Saturday, April 2, 2016

SpiceJet Trauma for Passengers in the Agartala-Kolkata route of India-A Case Study on Customer Service

Being a frequent flier all over the world, along with the profession of being a management trainer, management consultant and management faculty, with special interests in the services marketing domain makes it a tad difficult for the services sector or marketers in general to goof up things upfront. Having had the experience of flying Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Oman Air, Lufthansa, Jet, Kingfisher, Air India, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai, Indigo, Jet Konnect to name a few, the experience encountered by yours truly on the 30th March 2016 was indeed memorable, unique and pioneering to say the least, when it came to customer apathy. I am sure no other airline treats their customer in such shabby manner, especially when competitive advantage is built around customer ecstasy(not satisfaction)! 

Being a techno-savvy traveler, the bookings are generally done online by using the cards, rather than relying on the agents, unless there is paucity of time. It was a small break from the work in UAE, when yours truly, flew in to India, from Sharjah to Mumbai by Air Arabia, then from Mumbai to Kolkata by Indigo, Kolkata to Agartala by SpiceJet Airlines. The return journey was also planned on the same route, with the alteration of the journey between Agartala to Kolkata getting advanced on the afternoon of the 30th March 2016, owing to the sad demise of a friend's dad. In stead of traveling to Kolkata by the morning SpiceJet flight on the 2nd of April 2016, the ticket was adjusted by paying a huge alteration fee, for the evening flight of 30th March 2016, departing from Agartala at 7 PM IST. 

Things were on course till 6.50 PM as the flight was shown to be on schedule, with no announcements being made of any sort of delays, even though, there was no sign of the plane landing in Agartala airport till then. At 6.55 PM, the front office staff of the airline, Ms. Anindita makes an announcement saying, "SpiceJet announces the delay of the flight SG264 to Kolkata owing to ATC congestion in Chennai. The airline would like to thank the passengers for their cooperation"! The passengers of the sector (Agartala-Kolkata) are extremely courteous, polite, understanding and easy to be managed, unlike their demanding peers from other parts of India and the globe and therefore, they took it as yet another announcement, SpiceJet made pertaining to the delay of the aircraft at the eleventh hour. Delay of this evening flight is a routine thing happening day in and day out, with on time arrival and departure being exceptions! 

Yours truly felt offended with the approach of the airline towards the passenger, the announcement made in the PA system by the executive, as delay for him meant a lot, especially when the corpse of friends dad was lying in iced, decomposed condition, since the early morning at Kolkata. It was only retained for him to pay his last respects by reaching the destination(Kolkata). Offended, dejected and frustrated, he approached Anindita to know the reason, and immediately when he confronted her pertaining to the last minute announcements made regarding the delay, and that the airline ought to provide refreshments to the passengers, especially when it was fag end of the day, with many patients travelling, she was completely taken aback. She was not willing to buy the statement that passengers had various priorities and the delay would impact all of them. From her facial expression it was evident that for SpiceJet it is no big deal for their customers to be taken for a jolly good ride, on a regular basis. What followed subsequently was a public demand and almost all the customers flocked around the SpiceJet counter and the perturbed executive had to call the station manager, Mr. Bhabesh Chakraborty. Anindita's colleague, another junior executive, Shantanu took a better stance of being silent as he realized the varied statements of Anindita and later on by Bhabesh, to different passengers at different point of time, hovering around the cause of delay. His smartness in being silent helped him witness the episode without spending any energy whatsoever. The emphasis on SpiceJet evening flight getting delayed regularly, and that the announcement is often made at the final hour becoming a routine for the airline was known to many of the frequent fliers. It was apparent for once, that the SpiceJet executives weren't prepared to handle the change in approach of the "routinely disciplined" passengers metamorphosing into demanding customers by asking valid and pointed questions, along with the showcasing of their rights as being the end-user of the services.

A few responses to individual passengers, from Anindita and Bhabesh, pertaining to delay were as follows-

"Due to the weather the flight is unable to land and its still hovering in the sky", was told privately to yours truly and a little while later she makes a public announcement saying, "SpiceJet announces the delay of the flight SG264 to Kolkata owing to ATC congestion in Chennai. The airline would like to thank the passengers for their cooperation"! Which version is true and which one is false? Not only that, the airline thanked the passenger for the ordeal, sounding like adding salt to the injury of the passengers. The lack of coordination and communication between the employees of the airline were apparent, when Bhabesh said the delay was due to ATC congestion in Chennai and surprisingly it was known to them only 5 minutes before the scheduled departure from Agartala! On asking Bhabesh about refreshments, initially he said, DGCA regulations specifies that refreshments ought to be served only if the flight is delayed by 2 or more hours. The demanding passenger immediately asked Bhabesh to furnish evidence of the same, and that is when he subtly changed his version saying, that it was SpiceJet's policy. On asking the reasons for not serving refreshments especially when the customers were harassed regularly while flying in the evening flight, one response that stunned the mob of passengers was, "How can we have sudden refreshments planned for 182 passengers at this point in time in a small airport like Agartala"! Passenger including yours truly, sought the contact number and name of the senior most official of SpiceJet responsible for customer service, but Bhabesh was only emphasizing on making a complaint online and at the most provided a toll free number of the nodal officer, 01243913939! On repeated requests his response was, his company does not allow the staff members to pass on the numbers of the top officials to the customers! That explicitly meant the top management care a damn for the passengers. The only way available to air out the grievance was to make online complaints, which can be responded/resolved at their own sweet time and may be in some cases, the customer would give it up altogether, once he reaches his destination owing to his engagements with daily cores.

