05 January 2018 14:13:44 IST

Customer is always right

Moving towards personalised customer service and becoming an ‘empathising carrier’ can help IndiGo

One viral video picked up by the media dented the goodwill built by IndiGo, the market leader among airlines in India. With over 450 million internet users in the country, a negative word of mouth, if left unattended, can wreak havoc on a company. Public memory isn’t short lived in today’s connected world and a negative customer experience can break all positive brand building exercises.


While it is difficult to control sharing of content by employees, IndiGo could have ameliorated the impact of the video through a simple two-pronged approach — an unconditional apology to the inconvenienced customer and active social media damage control.

What it can do

There are high cognition and low cognition online users. While content quality has greater impact on the former, quantity impacts low cognition users more. The moderating effect of cognition (Elaboration Likelihood Model) is significant for high cognition users.

~ A post written by the affected customer, or IndiGo posting an image of the customer’s message on its social media pages, stating that the airline had apologised and the concerned employee had been suspended, would have assuaged the situation for high cognition users.

Large quantity of negative content resulted in a downward spiral for the airline by influencing low cognition users. To control the same, the carrier’s PR team should have regularly posted unconditional apologies to the party involved on their pages.

While the crisis recovery letter from IndiGo’s chairman started with an apology, it later went on to defend the employees’ actions. Again, a two-pronged approach could help IndiGo recover.

A powerful way to catch a customer’s attention is by giving the communication a personal touch. E-mails have become impersonal. So a letter addressing the airline’s customers by their names should be sent, and include the following points:

a) Apologise for the situation

b) Assure them of unparalleled customer service

c) Request their support to help IndiGo grow, as they grow in life through travels.

~ A transformational message delivered by a trusted icon such as Sachin Tendulkar or Amitabh Bachchan, would help turn situation, as Dairy Milk had previously done with Project Vishwas.

Revitalisation of IndiGo

To become a customer empathising carrier, the airline should institutionalise two simple rules on the customer service front:

Rule 1: The customer is always right

Rule 2 : When the customer is wrong, refer to rule number one.

These two rules have been pivotal in making Nordstrom synonymous with unparalleled customer service. Currently, IndiGo has projected itself as a customer friendly airline. It can further the branding and come across as a customer empathiser through the two rules mentioned above.

Types of travellers

In the airline industry, there are two broad types of customers:

~ Leisure travellers

~ Business travellers

For leisure travellers, customer service should ensure anxiety-free check-in process and query resolutions. For business travellers, it should be more about fast check-ins and individual attention.


Personalised service is crucial for both segments and chat-bots or AI will never solve angry customer problems. To achieve the no-questions-asked customer service, a customer focused approach should be ingrained in the front-line staff.

Mindset reorientation of front-line staff

When customer service boils down to front-desk employees, it is the mindset, more than skill building, that needs to be attuned to customers. Thus, emotional intelligence is far more important than skills.

Instead of training its employees on what to do, IndiGo should stress on why customer service is important.

To achieve this mindset, where the employees can handle customers even if they are wrong, employee motivation needs to be such that it makes them want to earn the goodwill of a customer.

Customer friendly eco-system

The airline can achieve this through a four-pronged approach.

~ Establish IndiGo Customer Service Academy for staff’s mindset training. It can be done by the airline’s employees who are known for excellent customer focus. This will allow experience-based learning. Certificates and badges can be distributed on the completion of such training.

~ Managers and supervisors should be made aware of the trained staff to indirectly influence promotions and ultimately motivate staff to earn customer goodwill and grow.

~ Use Wachovia’s reward principle — a weekly scorecard for staff with points on customer satisfaction.

~ A balanced scorecard evaluation that will incentivise managers to check deviant behaviour regularly.

(The winners are second year PGP students of IIM Bangalore)