In the last 24 hours, I had two very contrasting experiences with air travel, which, I believe, illustrate how to (and not to) compete globally.
The first event happened around yesterday afternoon. My Sister and Brother-in-Law, along with their 5 year old daughter, turned up at the Delhi airport for their 530pm flight to Kolkata. Indigo, an Indian airline whose principal claim of differentiation is based on their punctuality and professionalism, informed them that the flight is late, delayed by an hour or so. As they checked in, though, the flight continued to be delayed. By the time my sister started talking about this in WhatsApp, it was already around 9pm. I, with many experiences with delayed flights, almost casually commented that the airline must have been taking good care of them! To my surprise, it turned out that not only the airline has not been able to confirm when the flight would leave, they did not offer food, any place to stay, and their ground staff has simply disappeared. When some people enquired whether they can get a refund, they were told they can not, unless the flight was cancelled.
I was surprised to hear this, and was forced to look up passenger rights in India. I did find it - the Ministry of Civil Aviation (see here) clearly mandates the airlines to provide food in case of a delay and accommodation if the delay is too long - and sent it to my sister over WhatsApp. They had to then go into a wild goose chase around the airport trying to find a person to talk to, and once they found someone, the answer they got was surreal: Because Indigo is a budget airline and do not serve dinner, they would not offer food even if the flight is delayed. This was late in Delhi - already 10pm by then - and clearly, the Indigo staff was bluffing, evading and mostly staying away.
At this point, I took on Twitter. My few messages brought stock replies - sorry for the inconvenience and we are doing our best - but it did connect me to many other people reporting horror stories from Jaipur and Delhi. The experience was similar: Indigo flights are delayed, 6 hours and more, and the staff has run away, the phones are not being answered, social media messages are being stonewalled with stock statements, and if a stray staff could be confronted, they are trying to bluff or bully.
The flight ultimately left at 3am, with a 10 hour delay, and some food was offered at around midnight. If the whole thing was not so painful, it would have been a hilarious spectacle of incompetence - aborted boardings, confusions about baggage loading, mistakes about boarding passes, everything at the same time! There might have been a real reason - weather and airport congestion were mentioned (though neither explains the extent of the delay) - but the whole storied Indigo punctuality seemed to have fallen away at the first sight of trouble. The airline clearly was not accountable - it treated the inconvenienced passengers with contempt and bureaucratic indifference - and its staff spun stories, regardless of their obligations by law, to mislead and to bully.
However, if my faith on the whole Airline business was about to be lost, I was pleasantly surprised this morning. I am also going to India and when I tried to book the Emirates Chauffeur Drive service, I was told it was too late. So I called the Emirates Call Centre, and a helpful agent booked the service for me. She was so helpful and forthcoming that I thought of making a request: Few days ago, I made an upgrade for my wife and my son, but made a mistake so that only a segment of the journey, and not the whole journey, was upgraded. It was clearly my mistake, and the only way to rectify it is to pay a $1000 fee and upgrade the bookings in a different way. However, I requested, could she possibly look into it and help me rectify the booking? If she said no - and I was expecting her to say no - I had nothing to say. For all commercial reasons, I was expecting, she would ask me to pay the additional $1000, which is an option I could see on my booking screen. Instead, however, she listens to me and then explains why this is very difficult, as my previous upgrade has to be cancelled without a penalty and a re booking has to be made - not a straightforward thing that the system allows! She said she would try - and call me back if she managed to do this.
At this point, my faith in humanity was almost restored. That she called me back in an hour, apologised for the delay as the process was complicated and she needed her manager to approve a few things, and then informed me that she had done the necessary upgrades, made me write this post. The person I spoke to is a Customer Service Agent, possibly lower in status and pay than the Managers of Ground Staff in Indigo Airlines in Delhi. Irrespective of the situation, both were non-standard contexts: In the earlier, the airline had an obligation; in the latter, it was I who made the mistake. One set of people, in Delhi, go into hiding and mislead the passengers; the other person goes out of her way to help me.
So, as I write this, my head is filled with the Why question. Why do people behave so differently? Is it because the people are so different? Can Indigo really rectify the situation, if they wanted to, by singling out who was at fault in Delhi and firing that person (which is what they would possibly do when the brand damage from yesterday night becomes clear, or complaints of DGCA come to bear)?
The obvious answer is that this is a culture question. Indigo, enjoying the boom in Indian passenger numbers, have forgotten the future. Though its success depends a lot on people's disaffection with India's state-owned Air India, infamous for its indifference to passengers, it has adopted the same bureaucratic indifference to people who fly them. In contrast, Emirates, which came from behind and built the world's largest airline, still faces the pinch of global competition, and has built a culture of treating its passengers as people, who need some respect and little indulgences, just as I did this morning. My sister felt powerless and humiliated by Indigo yesterday; I felt respected and loved by Emirates today, but both those emotions stemmed from essential strategic assumptions that these companies built their businesses on.
One of my objective is to build the World's Friendliest Business, something that would treat people who work for it and who do business with it with respect, love and humility. This puts me at odds with many businesses, which would rather define everything by a process and leave little for human discretion: My point is that even if I want to build a process for 'friendliness', processes always bureaucratize and process-owners would always aim to accumulate power - in the end, dumbing down in a zombie form like Indigo in my example. My thesis is that one needs to build it around people - and make everyone empowered like the person in Emirates who made my day today!
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.