The whole experience was a perfect case study for yours truly for the trainees and students of Services Marketing. Various aspects were covered which can not only be used by the aviation industry, but can also be leveraged by other services sector with a slight customization. He also decided to make the news spread through local and national media, so that the customers and other stakeholders involved directly and indirectly with the industry knows the state of affairs in the company, the industry and most importantly the sector in India, where airline forms the backbone to connect with the rest of the world. The local and the national media houses were too keen to publish a the episode. The news items below proves that it is a routine thing for SpiceJet and therefore it is time for DGCA to take some strong action against the airline. 

Some other news clipping of SpiceJet-

5th of April 2016-Followup

The day I posted this blog, I made it a point to send the link to the email id of the airline, meant for receiving customer complaints. Till today, I was getting emails from them, that they are working on the issue and would come back to me. In the afternoon, they called up from Gurgaon, India, their hub for customer support department, but, unfortunately, I could not take the call, as I was busy in a meeting. After that, they sent me a mail, seeking appointment for a call, to which I responded saying 7 PM IST. Accordingly, a little while back, senior customer experience executive, Mr. Atesh Kumar called me up from +911246709300 and spoke to me for 23 minutes and 37 seconds. I was not exactly taken aback after listening to him, as the experience I had been witnessing on the ground, in the air, were on similar lines that was presented by Mr. Atesh. The similarity in their approaches of treating customer was visible, along with their ignorance. It spoke volumes about the corporate culture of SpiceJet airline. Fortunately, the call was recorded on both the sides. Here are few of things Mr. Atesh Kumar told me-

(1)This is an acknowledgement call he is making! (Already 7-8 acknowledgements have been sent via email)
(2)He wanted to know what exactly happened in Agartala airport! (After so many days, that too when the blog link was sent to them and its viral all over the social media)
(3)He said the link cannot be opened and has been sent to the IT team of SpiceJet!(The world has seen it in social media, but SpiceJet couldn't open the link)
(4)They will get back to me after talking to the airport personnel!(Till now they did not do anything, no spadework done or probably, went on the defensive, after seeing a well-prepared and knowledgeable customer going on offensive)
(5)He plainly refused for any compensation and was only saying sorry and apologies!(Ironically, no apologies were made by the in-flight crew when I boarded in Agartala, the only apology was after landing in Kolkata)
(6)He wanted to know, why I was seeking compensation.  I narrated the detailed episode of my close friends father passing away, and that I advanced the ticket by a couple of days, by paying much-much more than what I had paid initially, only,  to see the decomposed corpse of the departed soul, which was kept away from cremation, for me to pay the last respects. However, that unfortunately did not happen owing to the sudden delay of the flight at the eleventh hour. On hearing it, the executive was silent for a few seconds.
(7)He was continuously saying give us some time, we would investigate and come back to you, I asked him, how many working days do you need, when its almost a week that has elapsed, since the incident happened? He could not specify any time frame, which clearly shows a laid back approach by the airline in resolving customer issues in a time-bound manner.
(8)I asked for the name, number and email id of the top most official of customer service department, and like his peer at Agartala airport, he did not provide me the details citing it as company policy!(This means even if something serious happens to the customer, and the customer wants to communicate with the top bosses in the company, still they cannot be reached, the top echelons are Gods!)
(9)I told him, your airline charges aggressively for a few kilos extra, even if the passenger is coming from international destination, where the limit is higher than domestic routes. Why such aggressiveness is missing in solving customer complaints? He was completely silent on this issue.
(10)I told him customers are not fools, just because they are silent and polite, they cannot be taken for a jolly good ride, there are regulations laid down by the DGCA and consumer courts in India are quite proactive these days. He was again silent!
(11)He told me thank-you for your time, I said you can talk to me for hours together, in the interest of your airline and the customers, as I am a professional from management domain, having special interests in customer service and marketing. I also added that this experience would be a case study for many future airline employees, or employees from other services sector and your airline would be a benchmark for all bad reasons. He was silent on hearing all these.

