IndiGo’s apology 2.0

Addendum: Added a flowchart at the end of the post (before the Air India related note) to extrapolate (based on publicly available perspectives on what and how things went wrong), to showcase the points which could have diffused the situation from becoming this big a mess. Inspiration to create the flowchart came from Anant Rangaswami.

This is the video.

And this is IndiGo’s official apology.

Let me analyse the apology.

Treating our customers with respect is core to what we do.

This is a given. This is taken to be granted in the service industry. Why even start with this sentence as if someone had any doubt about this?

Every day we take tens of thousands of happy customers to where they need to get to. It is for this reason that customers choose IndiGo more number of times than any other airline in the country.

Why do a chest-thump when you are apologizing? This is not a marketing opportunity.

An incident happened in Delhi airport which is entirely the opposite of this and against what we stand for at Indigo. The video of this incident came ot our attention and we took action.

Not really. A video of an incident where your staff was involved in a physical fight with a customer surfaced online after it was shown on news television. Spell it out, please. If you go by this Times NOW story, this video was shot by your own ground staff and there was no action on it for over 15 days! And intriguingly, the ground staffer who shot the video and sent it to his superiors was sacked!

Even while the investigation was going on we immediately suspended the involved employees.

Why this manic rush? There is a statement to this effect 4 lines down anyway!

I personally spoke to the customer and apologized to him the very same day.

This is an assertive and useful sentence.

Whatever may have been the provocation, our staff were completely out of line and didn’t follow laid down procedures.

Why allude to the provocation? People will take sides and you have no meaningful way of gauging the public sentiment in terms of the side they are taking. The second part of the sentence is on target, though it ends with ‘laid down procedures’. Isn’t it more than that? Treating a customer well is not part of a manual. Physically assaulting him isn’t a manual-driven task either.

I acknowledge the unpleasant experience our passenger went through, while engaging with our staff.

Weak. This needs to come from the top and it has to be unequivocal. Aditya should be appalled, ideally, instead of treating it as an ‘unpleasant experience’

Once again, my personal apologies as this does not reflect our culture and what we stand for.

Why ‘once again’? Aditya apologized personally to the customer in an earlier sentence, remember? He hasn’t apologized to the broader set of other customers and readers yet.

At IndiGo, dignity of our passengers and staff is of utmost importance. Any act that compromises the dignity of either is of a serious concern to us.

I found this sentence vastly interesting. It seems to bridge last week’s PV Sindhu incident where the airline stood by the employee (bold; good stand!) and seems to be in some kind of an ambivalence in this case.

Under the code of conduct violation, this incident was investigated by the designated committee and stern action was taken against the staff who was the main culprit by immediately terminating his employment. He was the one found instigating and aggravating the situation.

This is the crux of the apology. The money-shot moment that other customers, current and prospective are looking for.

He is the exact opposite of what IndiGo’s customer service aims to be. Once again my personal and sincere apologies to the affected passenger.

Poor ending. It isolates the problem to one rogue employee and makes it look like he was merely not following laid-down rules on how not to physically assault customers and for that reason he was suspended.

What is the single-minded objective of an apology after an incident like this? Is it to just say sorry? No. In my opinion, it is to ensure that we take small steps towards gaining the customers’ trust again. That involves a sincere, appropriately worded apology *and* showcasing proof points that indicate that such incidents won’t recur again, particularly on the back of last week’s PV Sindhu episode where there was a similar allegation.

Here’s a possible alternative: (I’m assuming IndiGo has obviously investigated this issue and found conclusive evidence that their ground-staff was responsible. If the customer was equally responsible, that doesn’t come across in this apology. If that were the case, by any chance, the entire apology would need to be thought through very, very differently).

A video of an incident where our staff was involved in a physical fight with a customer surfaced online recently. We investigated the video, shot by one of our ground staff and forwarded to his seniors 15 days ago, and spoke to the people concerned, including all the ground staff involved and the customer. Our investigation revealed that one of our ground staff was at fault, significantly overstepping our code of conduct with customers and going beyond, physically assaulting the customer in the ensuing melee.

This is completely unacceptable at IndiGo and I’m appalled at the way we behaved during this incident. Starting now, I’m setting up a high-level core group to explore how and why this lapse happened. Moreover, I’m equally appalled at the delay in escalating and investigating this incident for over 15 days since it was first raised. I promise to share with you remedial steps we will, at IndiGo, take to ensure that such incidents do not happen and our customers are not put in such situations again.

This behavior is absolutely not what we as a brand stand for. We did not treat a customer the way we promised to. I have personally spoken to the customer and apologized to him. As a normal customer of any airline, I’d be deeply upset watching such a video too. So, I also apologize to others who have watched this video and are disappointed with the way we have behaved, both in the video and in the backdrop, not taking any action for 15 days till it reached the media. We will set this right at an institutional level to ensure this does not happen again at IndiGo. That’s my promise to you.

Related: IndiGo’s 7-page explanation to the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

An extrapolation of how things went wrong and at what points could the people involved (ground staff, passenger and IndiGo management) could have done things differently to diffuse the situation from getting worse. Click on the image for the full-sized, readable view.

PS: Air India decided to capitalize on all this and shared these 2 creatives in the evening (on Facebook and Twitter; and has also deleted them the next morning, for some unexplained reason).

I’m assuming this is categorically intended to (a) put themselves in a topical discussion and (b) showcase their aggressive stance in whatever way they can.

But unlike Amul (which often does topical commentary like this; Also, Amul has a history of doing topical comments on a lot of events. Air India does not), Air India is a direct rival to the brand that’s being pummelled down (IndiGo’s shares fell 2.29% yesterday as a result of this). Air India should also consider the kind of fans they are attracting with their put-competition-down-when-they-are-down-and-out – the same fans will enjoy a Jet Airways doing it to Air India tomorrow when situations occur. Sarcasm and wit are perfectly fine, but to assume that a joke about a down-in-the-dumps rival is what digital natives (the primary consumers of such memes) appreciate is perhaps taking digital natives with a rather myopic approach.

Competitive ribbing does happen often in the industry. Audi and Mercedes rib each other on thing each others’ product features, brand positioning and so on. Vistara recently did that to Air India when the news of Air India not serving non-vegetarian food in short flights surfaced (Vistara said we will leave such choices to customers, taking a dig at Air India). In all these cases, it is simply a matter of being competitive. Competition means you take a shot at your rival on something they do, which you do better, in the interest of customers. It is competitive one-upmanship.

This one is quite different. Air India is not referring to an IndiGo feature or product or service. They are using an abhorrent behavior by a few employees and equating that to entire IndiGo. It’s like us assuming that every steward in Air India gets beaten by rogue MPs and MLAs regularly. Using such a sweeping assumption to peg your competitively aggressive stand is quite terrible. There’s no bravery or even grace in that.

Air India could take other narratives to achieve the same end result – to join the topical discussion on IndiGo. For instance, they could congratulate/commend IndiGo for the detailed note and offer a word of support – we’re in the same industry, we know what you are going through, but we as an industry promise to up the game in customer service. That may not be clever and sarcastic, but it’d surely be human and way more cooler. They chose the Donald Trump route, instead.



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