Customer centric fix to save Indian Maharaja (Air India) from financial mess

Customer centric fix to save Indian Maharaja (Air India) from financial messDuring my recent visit to New Delhi, India, I had an interesting discussion with one of senior Air India official about Air India. Certainly the discussion and the findings were not very different from what has already been said and shared in news web. The corporate tone is certainly not in line with the tone of a customer centric service based companies. That makes me write just another article to add my fair share of what I think will be needed to revamp India Maharaja (Air India) from a cost center for tax payers to a company that is a pride of India.

For some number geeks: Here is the story about Air India in numbers: As per a consulting firm Capa India, Air India is once again the worst performer with expectation to report loss of $1.3b in 12 months ending 31 March 2013. It received $66m bailout, has ~$100m debt. Its market share stands around 16 percent (May’ 12) and is decreasing. Some more interesting facts: Comptroller and Auditor General(CAG) has found that Air India’s workforce fell by 12% from 2006 to 2010 but employee cost shot up to 43% and the irony of it is that, the most important area for airlines – providing amenities and comfort to flyer: fell by almost 15%. : “The study revealed that in the international arena, fliers were demanding much more than basic facilities with overall travelling experience and comforts that the AI brand was no longer preferred as it was not meeting the standard. This study further stated that the services of AI were not oriented towards customer satisfaction, the personnel had an indifferent sarkari attitude and brand AI was kept as a substitute airline to travel.”

Once an Indian pride, it is now being discussed among businesses that are too frail to survive. With ever-rising competition, identical offerings, airline industry competes on thin differentiation. Customer experience is one of the core differentiator for any service industry let alone identical looking aviation companies. With success stories from few US carriers, who were able to turn to sustained profitability by positioning towards customer centricity has proven to be new mantra to survive in this competitive landscape.

With plethora of tools and infrastructures available, re-focusing a company to customer centricity is not difficult or expensive, but requires a consistent buy-in and commitment from staff, management and leadership towards “customer first” approach.

Few methods, which are low cost and easier to implement on complex service delivery framework like airlines to achieve sustained growth over customer satisfaction:
1.      Build a culture that cares about customers: No, it is not that expensive to deploy, and yes it works, and has been working for many profitable businesses. If company adopts a culture that embraces customer satisfaction, every effort is made to cross miles to improve satisfaction. As a starter, leadership buy-in is obtained and that messaging is flown to management and down the value chain.
2.      Let customer be your innovation hub: How difficult is it to invent products/services that sells? Not much, if customers are playing pivotal role in suggesting it. It is important that every effort is made to gather as much insight from customer and use it to analyze week areas and opportunities to introduce product to fill gap and holes.
3.      Put feedback mechanisms like surveys in every corner of service delivery: What will enable a consistent beacon that communicates loopholes, and strong areas? A culture to listen to customer at every customer experience touch-points. The more channels we produce around customers, the better communication is built, that results in more transparency, better loyalty and improved brand value. Surveys play a great role in that. Collectively employee, transactional and relational surveys are used in harmony to provide overall understanding of health of the company. So, they must be taken advantage of to improve the operation and keep a tap on vulnerabilities.
4.      Create a tribe of brand enthusiasts and loyalists and work with them: One great way to create a positive service culture is by allowing tribes to form and flourish in organization. Here tribe signifies a group of people with common interests and passion. Every effort should be made to bring closer all loyalists, brand lovers and critics to mingle together to utilize their passion towards building a better company and every effort is made by corporations to harness that network and make it an integral part of corporate DNA. It is commonly seen among all successful brands how they work tirelessly to build communities and facilitate the discussion and learn as much as possible from it.
5.      Make Customer Satisfaction as one of primary key performance metric for growth: One starter for creating a customer centric company is to track customer satisfaction as key performance indicator to help better track organizational growth. This automatically steers all operations towards the direction to facilitate customer satisfaction.

Now for some eye delight, here are 2 video plugs: Let us take a look at two examples of contrasting customer experiences. Good experiences are delivered seamlessly if customer experience is in core DNA of the company.

Customer Experience done right:

Customer Experience gone wrong:

Source: Customer centric fix to save Indian Maharaja (Air India) from financial mess

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