6th of April 2015, Follow-up

At 13.38 hours UAE time, I got a call from +911246709300, SpiceJet's Customer Service Department from Gurgaon, India. The call that lasted for 9 minutes and 31 seconds came from an executive, Aditya Sharma. He was apologizing like all his predecessors, but made it clear that there would not be any compensation, even though the passengers suffered. Then he said, a minimum of two hours delay, for serving refreshments was a DGCA policy and when I asked him to email me the same from DGCA website, he immediately changed his stance and said its  present in SpiceJet website, which he promised to email me immediately. Till now that email has not arrived and its 9.47 PM local time. Furthermore, when Aditya was asked whether the rules pertaining to serving refreshments after two hour delay, was same for all airlines, viz. Indigo, he was sounding reluctant and non-committal, which clearly showed he was caught on the wrong foot. The call was recorded at both the ends and therefore it was good for both the parties. Furthermore, he was completely in a denial mode and said that the executive in Agartala airport did not tell privately to afew passengers that the aircraft was delayed due to inclement weather, only to change it during the PA announcement as ATC congestion in Chennai. On asking why did it take five minutes before the normal arrival time for this news to reach Agartala, he did not have an answer! Like his peers earlier, he did not provide the contact details of the topmost officials of the airline, saying the company policy does not permit him for that!

I have decided to escalate this to DGCA as well as the ministry of aviation, Government of India. Please see the email sent to the topmost officials-

DrManishankar Chakraborty

Custrelations Spicejet
Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 10:10 PM

Re: Feedback--CR//383971//2016


Dear Sir/Madam,


I would sincerely request you to look into the poor state of affairs of SpiceJet Airlines, especially while treating their passengers in the landlocked state of Tripura, India, where air transport forms the lifeline for the citizens, during any and every contingency.

Kindly go through a situation I had faced, even though there were many such delays, but nobody pursued it in the way, I am doing, in the overall interest of the people and the North-eastern region of the country.

The details can be seen from the link below-

Awaiting your positive response, for the overall enhancement of the sector.

Kind Regards,

Dr. Manishankar Chakraborty    PhD, MBA

What do you make out of this whole episode so far, although, I am waiting to see the conclusion.

If the incidents were not enough, please read the news below published in to know, how SpiceJet airlines reached a new nadir!

SpiceJet axes pilot for locking himself in with air hostess

 | TNN | 
W DELHI: SpiceJet has sacked one of its commanders for allegedly asking an air hostess to be with him in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 on both legs of an international flight and making her sit on his seat. He also sent his co-pilot out of the cockpit, leaving the two alone in the cockpit for a long time.

This serious safety breach of making an unauthorized person sit in the pilot's seat and alleged sexual harassment at workplace took place on SpiceJet's Kolkata-Bangkok flight on February 28. The pilot is alleged to have repeated his actions on the return journey the same night.

The case may not have come to light had the pilot not used "inappropriate language" with the chief air hostess of the flight. She complained to the airline which, apart from conducting its own inquiry, informed the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of the breach.

The decision to sack the pilot was reportedly taken by SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh, showing how seriously this alleged offence is being viewed.

DGCA may suspend pilot's licence

In fact there may be more trouble in store for the pilot. The DGCA is currently headed by M Sathiyavathy, a "no-nonsense" person, who is personally looking into this case. "We have taken some action (in this case)," Sathiyavathy told TOI. She may take further action like suspending the pilot's licence — which means he may not be able to fly as a pilot again with any other airline too — if the allegations against him are proved beyond doubt.

SpiceJet GM corporate communication Ajay Jasra said: "The inquiry process (in this case) is on and the statement of all the concerned parties has been recorded. Subsequently, the alleged personnel had been sacked."

ources said that the pilot called the air hostess inside the cockpit while flying to Bangkok. Cabin crew keep going to cockpit to see if the pilots need something. In fact, on longhaul night flights they are encouraged to go to the cockpit or call the pilot on the cabin phone to ensure that they are awake.

"In this case, the air hostess was inside the cockpit for a much longer than usual time. She was allegedly made to sit in the pilot's seat. During this time, the co-pilot went out to the toilet and he was let in after a substantial time," said a source.

Pilots inside the cockpit can deny access to the crew using the deny entry option that all cockpits have for safety reasons.

S pic eJet's Jasra added: "SpiceJet is an equal opportunity employer where there is no gender bias. With respect to the present case, we wish to inform you that we have internal complaint committee in place which is mandated by The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013. We have already initiated inquiry process as per the guidelines laid in the said act."

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Jayashree Iyer said...

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Soft Skills Training in Bangalore
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Unknown said...

Customer service is an essential part in Customer engagement; every professional should expert in the Customer, really nice Case Study. Sales Solutions India

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post! This information is really good and thanks a ton for sharing it :-)

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