entire database — including people who’d opted out of email marketing.

Including me because, yes, I’m a Velocity Rewards member.

“That can’t be right,” I thought. “I haven’t flown with Virgin Blue this year.” Then I saw others saying similar things online and I figured the mistake was more widespread. I chuckled, knowing that someone had a bit of a mess to clear up.

Sure enough, three hours later a second email arrived.

Oops! Due to an error you’ve received our previous email by mistake. Please disregard the free upgrade communication as unfortunately you do not qualify for that upgrade.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Mistake. Correction. Apology. That’s the end of the story, yes? Alas no.

Suddenly a whole bunch of people are demanding their Gold status should stay even though, like, they’re not actually entitled to it. People are “upset”. They’re demanding compensation, some even saying they should be compensated with a free flight voucher.

Compensated? Compensated for fucking what, exactly?

Compensated for being too stupid to realise the email was obviously a mistake? Compensated for having a vastly over-inflated sense of entitlement? Compensated for being so much of a consumer-puppet that you validate yourself by bragging about some confected faux-status symbolised by which colour plastic card sits in your wallet and then being embarrassed because, oh sorry, you’re actually still just another cheap-arsed prole after all?

I don’t think that’s Virgin Blue’s fault.

Losers.

Now of course there’s a metric bazillion blog posts and comments banging on about how this is “epic fail” on Virgin Blue’s part and how they’d have handled it so much better and faster. I won’t link to them because it’s too depressing to realise how many instant fucking experts appear after every little glitch is made public.

However I will link to Darryl King’s excellent piece about what he calls Crowd Spanking.

Why is it that the tools of Social Media make tools out of people?

Yes, companies, people and organisations of any sort can and should be open to criticism and correction of poor behaviour. I agree totally. However I don’t agree that Crowd Spanking of everyone that does something wrong is effective nor necessary …

Add some perspective. This is not a corporation that has exposed their staff and customer to asbestos and are denying compensation. It is an upgrade people! …

Before all the Social Media Gurus come up with the 10 things that Virgin Blue could have done better blog posts think through how businesses and people at work live.

Ex-fucking-zactly.

“Epic fail” on Virgin Blue’s part? Bah! Step back a little and think about the full gamut of things which an airline can get wrong and the potential consequences. Up one end, you’ve got mistakes where hundreds of people die in a ball of flame, traumatising their loved ones. Down the other end you’ve got… gosh! A marketing email that was sent to people by mistake.

To the folks who reckon they’d have handled it better and quicker, well, are you really set up to handle such an unusual situation on a Friday night when people have gone to the pub or gone home for the weekend? Personally, I reckon identifying the problem and getting the second email out in three hours isn’t a bad effort — especially when in the meantime there’s, you know, a fucking airline to run!

Well done, Virgin Blue. Well done.

I reckon — and this is just my opinion here — but I reckon we save the Really Big Stick for mistakes which actually matter. Also, stop being such selfish, judgemental little pricks.

[Update 16 October 2009: To illustrate some points I'll be making in the comments, here's a screenshot of the erroneous Velocity Rewards email.]

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  1. Andrew’s avatar

    Well said. I got the email and thought it might be genuine because — although I have far fewer points than 50,000 — I’ve just booked a whole stack of flights with Virgin.

    I was pleasantly surprised and felt warm fuzzy feelings toward the Virgin Blue brand at the thought of free coffee and the chance to pinch a magazine or three.

    Then I checked the website, saw the ‘Oops…’ notice and thought: ‘Oh well. I’ve lost nothing.’

    I will confess I wrote about the snafu on Twitter and finished with ‘… ACCC?’, but the thought of actually taking it further never crossed my mind.

    ’twas amusing to see the entitled tools on Twitter and in their blogs, though.

    Reply

  2. Tom’s avatar

    Nice diatribe, Stil, but you’re putting up a bit of a strawman here.

    The Virgin Blue marketing department does not have a fucking airline to run (and thank goodness they don’t). They also rarely send planes hurtling from the sky in a ball of fire.

    Was it an *epic* fail? Certainly not.

    Should everyone be entitled to a free flight or gold status? Of course not.

    Could they have been a bit more sensitive in the way they responded? Why, yes.

    Should they have given everyone, say, 500 frequent flyer points at a cost of two times fuck all to the company? I think so.

    I agree that it’s all a bit of a storm in a teacup, but you’ve just blown into it a fair bit yourself.

    Reply

    1. Clare’s avatar

      Hot tip – 500 frequent flyer points per person can’t equal “two times fuck all”.

      If it costs me 13,500 points to get a $100 myer voucher, then 500 points gets me $3.70 of myer money. Sure, Virgin Blue will make a profit margin on that, but let’s conservatively say it cost them $0.74 for the 500 points (+400% profit).

