Exhibiting Customer Care (?)

Communication is a good tool which can be used to display customer responsiveness. I was quite delighted as I got on to the Indigo flight last week. Since I was taking one of their flights after a fairly long time, I was quite surprised at the constant communication over the flight announcement system.

What came as the topping on cake was when the crew member announced our imminent landing requesting us to stop using our electronic gadgets but not before we “Save” our work! Though a very small (maybe minuscule) gesture, it does mean a lot to that one guy in a hurry travelling for an important meeting. With most of the world hurrying most of the time, I felt it was a very useful reminder. And it did have many of us give a warm smile.

Unfortunately in the same travel I encountered a diametrically opposite incident. My co-passenger enquired if there were any hot meal available.  It definitely looked like she was looking for a dinner meal – the hostess said that she could provide for some hot vegetable biryani – which she also said was very good in her opinion.  You can imagine if you were offered this option on a domestic late evening flight – it does sound quite attractive. So the passenger made the order. And to her surprise and consternation she was handed a small plastic box containing some rice combination (ready-to-eat) with hot water poured into it from the flask. The hostess instructed the passenger to wait for 8 minutes by which the vegetable biryani will be cooked! Yes, you got it right! The meal would be cooked in 8 minutes in front of the passenger, making it “Hot Meal”. As the poor passenger ploughed through the meal that refused to cook itself, she trashed the box quite upset. Personally as an observer I found it amusing. What was the need for this to have been sold as “Hot Meal”?

Comparing to the earlier instance where they exhibited extreme care with something as subtle as “saving work before closing the laptop”; I found “serving uncooked / half-cooked food” was definitely not exhibiting care at all. I am not evaluating whether it is right or wrong for the airline to have charged 200 INR for that meal – but I am only pointing out to the contrast. It is important to understand how “customer care” is not aligned across activities.

It takes a lot of overall thinking in putting together a series of “customer service activities” and importantly they need to be aligned amongst themselves and to an overall guideline. This is where many organizations fail when it comes to customer service. In spurts we have examples of exemplary customer service, but the numerous mishaps cover up those rare moments of great care.

Though I do not think it is fair to single out Indigo for service, I am only using this experience as a case-in-point to highlight the lack of overall organizational planning with respect to institutionalizing a sensitive area such as customer service.

Happy Thinking!


Customer Service – points to ponder

In the past as a supply driven economy, customers were ignored, with almost no alternative available to choose from. So the statement that we were taught in B-Schools – “Customer is King” was nothing that we had experienced nor believed in as we stepped out into the economy. However one would expect the trend to have shifted in today’s competitive and demand driven economy. But then customer service is still surprisingly but a dream.

Two incidents over the last week of travelling raised some serious thoughts with respect to the (mis)alignment in businesses with respect to customer service.

I stopped by at Mumbai airport and bought some coffee. The way I was served hot coffee was so cold that I decided I should not buy more from this coffee chain. It looked like he had a bad day or a rather bad experience and I was recipient of his venting out process. As a customer I thought I should have had a better treatment (especially when I’m paying hundreds of rupees for a coffee). Where’s the experience that they talk about selling – since coffee as such does not cost as much!!

Another one happened as I stepped into Chennai. As the routine fleet taxi guy had run out of cabs which meant a 30 mins wait, I turned to the juxtaposed premium fleet operator. While he did charge me about 200 Rs more for the same distance, I was impressed with the efficiency with which I was escorted to the queue outside and allocated a cab. This good-service feeling was also short-lived. As I was nearing my place the driver started expressing opinions on cost of living, the extra distance that he had to travel through bye-lanes to reach my place, the late hour of the evening etc. It was the common strategy of trying to extract tips for the service from the passenger. While tipping is not the issue – to think that this would be the case when you opt for a premium service jagged a nerve.

I am sure you can share many other instances where you have felt cheated of a service experience which you felt you rightly deserved as a customer.

