Sunday, February 10, 2008

Customer is the king: Who says?

A journey that got my grey cells working. Here, I share my thoughts on the journey with some insights on Quality.

Fresh from an invigorating refresher program in Delhi and a short visit to my historical home town at Barrackpore, I set off for my place of work at IGNOU Regional Centre, Itanagar. The plan of travel included an Air Deccan flight from Kolkata to Guwahati to be followed by an overnight Bus journey to Itanagar. (Road travel is the only means to reach Itanagar).

The Deccan flight (DN-653) starts from Kolkata and terminates at Imphal traveling via Guwahati. I have consistently preferred this mode of journey over the train partly because of its convenient timing and substantially because the trains in this route take an inordinately long time to reach Guwahati. (Indeed, train travel from Kolkata to Guwahati takes much more time than what it takes to travel a much longer distance from New Delhi to Kolkata).

On 3rd February 2006, a fine sunny day, the check in and boarding of the aircraft was swift and smooth at the Netaji Subhas Airport in Kolkata. The problems began after the boarding was completed.

As the departure time (12:15 pm) approached the captain of the aircraft asked the crew to prepare for take off. Immediately, the aircraft crew moved to their positions and the regular safety demonstrations accompanied by announcements in affected accent followed. But just as everything appeared to be ready for take off, in came the announcement from the captain that the aircraft had developed a minor technical snag which would be resolved in 20-30 minutes.

I reckoned that this time could be used to free myself from the shackles of the seat belt and move to the rear-end lavatory to ‘do the needful’. But just as I entered, another announcement from the captain followed. This time the captain announced that the repair of the aircraft may take an hour or longer therefore the crew may prepare to evacuate the plane.

Inside the lavatory, while I struggled to get the flush to work which simply refused to budge, in came the untimely knock on the door by the aircraft crew posted at the rear end of the airliner. In a jiffy, I walked out complaining that the flush isn’t working.

Driven out of the aircraft, passengers had to exit the aircraft bay, re-enter the airport building, obtain a fresh boarding pass and go through the security drill all over again and wait anxiously for the signal to board the aircraft again.

At around 2:15pm passengers are allowed to board the aircraft again. But even as the aircraft was being readied for take off, the captain delivered the knock out punch. This time the pilot announced that the flight will first land at the terminal stop – Imphal and then revert to Guwahati. The reason: early closure of the Imphal airport during evening hours.

After what seemed to be a long and arduous journey in the cramped non reclining seat of the low cost carrier, I finally reached Guwahati. By the time I could retrieve my luggage it was well past 5:30pm. A journey that in normal circumstances should have ended in Guwahati at 1:30 pm took 4 hours extra.

I hired a cab hurriedly and set off for the Guwahati Bus Terminal at Paltan Bazar. I was lucky to have got the last available seat in the last row of the last bus to leave for Itanagar.

Looking at the whole episode from quality perspective, let me analyze what are the things that went wrong and what could have been done better?

Clearly, the ground maintenance staff did not do their work well enough which resulted in the technical snag. Had they done their part; the aircraft would have taken off smoothly and passengers would have reached their destination on time.

Secondly, after having delayed the flight by about 2 hours, the airline added insult to injury by forcing the passengers destined for Guwahati to travel all the way to the terminal stop at Imphal. While the ostensible reason was early closer of Imphal Airport, the real reason was to pick up passengers from Imphal for a return flight to Kolkata via Guwahati. Thus the passengers traveling to Guwahati had to travel unnecessarily for an extra hour and 15 minutes.

Thirdly, having subjected the passengers to the afternoon torture, at least the carrier could have been courteous enough to provide free snack to the passengers to soothe their discontentment. Far from it, as is the normal practice in low cost airlines, the carrier sold snack to the passengers and actually made more money that day as hungry passengers had no option but to buy the hugely overpriced snack packs.

So, how different would have been a quality conscious airlines approach towards the circumstances that unfolded that day? Here, I will try to delineate the strategy that a quality conscious airline may have adopted.

An airline with quality consciousness ingrained in its DNA probably would not have invited such a situation. They would have made it doubly sure that the aircraft is well maintained and ready for flight.

Even if, as a rare case, such a technical snag was to occur, the airline would have taken care to minimize the discomfort; not maximize it, as was the case with the Deccan flight (DN-653). For instance, the passengers would have been carried through the usual route via Guwahati to Imphal rather than via Imphal to Guwahati. Thus an unnecessary flying hour for the Guwahati bound passengers would have been prevented.

Further, a quality conscious airline would have provided free snack to the passengers considering the fact that the flight which was to reach Guwahati at 1:30pm actually reached there at 5:30pm. Surely, that would have mitigated passenger discontentment significantly. Indeed, it would have potentially earned some goodwill for the airline.

This whole episode underscores one simple but important point: That for a system to succeed all its parts need to work in a synchronized manner. If any one of the parts does not deliver there is bound to be a systemic disorder if not complete failure.

If you thought we are living in an era where customer is the king, think again. We haven’t reached there yet.

Manoj Tirkey - POLEMICS - Diversity of views - ACADEMIA - An academic discourse


The Ragpicker said...

That's why I prefer Kingfisher to Air Deccan !!!! (Though they have been merged now but the only change is in the color of aeroplanes - the light green of 'Air Deccan' has changed to bright red 'Deccan')

Hrishikesh said...

I am a regular travel on the Guwahati Kolkata sector and I am a price conscious customer.

If you have noticed, the price of ticket does not vary widely in this sector.

if you pay Rs50 - 200 extra, you can easily take a Indigo, SpiceJet, Jetlite or even Kingfisher and Jet Airways ticket in that sector.

I would prefer to pay a few bucks extra rather than travel by Deccan.