What’s in a name?

  This week, Twitter has been flooded with messages mocking an airline for making life inconvenient for “God” and for adding insult to injury by seeking “God’s” details in return to his complaint. While some of the tweets from Indian fans were brilliant, one may take a moment to introspect whether the airline had really done anything so spectacularly wrong to be at the receiving end of the Twitterati.

  I can relate the event to another one which happened with me a couple of years back. I happen to be a student of a college in Mumbai, which is well known all over Maharashtra, all for good reasons. Once while visiting one of the government offices for some work, the attending clerk asked me the details of the institute I studied at. Post responding, I was surprised when I learnt that he had never heard of my institute. Then, I realised that the person is in a different profession altogether and has no moral duty or obligation to know all famous things in around the city and spread across various domains. There were probably quite a few things which he knew and I wasn’t aware of. We have a similar case here as well…

  Airline operations are handled by various teams on the ground which in all probability may be overworked more often than not. Of course, there is absolutely no justification for losing anyone’s baggage anytime anywhere on this planet. But loss of baggage is an event which definitely has a probability of more than zero. When the victim is a well-known personality, it is a case of wrong person at wrong time phenomenon for the airline…

  However, the real crux of the story is the failure of the customer service to recognize the complainant from his twitter handle. Now, let’s give the airline a fair chance here. With due respect to their job, Level 1 customer service executives across all service sectors are trained to respond to complaints in a specific, cold manner which is generally consistent across all passengers; be him an ordinary citizen like you and me or someone of God’s stature. I have always held that the TAT for service resolution can decrease significantly if the first point of contact “thinks” a bit before seeking more information from the complainant, or cascading information further to next teams. But they do end up doing the job of postmen and delivery boys which does precious little in contributing to customer experience. Returning to the case in our hand, 3 points to argue in the favour of the airline. First, the airline is of British origin and hence its likely that the executive who handled the case might actually not be knowing the complainant. Second, it was the first touch point and as mentioned, the case might not have been handled by someone who would have actually spared a moment to check the number of Twitter followers of the complainant before seeking additional details. The third point might be contented with a bit more; It has something to do with our physiology. Did the fact that our Indian hero was not recogised by someone from the West anger us ? Would we have reacted in the same way if equally famous personalities say an Argentinian football player or  a Swiss tennis player had received a similar treatment back home ? It is perfectly all-right to not recognise some player in some sport played by a few countries and who retired a couple of years back. It cannot be generalised or extrapolated to make a comment on the overall perception of the entire airline towards a particular country. Let’s spare a moment to think in this perspective before reacting next time.

  Nonetheless, lesson for the service industry is that patience levels of customers are decreasing while competition is increasing. With minimal product differentiation possible, the key area in increasing customer stickiness is in offering superior customer service experience. As first impressions are last impressions, executives at first point of contact should be trained and encouraged to “think” a bit, consider specific scenarios and restrain from respond in the same, plain vanilla fashion for all of the cases. I am sure this will actually go a long way to help address the common problem with customer service across all service sector industries.

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