Indigo, growing big doesn’t mean obtaining license to be arrogant

Arrogance is a veneer — a thin covering of excuses hiding deep performance deficiencies.
BOB LEWIS
The Seven Deadly Sins of Information Systems

Perhaps it’s about time my favourite airlines till recently in India, Indigo ‏@IndiGo6E,  paid heed to this gem from the management guru.

Although ‘am not a man living out of suitcases but having taken about six flights in three months, mostly on Indigo, it’s also about time for me to pen the layers of arrogance that its passengers had to bear with after having first hand experience over a period of time while taking its flights.

But before all that, here’s why Indigo was my favourite carrier till recently.

Hailing from Imphal in Manipur, where connectivity is a BIG issue, going home on annual holiday those days was one always preceded by nightmare over ticketing issues — both of cost and availability.

Imagine a round trip costing Rs 30,000 and colleagues rubbing it in, asking why do you go there, instead go for a holiday in Bangkok! To make the matter worse, Delhi-Imphal tickets on erstwhile Indian Airlines weren’t always available. Making umpteen visits to the Safdarjung office of the carrier, begging the lady known to the family to do something for the earliest ticket, all in vain; the actual dates for the trip always decided by availability of tickets and not at my discretion; weren’t the best of memories. If at all, a bundle of frustrations.

Things, however, changed for the better in 2006. Indigo entered my life in 2006 with its mint fresh Airbus A320. For many like me from Imphal and Guwahati, the low cost carrier that it had positioned itself as,  was a boon, God’s blessing.  Delhi-Imphal round trip at a price of just Rs 8,000 very much suited my bank account. It really didn’t matter even if I had to get up at 3 am to catch a 5;30 am flight, as Indigo would land me in time for breakfast at home with my beloveds.  Later on it made it even easier for me by adding another flight at 7:30 am, which was almost tailor-made for lunch at Imphal.

To top all that, the courteous ever smiling staff — right from those baggage handlers manning X-ray machines, to those at check-in counters and the ladies in the cabin. They’d always made you feel that you need not look at another airlines to fly.

Alas, all good things come to an end. Indigo grew fast all these years while others like Kingfisher bit the dust and Spicejet, almost. Now the market leader (in January 2015 it had 36.4% market share, almost twice of 2nd placed Jet Airways,  carrying 22.76 lakh passengers ), gone are the good habits of a service industry that Indigo was once a benchmark.

Over a period of time, you can’t help but notice how the humble and genuine small fellow started forgetting his roots as he became big and successful. Arrival in life had to be declared with arrogance. The ‘welcome’ and ‘thank you for flying Indigo’ by cabin crew of early days are history. Chatting among themselves, oblivious to who’s boarding or alighting is vogue.

The latest horror was the experience on 6E 338 from Goa to Delhi. A hopelessly rude woman as a cabin crew, to whom arguing and treating passengers with disdain (a behaviour most flyers associate with Air India/erstwhile Indian Airlines crew)  was a part of the job, confirmed the fast descending standards of the airlines. It was topped by a broken seat. Yes, a broken seat that raises questions on safety standards of the airlines.

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Earlier last month while on a trip to Ahmedabad, it appeared the staff had a long day already when they herded passengers directing from which gate to board the aircraft. Not a word of regret for delayed departure but the tone of a frustrated Head Mistress in a school was a far cry from the courteous people that served the Indigo I knew when I started flying home on Indigo.

This was the airlines, as a friend would narrate, that a pilot of which had once announced “Ladies and gentleman, we are ahead of scheduled arrival by 10 minutes, sorry for the inconvenience”when the Bangalore-Delhi flight landed ahead of time.

The list can be long but first instance that raised the red flag about the slide in Indigo’s standards happened about a couple of years back in my hometown. The boy at the check-in counter, who would be younger than my 7-years -junior little brother, called out “‘Nanao’ (an informal Manipuri word for a younger brother)  come here”. Well, any man who is adding number of years to his life, would be happy to be mistaken for a young man but for Indigo? It showed how far it has drifted from where it all began.

The sky is limitless Indigo, it’s all there for you to conquer but arrogance won’t help the cause.

 

 

 

Zest up your life! Long waiting period should worry Tata Motors

The product has received rave reviews, the company did enough to create noise over the car — the make or break model. Zest could not have been a more important model to Tata Motors than any of its predecessors from that perspective. Optimists and company’s execs in sales and marketing  are going gaga over the over 10,000 bookings it has received and happily flaunting the waiting period ranging from 4-6 weeks to 3 months. Understandably so but not necessarily rightly.

It may sound like a kill joy to Tata Motors and its fans but instead of being happy and raising a toast, they should be worried, in fact terribly worried.

For a company like Tata Motors, carrying a huge legacy burden of sub-standard products, inept customer service and a misadventure named Nano, Zest was the chance to set it right. A new car after nearly 4 years, full of promise and revolution in technology was the starting point to correct innumerable mistakes. Going by what has happened so far,  sadly the company hasn’t learnt anything.

Launching in Delhi almost after a week in Mumbai showed how unprepared the company was, notwithstanding its reasons for that. When rivals like Maruti, Hyundai, Honda finish national launches, including in smaller cities,  of any of their new  models within 3 days to create maximum impact, phase wise launch of Zest only reminds customers of the Nano experience. The waiting period says “our production line isn’t ready”.

