A popular analogy prevails in service industries, when it comes to service failure and customer complaints — it is called the ‘tip of the iceberg’ concept. It means that only 5 per cent of the customer-encountered failure situations are visible, while a major chunk of these failures go unnoticed.
Therefore, the incident that took place on Oct 15, 2017 is not only abut the manhandling of a customer, but it is a cumulative result of several instances of poor service practices followed by IndiGo. Damage control comes much later.
Some of these problems are outlined below:
Defining customer roles
The customer, Rajiv Katyal, said he was standing in the shade of the aircraft, waiting for the bus. On the contrary, the airline President Aditya Ghosh said Katyal was moving towards a catering high-lift, too close to the aircraft.
In either of the situations, the customer did not behave in a way he was expected to, — he should have stood in a queue and waited for the bus. This shows that IndiGo did not communicate customer roles carefully and left it, instead, to the customer’s interpretation. It didn’t even make an attempt to ensure that customers behave the way they are expected to on a service floor. Defining customer roles and responsibilities is of utmost importance in any service business due to its inseparable nature.
Lack of interpersonal skills
Katyal reported of rude behaviour by the ground staff, to which Ghosh later admitted and apologised. This means that either the selection of those employees as ground staff was not right or they weren’t provided appropriate training in terms of interpersonal skills.
Managing promise and delivery
Katyal was expecting a third bus to ferry passengers to the terminal. Similarly, there would have been other customers expecting the same. These may have been created either from past experiences or by the promise of punctuality the airline. There was clearly a gap between promise and delivery.
Lack of SoPs
The ground staff were either unaware of what they should be doing in situations like the one that transpired, or the carrier did not design any standard operating protocol that employees should follow during such unforeseen situations. Which could be why two of the ground staff manhandled Katyal while a third shot a video of the incident.
Defining employee roles
The airlines admitted that Montu Karla, the cargo employee who shot the video, was not supposed to be there. This clearly indicates that the airline lacked proper checks and balances on employee movement within the service floor, in addition to poorly defining employee roles and responsibilities.
One of the primary reasons for IndiGo’s success was in ensuring its customer-centric standards. Being customer-centric often means treating the customer as a ‘king’ or believing in principles like ‘a customer is always right’.
However, in the letter to the Civil Aviation Minister, Ghosh pointed out that the customer was ‘irritated and irate’, which should not be so for a firm known for being customer-friendly. In a similar incident that followed with ace badminton player PV Sindhu, the airline again pointed fingers at the customer for carrying too large a baggage.
Clearly, Kalra’s claims as a whistle-blower and the counter-claims by the airline need to be investigated. However, it is apparent that the airlines lacks a proper internal whistle-blowing policy or a code for rewarding such internal whistle-blowers.
Designing appropriate strategies to address the aforementioned problems could have ensured that the incident with Katyal had never taken place.
The first rule of service quality states, ‘do it right the first time’. It is advisable that service firms try and be fail-safe. In fact, several tools and techniques are available to identify and counter such situations and help organisations be proactive. Some examples include designing a service blueprint to identify the potential failure and waiting points; designing hard and soft standards to ensure proper employee behaviour; and formulating instrumental or normative measures to moderate customer behaviour on the service floor.
However, in unfortunate circumstances of service failure like the IndiGo situation, the customer’s immediate reaction is usually dissatisfaction.
When the case went public, several customers joined hands and competitors piggybacked on the situation, which is quite natural. What customers demand at that point is justice. And the justice theory identifies three potent areas that should be addressed by the airlines:
1) Outcome fairness : This is the final outcome of the recovery measures provided by the airlines, in the form of a public apology, free miles or discounts for Katyal, or the assurance of non-occurrence of such events in the near future.
2) Procedural fairness : This involves the process that Katyal and other customers like him need to go through to ensure that the service failure situation is reported and that they get a proper compensation. For instance, a formal complaint and feedback mechanism, and a toll free customer care number.
3) Interactional fairness : In the process of registering a complaint and receiving a compensation, the customer is required to interact with the employees of the organisation at different levels. The airline should ensure that those interactions are satisfactory — the service personnel should be polite and cordial while dealing with the customer; the airline should promise that customers will be treated with respect.
Therefore, reactive recovery measures taken up by the airline at individual customer level as well as communicating to the masses at a public relations level are strategies that provide a sense of fairness to the customers in terms of outcome, procedure and interaction.