      Then let’s assume there are 1 million Velocity Members – give them all 500 points, and there goes $740,740.74.

      Reply

      1. Tom’s avatar

        @Clare – Fair enough, but most loyalty schemes are built on the premise that only a tiny percentage of members actually redeem their points. I’m pretty sure the actual figure would be much lower than $740k.

        Reply

      2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

        @Tom: I too hope that Virgin Blue’s marketing department don’t run the airline! However I will now claim, sulky-defensively in the face of legitimate criticism, that the point of that reference was to place this fuck-up in the scale of “things an airline can get wrong”. Still, even if we stick to marketing, it’s a lot less of a failure than, say, putting full-page adverts in newspapers and magazines with the wrong price.

        And what’s wrong with a good hard blow on a Sunday morning? ;)

        Reply

      3. David Jackmanson’s avatar

        Why should Virgin Blue be “sensitive” to anyone? If they were sensitive to *me*, they’d drop the irritating faux-matey, desperately-hip tone that infects everything they do. But since they are about a quarter the price of Qantas, I’ll tolerate it, since my only other real choice is travelling by road coach.

        People need to get over their “customer service” entitlement and remember that the service they demand is provided by working people. And since a lot of bloggers, Twitterers and so on have pretty privileged jobs, it’s being provided by working people who get paid less, have fewer perks and far more mind-numbing jobs than they do.

        Reply

      4. Danu Poyner’s avatar

        lol. I got the email and thought it was odd but figured it might be genuine because I had flown a couple of days before and they sometimes send something after that. Then I noticed people talking about it online and Ben Grubb said anyone who got ‘the email’ and is upset to email him. So I forwarded it along with a note that said ‘I assume you mean this email. Count me among the upset if so.’ I wasn’t that upset – I’d just had a carrot dangled in front of me and then taken away, but that was it. But then I got singled out on the record as being “upset” in the article. I only have myself to blame for this of course but it’s interesting how far and fast ‘news’ travels! I had lots of people asking me if I was really upset as it didn’t sound like me.

        And now of course Stil is upset that everyone else was upset at the Virgin Blue upset. It says to me that we still don’t have sophisticated tools to filter for context or relative importance online. Noise and importance aren’t the same thing.

        Reply

      5. Amos Keeto’s avatar

        You’re kidding me, there really were people “upset” about this? This is how it played out round here, I checked email and went “Oh okay that’s nice” then check the next one and went” oh that’s funny ” and trashed them both.

        I can’t believe anyone could be ‘upset’ let alone demanding compensation! That’s just ridiculous

        Reply

      6. Nick Hodge’s avatar

        If we cannot use Social Media for “Crowd Spanking” …. what use is it?

        Reply

      7. David’s avatar

        I think looking back on the whole situation, it’s easy to have a laugh, but for that time between emails (some people said 1hr some said 10hrs, for me it was about 5hrs) how many people believed the email and made decisions based on that information? What about someone who received the email to their work address at 5pm, but didn’t receive the 9pm ‘oops’ email? They may still believe they have gold status and may be making decisions based on that over the weekend.

        Like the first commenter, I have maybe 30,000 velocity points and while I have only flown Virgin Blue twice in the last 12 months I have had a Velocity credit card for about 3yrs and have also used my Velocity card for hire cars. I figured they looked at my history and figured ‘let’s give him gold membership, with a free luggage tag and extra points on his Amex and even if he doubles his bookings, he’ll still only use the lounge 6 times’. I don’t expect something for nothing, but if they sent out an email such as ‘Your kids fly for free over Easter’ then decide to cancel it 5hrs later, I wonder if people would see it the same way as this? Also, for what it’s worth lounge membership costs $5 per trip and can only be used within a few hours of your flight departing. They won’t make a loss if they give me free lounge access which I have to pay $100 per ticket to use anyway.

        Another thing everyone seems to be overlooking. These emails came from Velocity Rewards, not Virgin Blue, and there is absolutely no mention of ‘Virgin Blue’ in any emails I received. Velocity Rewards is a loyalty program, operated as a separate entity to Virgin Blue.

        Reply

        1. Craig Welch’s avatar

          “Also, for what it’s worth lounge membership costs $5 per trip and can only be used within a few hours of your flight departing.”

          Dave, if you’re not a lounge member (by dint of gold status or paying for it), casual lounge use is $30-35 per visit.

          Reply

        2. Johnny Doe’s avatar

          “Another thing everyone seems to be overlooking. These emails came from Velocity Rewards, not Virgin Blue, and there is absolutely no mention of ‘Virgin Blue’ in any emails I received. Velocity Rewards is a loyalty program, operated as a separate entity to Virgin Blue.”

          Velocity Rewards is owned/operated by Virgin Blue at their head offices in Brisbane. The Velocity Rewards team and manager all report to the GM of Marketing. So it’s fair enough to say its the Virgin Blue “marketing” department. It is “where they sit” in the office. Literally.

