Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are private airlines any better than Air India?

Customer Service is the biggest buzz word, the key differentiator in the service business.  It is the most profound thing to preach, so profound that it needs to be discussed at the highest level in a company. But the practice is sporadic and very reluctantly done. Irrespective of the money we pay, there needs to be a minimum standard of customer service for any business to grow. But the reality is very different.

For example take the domestic airline services in the country. Is there any real difference in the experience if you travel by Air India or Jet Airways or Indigo. Though Air India gets a lot of flak, the truth is that there is nothing much to differentiate at least when it comes to the aspect of flying itself or the type of aircraft or baggage allowance. 

The only difference is in the service, how friendly are the cabin crew. Granted if you fly in Air India, you get nostalgic. Suddenly you are reminded of your school days. The hostesses strikingly resemble and act like that old School Miss or rather Ma'am. They rarely smile at you. They use polite words but neither politeness nor warmth is reflected in their expression or in their voice. You do not feel the 'Good morning'. It is like the Ma'am in school wishing you Good morning and pausing for the chorus of 'Good Mornings' in return before springing the surprise test on you. But in a way I am not disappointed, invariably the service remains constant. The lady thrusts the tray at you, rushes through the announcements, impassively goes through the safety demo and the captain as usual mumbles something which nobody understands.

Still I Like Air India, I know what to expect, at least they do not scream about customer service. They do not promise anything, and they do not deliver either. But they fly you from otherwise inaccessible, remotest locations even with one passenger on board. They are the underdogs, but without them, many of the sectors would not have connectivity and at least some of the airports may not have had even a single flight. I am not trying to justify the lack of customer service in Air India. They have a long way to go in improving their service.

But look at the so called customer friendly private airlines, is the story any different?

This article is written by Professor Anand Unnithan. Prof. Anand Unnithan is an Associate Professor in Marketing in Indian Insititute of Management Kozhikode and is a visiting Associate professor at School of Management, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand.

Follow him on Twitter @anandunnithan