Monday, 6 October 2008

Customer Service- a flight of fancy?

Show me the money. Show me the love, people.
Outstanding customer service is often a spontaneous occurrence. Which happens only with truly empowered staff empathizing with their customers.

This piece was inspired by a recent experience with the ticketing department of India’s Kingfisher airlines. While I focus on the airline business, my grudge applies to every consumer centric business.

I enjoy flying Kingfisher airlines. Very polite, well trained staff, clean planes, always a good experience. I am a frequent flyer. In fact when I book for any member of my family, I book Kingfisher.

But even they slip up. Here’s what happened and why I think I am being shortchanged all the time by these marketing folks.

I booked two tickets for my parents. But instead of flying them in first from Mumbai to Bangalore, I booked them Bangalore to Mumbai as first sector. Realized the error five minutes after booking and called the booking centre to make the change.

“Cant be done”, they said.

So I asked them to advance the return sector and push back the first sector.

“Cant be done”, they said. So I asked them to look in their rules and there was nothing to prevent me from doing this.

They still refused and I promptly wrote to Dr. Mallya, the chairman.

Within a few days, I was contacted by a guest relations executive and this was sorted out. Me being given a refund in the form of a travel voucher (that lapsed last week). All this works well. No problem. And I appreciated their promptness.

But here’s my point. The re-imbursement I was asking for was Rs 1500.
I estimate that I have spent over Rs. 100,000 in flight tickets this year with KF. So I am now asking for someone to look at my expenditure on the company’s information systems and waive off a Rs 1500 without my having to bring the chairman into play. (At least the email id I wrote to says “chairman@”)

That would be true customer service.
Outstanding customer service is a spontaneous occurrence. Which happens only with truly empowered staff empathizing with their customers.

KF is not there yet. But then there are so many companies that fail on this account.

My experience in marketing suggests most consumer goods companies spend about 6-8% of their revenues in marketing related activities.

Which means Rs 8000 of my expenditure of Rs 100,000 was spent on marketing. To whom? Not me. KF does not run any print advertisements/ nor TV commercials. So where is my 8000 rupees?

Let’s say that of the 8% spent on marketing, 50% (4%) is spent on acquiring new customers. OK, so maybe that’s why I don’t see that part of the money.

But I still want to see the other Rs 4000 being spent on me. In applying the same rules to me as to someone flying once in three months, what’s my gain?

This is not toothpaste and shampoos I am buying. And I am very serious. This is big money that should be invested in me.

Show me the money! Show me the love, people.

I’m making these cats fat. And I don’t see gratitude. I see free pens and toffees. But I don’t see that they trust me, care for me and respect the business that I contribute.

Is it because they know that I don’t have a choice? Any other airline in India would do exactly this, and some do it with a bigger smile and more free pens.

This note is for companies that want to move to a new level in customer service.

Business analytics is with every company now. Last week, I had a letter from Jet airways asking why I had stopped using their services. ( I was impressed. But then turned cynical. Do I think they would have accepted that I erroneously reversed the order of a journey and wanted that changed- at no cost? Naaah!

So each company has a lot of data on its customers. What we buy, don’t buy etc. So they can surely identify and segment their customers as A,B,C or any which way they choose. Would they not then have some rules for treating these segments differently? I don’t see that.

Remember, when my family flies, I pay but I don’t get the freq flier points. Why cannot an information system track the credit card details to identify the big spenders? If airlines companies really wanted to reward loyalty, they would link the points to the “buyer” of tickets.

Sure a first class customer is treated differently. Frequent flier points give you some free-bees. But where is the differentiation in customer service for a customer that I neither carrying his freq flier card on his face, nor seating himself in first class- but still contributing heavily to business?

Everyone is looking to get new customers. Why is customer retention such a “non issue”? Is it the high switching costs?

It’s a pity. Because “customer service” is a clear opportunity to differentiate in a relevant way. Proper technology married to proper judgment is a powerful tool in producing genuine “wows” for customers.

Technology is bringing powerful information to corporations and their customer facing staff. Even the most “subjective” decisions can be quantified and modeled in order to produce objective guidelines.

We seem to have the technology.
We seem to have well trained people.

So what stops companies from treating us as the unique individuals we really are?


1 comment:

Dexter said...

nice. you & yours have been touching upon some critical marketing issues, and I salute that. re: this post, the problem is that the majority of Indian organizations falter quite heavily in the arena of 'post sales', hence the perennial problem with customer retention...the customer life-cycle is not treated as the 'holy grail' of marketing. engagement is passe, once she forks out the dough...she becomes a relic ...marketers just don't get it. despite a sea of data, and analytics capabilities..companies are unable to juxtapose derived information with rules of engagement. just my 2.5 cents on this.