          Reply

        3. Avril’s avatar

          When I checked my email, I had both emails, and read one after the other. My first thought? Pity the poor bugger who stuffed up sending the original email – hope they didn’t lose their job, cause they sure as hell won’t make the same mistake again (well, hopefully). I just saw it as an ‘oops email’ that someone had sent in error.

          This ‘mistake’ just highlights how many people have developed the thinking that we need to be compensated for every little mistake that happens, and can’t just put it into the ‘shit happnes’ category of life. What happened to just accepting that things go wrong, and we have to have the intestinal fortitude to deal with it??

          We now have a culture of ‘denying responsibility’ (corporations and individuals alike) because to do so could mean financial ruin for those legally bound to pay compensation. There are definitely circumstances where compensation is warranted, usually when life is altered so much so that an individual will lose all quality of life without financial aid.

          But take something that happened to me recently. I fell flat on my face on a footpath just outside our place. I smashed my knee and bruised my elbow. The footpath did need repair as it was uneven. I contacted the council involved, and to their credit, it was acted on immediately. Mind you, that may be due to me informing them that my concern was that many elderly people used the same footpath and that although my injuries were minor, the same fall could possibly be life threatening for an elderly person. (See, there is that fear of financial liability again – but it can be used for a good cause too ;) )

          End of story. Should I be compensated for falling flat on my face? Well, no, because ultimately it is my responsibility to be careful and watch where I am walking!! Should I be compensated for a mistake some poor bugger made at work the other day? No, that just goes into the ‘shit happens’ box.

          Reply

        4. Cam’s avatar

          Wow, I really can’t stand that attitude of entitlement that leads people to bray for disproportionate compensation for someone’s honest mistake. Particularly when that honest mistake has resulted in no actual impact to the “victim”. If someone makes a mistake when they represent a company, that company should most certainly be obliged to rectify any actual harm that has come to someone as a result. No harm? Nothing but an apology should be required.

          Reply

        5. Brett’s avatar

          Andrew are you on VB’s payroll? It sure sounds like it…

          This is a huge cock-up from a marketing standpoint and those (like myself) who were actually quite close to Gold and took the email on face-value are legitimately disappointed.

          Friday afternoon works on a live marketing system is incredibly poor risk management.

          I’ve worked in telco and know the horrors of making changes on a Friday afternoon. You just don’t do it.

          #virginfail

          Reply

        6. Monnie’s avatar

          People just need the slightest opening to whinge and get something for nothing and this is the form it was delivered in. I’ll tell them what; if they go and fly and earn their points THEN they can have their Gold status.

          I don’t believe Virgin Blue has the obligation to offer anything for free to it’s Velocity members for the mistake, however to save face a goodwill gesture of a small points credit to everyone could help.

          Reply

        7. dave’s avatar

          anyone can make a mistake. However, they should learn from it and make sure that they have the email list check against the database again and then if it is FOR the entire database, probably have it reviewed by a HUMAN first :)

          Reply

        8. Chrissie’s avatar

          I made a few twitter comments on the night; highlighted I initially thought the email received was a joke or spam and later commented I was happy with an email apology.

          If I could sum the situation up in a hashtag it would be: #firstworldproblem

          Reply

        9. Stilgherrian’s avatar

          Thank you for all the thoughtful comments so far. It’ll be interesting to see what Virgin Blue does today in light of all the discussion over the weekend. If anything.

          I agree that people close to Gold status might not have guessed the email was a mistake, and perhaps some people did buy tickets on the basis of false information. Perhaps in those cases Virgin Blue might want to honour those individual deals. I doubt there’s many, and they’d probably be higher-spending customers they’d want to keep on-side anyway.

          But for the rest…

          Getting “upset” by this? That is, disturbed or distressed mentally or emotionally? Bah! “Upset” is what happens if I set fire to your desk or strangle your cat. Harden up, you big sooks.

          @Cam: Your comment sums it up in a nutshell, I think:

          If someone makes a mistake when they represent a company, that company should most certainly be obliged to rectify any actual harm that has come to someone as a result. No harm? Nothing but an apology should be required.

          I’ll flip that around. Apart from anyone who might have booked a flight on the basis of false information and suffered some actual harm, I put this simple question to those demanding “compensation”: Why is it that a sincere apology for a simple mistake isn’t good enough for you?

          @David: Technically you’re correct about Velocity Rewards not being the same thing as Virgin Blue. As it says at the bottom of The Bad Email, “The Velocity Program is owned and operated by Velocity Rewards Pty Ltd ACN 116 089 448 as trustee of The Loyalty Trust.”

          But did you get the same email I did? As this screenshot of the email I received shows, it mentions Virgin Blue or the Virgin Blue Group five times rather than your “absolutely no mention” — including the final tag line, “The loyalty program of Virgin Blue.”