Zest isn’t a JLR product that customers will wait endlessly. When you have proven competitors — Dzire, Amaze and Xcent, why would anyone wait for a product from a company which has a past that’s full of stories of unhappy customers?

When customers don’t see any cars on the roads when the model is already launched on paper, they’d start wondering has it bombed? As experienced hands of sales and marketing in the auto industry would say “your product on the roads is the best form of advertising”. The more people drive the new model on the road, the more is the pull value to showrooms of other potential customers. How many Zests have you seen on Delhi roads?

Either the company is too conservative or risk averse to make as many Zests as possible and try to sell as many units as possible when it’s novelty factor is red hot. Three months down the line, customers will be talking about other new models in the market.

Another major  point is that the dealerships are yet to unlearn how not to treat customers.  That welcoming smile, that courtesy of offering a glass of water, a cup tea or coffee, engaging in conversation to make it feel comfortable in taking a buying decision that are found in showrooms of other successful companies are yet to become a standard in Tata Motors’ showrooms.

Zest isn’t just another model from Tata Motors, it’s a super critical model that would define the company’s comeback journey. For such a product, even the minutest of details ought to have been taken care of. Alas.

Simply put, if Zest were to become a winner in its segment, I’d happily eat my words.

Rain, traffic jam and Maruti2.0

Yesterday when the whole of Delhi came out on the roads for Raksha Bandhan, Rain God decided to join the party. Problem was, as it had been in the past, rain and Delhi roads were, are and will never be bosom buddies who can have a party together. The net result was serpentine queues of vehicles, stuck for hours and impatient people, me included, getting trigger happy in blaring horns and blowing their lids off. Not a good behaviour, I must admit.

Therefore, it won’t be amusing to many to know that the big boss of automobile industry in India — Maruti Suzuki is looking ahead to the next 30 years and is determined to sell 3 million cars a year. By the way last year the company sold 1.16 million cars. Does it mean nearly three times increase in traffic jams? Much more.

Well it’s time to get synced with reality and traffic jams, not only in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore but elsewhere in India, are only going to get worse. There are many people like you and me in our country who love to own and drive a car and even greater is the population which is aspiring to have their first car. This is where Maruti and the rest of car companies are playing the game.

As for Maruti Suzuki, due credit must go to it for giving Indians access to modern cars and changing the way we commute. It has understood the need of Indian consumers and delivered products that suit them for 30 years. However, the journey of the next 30 years, described as Maruti2.0 by its Chairman RC Bhargava will not be as easy as the previous three decades.

Many people may think that it is the rivals who are going to give the company a tough time. To an extent yes but the bigger challenger for the company is itself.

Since the economic liberalisation of 90s, most of the global companies — American, European, Japanese and Korean alike have entered India. Just look at where General Motors and Ford are in India after more than a decade and half of existence in India. When Maruti Suzuki sells nearly a 90,000 vehicles a month in India, the next biggest competitor Hyundai sells around 26,000.

First time buyers have been Maruti Suzuki’s sweet spot. In the next three decades, their number will be there but how about those who bought the company’s cars in the previous 30 years? Today many of the company’s small car owners are looking to upgrade and left with no option they have moved to different brands. Honda is a top notch gainer from this with its City sedan. The soon-to-be-launched Ciaz is the apparent answer but will it be enough considering the SX4 experience?

Maruti’s compact sedan Dzire is doing fine but is facing heat from Amaze, again from Honda and Xcent from Hyundai. Add the neat looking compact Figo from Ford in the near future to the mix, the competition is going to be intense. The Ertiga multi-purpose vehicle has done well for itself stabilising sales at around 4,500 units a month but Mobilio from Honda has entered to rock the boat. That’s the competition factor.

The challenge of competition will always be there, as it should be in a free market but to prepare for the next 3 decades, it is time for Maruti to start looking within at first.

Leadership is a key issue for the company. The company has been lucky to have had amazing local leaders like Mr Bhargava himself and former MD Jagdish Khattar, who know the local market in and out. With all due respect to the Japanese top executives, considering how it functions in India, a good representation of local talent in top decision making body is required. As and when Mr Bhargava decides to hang up his boots, who will fill his shoes? An Indian or a Japanese?

How much of a chance do the current crop of Indian senior executives in the company have a chance to make it to the Director level? If they hit the so called glass ceiling, how such talents will be retained for the journey of Maruti2.0?

Apart from it’s first mover advantage, Maruti Suzuki’s strength has been its human resources, specially its sales and aftersales people, the strikes at factory notwithstanding. There are far better products in the market than Maruti’s but they don’t sell at all. Maruti manage to sell even when the market is down. So, who is going to lead these talented people in the journey of the next 3 decades? Can they be kept happy in the organisation and insulated from poaching by rivals?

Also, the Gujarat plant controversy is something the company could have afforded without. How Maruti’s management responds to parent Suzuki’s ‘out of box’ thinking but not necessarily in sync with Indian dynamics will also determine to a large extent how this upgrade to Maruti2.0 version will roll out.