I am no great admirer of IndiGo Airlines, let me state that up front. They are too full of themselves, constantly telling us how they are on time, once again. I must confess that they are generally on time and that is a great boon if you live in a city like Bengaluru, where the air traffic is as unpredictable as the weather and even a few minutes delay can throw your entire schedule out of gear.Yet, they become strangely silent when they are late, blaming the air traffic control.
And they are reasonably inhumane as they ruthlessly offload passengers who come even a few seconds late, without bothering to look at the genuineness of the case. Yet, even their detractors might hesitate to gloat over the airline’s current predicament, after the recent fracas in which a passenger was manhandled by staffers. The sorry incident demonstrates, more than anything else, that companies obstinately refuse to learn from the mistakes of others and insist on making fresh ones themselves.
It can’t happen to us!
Crises are not new, nor are they ever going to go out of fashion. If anything, they are going to multiply in the digital world. But it seems to be a bit like our attitude to death. We somehow seem to think that it’s not going to happen to us, even when we are attending someone else’s funeral!
Airlines, by the very nature of the industry, with frequent customer contacts, multiple moments of truth and the shared use of several common services such as airports and air traffic control, which are handled by others, are more prone to trouble than other industries.
In the latest case, of course, IndiGo doesn’t really have an excuse as its employee and ex-employee are clearly to blame, even if there was severe provocation. Yes, it was not a flight attendant but a logistics person. This brings to mind what Disney used to talk about: every employee is either “on stage” or “off stage”, depending on whether he/she is facing customers or not. A janitor in a theme park is equally important because the visitor is going to ask him/her for directions. They are, therefore, all brand ambassadors, so it’s not enough to merely train the stewardesses and the people at the counter. The person who guides you on to the bus is perhaps more prone to the stresses and strains of customer contact and its risks. Though, in this case, it seems the passengers are the ones who are at the receiving end of the violence.
How prepared are we?
Every business, whether it is an airline, a mall, a hospital or a garment factory, is prone to crises. In the age of social media, the crisis can actually put forest fires to shame, so ruthlessly and violently does it spread. Speedy response is of the essence and IndiGo has been lethargic in this respect, given that the incident happened quite some days ago.
The smarter companies work closely with their communication agencies to catalogue a list of crises that can besiege their business and have a contingency plan to minimise the risk. The focus is on damage control. How can they keep the crisis from trending online? Can the PR company make sure that the ticker of a news channel does not include the company’s brand name? Can they move the news from page 1 to page 7 of a newspaper over a period of time? Can they hope for a bigger crisis to happen to someone else so that their crisis is forgotten?
Don’t gloat over someone else’s crisis
While it is natural for competitors to gloat over IndiGo’s crisis, my suggestion to them is this: look out for a similar or an even larger crisis that can come back to bite you. It may seem cute to create memes or send funny WhatsApp messages mocking the other company but we live in crisis-filled times and it speaks well of a company which stays dignified when someone else is going through a tough time. Who knows what might happen in the shifting sands of business? Keep your head even as your competition is losing theirs. This says a lot about a company’s leadership.
And the lesson to learn for IndiGo is simple. When you keep blowing your trumpet at every possible opportunity, you are opening yourself up to criticism when something goes wrong. If I sounded harsher than deserved, it is simply because I am a customer and I prefer my service provider to let others do the talking.