          Combine that with the mention of “frequent flyers” and baggage allowances, and the fact that Velocity Rewards is a menu item on the Virgin Blue website, and I reckon that in most people’s minds Velocity Rewards is Virgin Blue — no matter what the underlying corporate structure.

          @Brett: I think it’s a bit uncharitable to assume Andrew’s “on the payroll” simply because he said something relatively nice about a company. Nevertheless, I’ll ask.

          Reply

        10. Andrew’s avatar

          Full disclosure: I’m not on Virgin Blue’s payroll, but on reflection I should perhaps have admitted that I’m not a totally disinterested commenter (sorry, but I’m not really comfortable saying more than that). I like to think it doesn’t change my views, but it appears maybe it does, if Brett saw that straight away. I think I’m probably altogether too forgiving of people and companies (regardless of their relationship to me), to be honest.

          Like most recipients, I was rapt to get the email a week out from a four-day business trip and deflated when I learnt it was an error. After five minutes, though, I really DID think: ‘Oh well, easy come, easy go.’

          Brett: I concur that Friday afternoon is a bad time for Velocity to do any sort of IT/email list maintenance that could result in this sort of SNAFU, but I don’t think there was anything done which warrants them compensating anyone.

          Reply

        11. Stilgherrian’s avatar

          @Andrew: Thanks for clarifying that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see anything in your original comment which suggested a business connection, just some perspective on how this email mistake relates to the grand scheme of things.

          Then again, confirmation bias would surely affect my judgement…

          Reply

        12. Jason’s avatar

          Thanks ever so much for your ‘holier than thou’ diatribe. Despite imploring everyone to just shut-up and accept it quietly, you felt the need to take your own swing at all the ‘losers’, ‘sooks’ and ‘tools’.

          Did your verbal diarrhea actually achieve anything? No. So thanks for clogging up Google’s search engine with this waste of electrons.

          Reply

        13. Stilgherrian’s avatar

          @Jason: You’re quite right, Jason. How did I not realise this before? How could I not understand that writing about something that interested me in an amusing way would, you know, clog up Google? My God! We had better stop everyone from expressing their opinions right now so that we can survive the world after Peak Electrons!

          Reply

        14. Vince’s avatar

          The people that demanded something from Virgin Blue weren’t upset. They are just opportunistic folk who want something for nothing. The question they forgot to ask themselves is: if I worked for a business and made such a mistake myself, how would I have liked people to react? Or would “they” think they would never make such a mistake? Show some compassion, get out there and earn for yourself. The world doesn’t owe you.

          Reply

        15. Fictillius’s avatar

          Everyone should be happy this was just a mistake that caused no harm or privacy issues, if anything it was a bit of entertainment on Twitter for Friday afternoon.

          I’ve had email campaigns where everyones names and email addresses were put in the To: field, this would be a reason to be upset.

          Anyway I’m glad you all won’t be crowding me in my Virgin Lounge ;)

          Reply

        16. Stephen Collins’s avatar

          I’ve been unaffected by the whole thing, but watching it with curious interest to see how Virgin Blue respond. Initially, I admit I thought they ought to suck it up and honor the mistake. But, like you I’ve been watching the hundreds of people tweeting and blogging and frankly, sounding like entitled celebutards too interested in emulating twats like Paris Hilton rather than thinking about the poor bugger at Virgin who had to deal with this all last Friday afternoon.

          While I think Virgin should probably do something nice (half a short-haul flight’s worth of points or some such) for everyone I agree wholeheartedly that in a world where the ability to bleat our bitching publicly and globally we’re all too inclined to bleat before engaging our brains.

          Sure, Virgin Blue management might have handled the whole thing better, and the apology email was a tad half-arsed, but who was hurt in this? Pretty much nobody. So, it’d be nice if everyone took a spoonful of STFU and thought about their entitled lives before bitching. I promise not to any more.

          Now, if it’d been a big bank offering a year off everyone’s mortgages…

          Reply

        17. Fictillius’s avatar

          Look at this stupid article here: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/971749/oops-we-bungled-upgrade-offer-virgin

          “The points scaling system varies greatly. For example, a 5.15pm Sydney to Melbourne flight on August 16 received just 345 points, while an identical flight departing at 6.45pm last night was rewarded with 900 points”

          The number of points is based on the cost of the flight you idiots… 7 points per $1 or something like that

          Reply

        18. josh909’s avatar

          Obviously none of the whiny little bitches that are demanding free flights have ever made a mistake over the course of their professional careers.

          Yes, I can understand how people could/would have been disappointed – hopefully you’ve moved on by now or found something else to cry about. As for those marketing geniuses claiming it was part of an elaborate PR exercise, i would recommend you cut back on the meth.

          Reply

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