Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Law of Incremental service

On the Manila-Singapore leg of the journey last week, I decided to take an earlier flight instead of the one that I was booked in.

I made it through the wait-list. Soon after take-off, one of the flight assistants came down to my seat and informed me in a rather solemn tone that they couldn’t organise an Indian vegetarian meal that I had asked for, as I had made the flight change at the last minute. She would see what she could manage, she told me. Changers cannot be choosers; so I accepted the situation.

After 10 more minutes, she came back with a concerned expression and asked if any other vegetarian option (continental, Thai.) was okay with me. I said that would be perfectly fine. In fact, I felt like patting her on the back and telling her not to worry so much, as even men weaker than I am have been known to survive a 3-hour flight without food.

After another 5 minutes or so, she came back and broke the good news that she had located an Indian vegetarian meal, after all. And this was served to me, a little later.

I checked the tray for the meal tag that accompanies such ‘special requests” and sure enough, it was there, with my seat number filled in by the caterer. They had managed to load the meal at short notice. The flight assistant had not pulled it out of thin air, as she had tried to impress.

But, why at all did the flight assistant go through all that tension-building exercise? The charitable explanation would be that she had not located the meal initially but found it later. Or, more likely, she was pulling a fast one on me.

Actually, with my sales training, I appreciated what she did and my respect for that airline went up. The first and cardinal rule of sales is to deliver what you have promised. The second rule is that, if you are delivering more than what had been promised or exceeding the customer’s expectation, make it clear to him or her that something out-of-the-way was being done and take brownie points for it, in some form. That extra bit that you put in has some extra value and it should be perceived so, by the customer. Otherwise, it is lost forever, without you accruing any credit for it. Of course, this process of taking the credit has to be executed with finesse, without the customer feeling that you are being over-demonstrative.

Imagine if the meal of my choice had been brought to me without the drama that preceded it, would I have known or appreciated the fact that the airline managed to act within an hour?

Update 18/10/07 : My favourite barber once taught me a lesson in customer satisfaction. He had just finished cutting my hair and asked if I would like to have an oil massage too. It being a Sunday, there were at least six people waiting outside restlessly. I asked him if he wouldn't incur the wrath of those guys by giving me a 30-minute massage when they were waiting for a more basic need (hair-cut) to be met. He replied that once a customer sat on his chair, he would ensure that he left completely delighted with the experience, even if meant turning away a few others. Rather one totally satisfied customer than many partially-satisfied ones, was his gyan.


Revathi said...

You ARE shrewd!

Viky said...

I like the line of thought.

Anonymous said...

Ah !! Cool & apt.
Only a good salesman could have identified with such a situation


Raj said...

revathy, thanks. A lifetime spent in Sales, so I look for the 'catch' in everything.

viky,jm, thanks

Dijo said...

Brilliant. Loved the way you figured that out.

Raj said...

dijo : Thanks. As I said earlier, a salesman find salesmanship in everything.