I am not blaming this on the attitude of the person servicing the customers. All I am asking is, does he know who is paying for his job? Most people think that it’s the owner who is paying them for their job. If only they understand that it’s the customer who is paying for their jobs, they would naturally turn their attention to being customer prone. And the responsibility for this realization is solely on the company that employs them.

Hope some serious change in thinking ensues….

Books and Me: I Love You More Than My Dog

Book Title:          I Love You More Than My Dog

Author:                Jeanne Bliss

A well designed cover, an attractive title with foreword and afterword by CEOs of extremely customer oriented firms, made my pick this book on customer loyalty. I must admit that it took me a lot longer than usual to read through this 200 page book, even though full page actual content would fill only half the size.  Can the feeling for a company that is providing service extend beyond the love one has for their precious canine – as the title suggest; is not really something that one can accept prima facie. But the author has given a number of examples in this book that proves it is actually possible


The book basically talks about five decisions that some of the companies studied have taken which made them have extremely loyal customers.  The five decisions include:

  1. To believe
  2. Clarity of purpose
  3. Be Real
  4. Be there
  5. Say Sorry

At the face of it they look extremely banal and obvious, but the detailing of each decisions and the questions that the book encourages you to ask in the process of making that decision provides a  slightly more detailed consideration.

There are a number of short stories in the book about how each of these companies referred to in the book went about building strong relationships with their customers.  The decisions and the questions are more a generalization from the various stories and cases of these successful companies.  The companies referred to are mostly young ones and hence their experiences may also have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

For a reader in this part of the world a number of these examples may be difficult to relate to, as these businesses may be geographically limited in their services.  They would be better understood and appreciated if one is able to view them in the North American socio-business and cultural context.

While the book is a difficult read, the questions raised are a definite value addition.  But many of these questions could also be asked in other business context as well, which makes them a little bit generic in nature. So if a person has to derive that extra value from the book he or she should be prepared to put in some extra work. This in no way brings down the quality of the effort.

Though the book has caught on a specific challenge that a number of businesses face and even more numbers who are going to face it in the future, the solutions offered are only the first step in that direction.  The spirit behind the solution has been brought out pretty well – which is the intent behind building customer loyalty – but how does one actually go about doing it, seems open for investigation.

Customer Delight: Much Beyond Lip Service!

Speaking about the customer has become so common place that the intent for a conversation on it fails to even evoke the rightful attention in the listener. But it is also a proven fact that we cannot stop talking about customers as long as businesses need to exist. Then why is it that such an important topic remains difficult to be discussed?

The problem is not with the topic but with the aspect of the topic that gets discussed. Almost always the discussion about customer is reduced to the plain vanilla aspect of their importance to the business and why keeping them happy is a challenge. When these aspects remain the primary focus of all thinking and discussions when it comes to customer relationships, it is not surprising that it becomes boring and common place. There is seldom any talk around what ought to be done. The discussions tilt towards surreal exchanges around this as a mere subject area.

The reason why the discussions don’t go deeper on customer relationship is because most often there is no genuine interest in focusing on service. For all the talk about the customer the focus of the business is always on itself. This creates greater interests in other aspects internal to business rather than ways to improve servicing the customer.

This continued lip service in customer relationship management is not going to continue for too long in today’s world. As technology reduces the barriers to communicate, broadcast and interact, information is more democratized than before. With points of broadcast (twitter,facebook etc) available literally at the finger tips, it will become very difficult to stop people from instantly reporting satisfaction and dissatisfaction. This along with the increase in socio-economic situations around the world is changing most of the markets from supply driven to demand driven orientation.

While existing businesses have to make tremendous change towards their approach towards customer service, entrepreneurs and small business owners can take cue from this and start building their businesses from scratch to be customer oriented, going much beyond and deeper than mere lip service. The risk of not taking this too seriously is way too large to be ignored for these enterprises in the making.