An interesting blog from Richard Branson this week entitled 'You can't fake personality, passion or purpose' describes how the Virgin group hires new recruits.

Top of the tree is personality; always winning over the 'book smarts' whilst experience trumps qualifications for roles across the entire group. Virgin looks for people who are friendly and considerate and who like working with others; essential to getting the job done, and to keep the Virgin culture vibrant.

Branson believes that having a sense of purpose is a must have - no longer a buzzword but a prerequisite to adding value to the business.

Now if you are like me you are probably thinking absolutely - but what about that urgency to get roles filled to meet deadlines? How can you possibly find such ace employees in our hectic always on world? And how do we get our existing employees to behave like passionate purposeful newbies?

In a world where we are racing towards digital transformation how do we ensure that human resource is directed purposefully to where it is essential without losing the passion of serving customers?

This week I travelled by train to Edinburgh for meetings with financial sector clients in our network. My journey got off to a bad start by missing my scheduled train, due to lengthy queues at the self-serve machines to pick up tickets, due to technical issues. What was interesting was that there were staff mingling onsite wearing bright bibs emblazoned with "Customer Service' who seemed oblivious to the issue. 'We've called the engineer- we can't sell tickets'.  Perhaps not, but they could have communicated that there were functioning machines at the far end of the station which most customers were totally unaware of, and also that they had the discretion to allow passengers who were at risk of missing trains to board and pay.

All ended well for me, I caught the next one only 15 mins later, but sadly not for the young girl behind whose next train was much later resulting in her missing an important engagement.

I'm sure none of the staff intentionally set out to annoy; rather they were trained to do some things but not others. It's a tricky area knowing when to intervene, think of pushy staff in clothes shops when you are content to browse alone. And yet clearly in this case the culture of service wasn't strong enough to transcend from board to front line.

I'm sure every one of us could fill a book with examples of good and bad service; the key learning for organisations must surely be to understand the most frequent breaking points in our encounters, which these days are longer and more complicated, involving multi-channel, with a blend of personal and automated service along the way.

Given that Murphy's law will happen, then machines will break and systems will fail just when we find it most inconvenient. The test for any organisation is how they minimise the inconvenience to customers by being honest, upfront and offering an alternative route.

Critically, if they can forewarn and redirect then this will win plenty brownie points. An 'out of order' sign is a start but not enough. As customers, we expect so much more because we are being exposed to improvements by organisations who get it; thus magnifying those who don't.

The topic for discussion at Standard Life Bank was in fact customer journeys; interestingly their transformation plans kicked off with their top executives each owning and experiencing one of a series of known customer journeys in order that they set the scene with an accurate understanding of what currently happens.

In my experience this is critical; all too often there is an inflated or distorted view of current performance which has become the happy narrative for board consumption. At the end of the day 'what' and this is the place to start.

This year's Convention features 'The Digital Journey' as our main theme with several sessions dealing specifically with the topic.  In particular we have a really insightful workshop from Oracle which gets right to the heart of the matter with a wealth of real experiences from several sectors (read more here). 

Happily the rest of my journey was a ten; on time, friendly and helpful staff; my mobile even came out in sympathy and played ball to boot!