To get to the wallet, go through the heart – Lessons in brand execution from SpiceJet

Two small steps to the heart, one big leap to the wallet

A little girl’s hand was held by an elegant SpiceJet stewardess dressed in striking maroon. As the two ladies headed towards the galley, I saw tears rolling down the little one’s cheeks. Her ears were probably hurting as we started descending into Jaipur, India. The stewardesses in the galley started playing with her and then opened up one of the carts for her too! She was given a few packets of biscuits and a SpiceJet kids’ coloring kit. The little one was soon beaming from ear-to-ear and ran back towards her parents full of joy.

You must be wondering I’m telling you this story? Not just because the kid in me got excited and requested for one (see pics below), but because such instances of brand execution are an inherent part of every successful airline’s brand strategy.

Something else that happened on my SpiceJet flight was that an elderly lady who was seated in the bulkhead row was reluctant to put on the seat belt because she was hurting around the waist as the belt was too tight. Instead of shouting orders (which often happens on US-based airlines), the stewardess calmly explained to her the importance of the safety belt, got her a belt extension and helped her securely fasten it. All the time, I sensed a dash of patience and graciousness, and not outright exertion of authority.

Now, the next time parents of that young girl fly, or the elderly lady travels alone – which airline do you think they will pick? The answer is obvious – SpiceJet.


Creating emotional bonds – a hallmark of great airline brands

A crying baby. An aching grandmother. A young dad stressed out with his one year old. All these may sound like annoyances to the typical air traveler, but these are exactly the instances where airline brands that have their act together create a long lasting emotional bond with the customer. Singapore Airlines is famous for taking special care of parents with young children, even helping them carry the child and playing with the child when needed (I’ve witnessed this a number of times myself!). And it was great to see one of the most successful airlines in India deliver service that matches the best.

Matters of the heart go a long way in building brand loyalty

When I spoke with SpiceJet’s CEO Sanjay Aggarwal last year, he emphasized that India is becoming an environment where it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate the brand. And emotional connectivity can go a long way in driving loyalty. For example, the fare on a Bangalore to Mumbai domestic flight in India differs by less than $5 for most of the carriers. In that case, if I have a special memory of being treated well by SpiceJet, or even watching someone else being attended to, I will choose them.

Customer mindsets are actually quite simple to understand. You offer + deliver great value, and the customer will happily become loyal, and recommend the brand to his friends too. In the LCC world, JetBlue, Southwest and now SpiceJet and Indigo are doing it. Among full service carriers, people happily pay a premium to fly Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. It’s not what expectations the brand sets, but more importantly whether the brand execution exceeds the expectations – which makes a successful airline brand.

What do you think? Is it worth for airline brands to put in the extra effort to create emotional bonds? Do you have stories to share where an airline made you happy? Share it in the comments or on Twitter (@simpliflying).

Special thanks to Deepa Dey, Bijender Singh and the Mumbai Duty Manager of SpiceJet for making my flight from Mumbai-Jaipur extra Spicy!

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Showing 13 comments
  • AirlineIndustryReviw
    Reply

    I recommended a similar strategy to a certain LCC sometime ago, haven't seen them deploying it yet though.

  • btrx1
    Reply

    Such a great post but with the simplest of lessons; you don't have to spend a ton of money marketing if you simply teach your employees kindness. People are just looking for that great experience and a memorable experience is the best marketing you just cannot buy.

  • oussama
    Reply

    Air travel is a stressful experience to most people. Between going through check in, security and the thought of flying so high and so fast in a metal tube, nerves are so tense by the time most passengers get to the aircraft. The only way to defuse this tension is emotional bonding. In my previous job cabin crew were required to smile, we even ran a one day course called SMILE. They were also told not to look down on passengers while they are talking to them especially those seated at the aisle, they were required to lower themselves down to an eye to eye level with the passenger to instill a calming and caring effect.

    Emotional bonding is what people will remember even as onlookers. They will talk about it to their family and friends and it is the best advertisement an airline can get. A cabin crew or a ground agent can be firm and still be courteous and friendly.

    • simpliflying
      Reply

      Oussama, wow! You tell a great story, which makes perfect sense. I'm
      curious, does this airline still adhere closely to the “SMILE”
      standards? Especially, “not looking down on passengers”. I wonder if
      they're able to scale as operations grow.

  • markalanfinch
    Reply

    Great anecdote Shashank, and again another example of how simple service delivery can have such a profound 'affect'!

    I can echo your encounter with countless experiences of my own, which always leaves me astonished at how easy it is to make a difference! My background is within the LCC sector and previously (while studying for my B.Sc Consumer Psychology) lead a customer experience project studying the customer and employee perceptions during the merger of two major EU LCC's. We covered the corridors at HQ, check-in, the gate, cabin and facilitated employee and customer focus groups in our 8 weeks research. In sum the findings established that the most significant “bang for the buck” for the consumer came from what should be the most natural and simplist of attributes a service should posses, service!

    “Service” can of course mean different things and have different priorities for individual consumers, (e.g. OTP vs attentiveness), and cost to the consumer is not always financial (lower fare vs more convenient airport/schedule etc)however the perception of competent, professional and friendly encounters are definte differentiators when competing products/services become commodotized.

    Call it classical conditioning if you like, a peripheral route to persuasion for some. To engage and appeal to a wider market you need to employ different approaches to tap into the “Hearts” of the many different consumers and what their self intrinsic value is with the product or service – and when the service delivers the functional in the same way that others can (e.g. OTP etc) then the consumer is only left to evaluate the Customer Experience between services.

    Organisations need to ensure they have the right people in the right positions, first and foremost. I was on a flight a couple of months ago with my partner from CPT/LHR where we encountered a what I can only describe as disgusting behaviour by the gate staff who were clearly not competent at managing a boarding process and subsequently caused choas and panic amongst customers on a full 747 flight. Now I know from being in the industry that the gate staff were a GHA and not the airline company, (I have managed GHA's in ground ops) however in my mind it still reflected severely poorly on the airline and left me fuming. However once onboard and settled, the situation seemed to have been defused by the cabin staff, who, in complete contrast were trained and had emotional intelligence! Therefore personable people are the key, the brand ambassadors, it's personality. Not only for the initial delivery, the right people are the ones who claw back service recovery when things do go wrong! It's that simple, and we all know it! So, my advice to any company involved in service delivery, is invest in your people, take the time and spare the expense in ensuring you have the right PE fit etc, and don't pay lip Service to your customers.

    Lets not forget, as humans we are not as rational as we like to think, but we never forget how something makes us feel!

  • Mark Finch
    Reply

    Great anecdote Shashank, and again another example of how simple service delivery can have such a profound 'affect'!

    I can echo your encounter with countless experiences of my own, which always leaves me astonished at how easy it is to make a difference! My background is within the LCC sector and previously (while studying for my B.Sc Consumer Psychology) lead a customer experience project studying the customer and employee perceptions during the merger of two major EU LCC's. We covered the corridors at HQ, check-in, the gate, cabin and facilitated employee and customer focus groups in our 8 weeks research. In sum the findings established that the most significant “bang for the buck” for the consumer came from what should be the most natural and simplist of attributes a service should posses, service!

    “Service” can of course mean different things and have different priorities for individual consumers, (e.g. OTP vs attentiveness), and cost to the consumer is not always financial (lower fare vs more convenient airport/schedule etc)however the perception of competent, professional and friendly encounters are definte differentiators when competing products/services become commodotized.

    Call it classical conditioning if you like, a peripheral route to persuasion for some. To engage and appeal to a wider market you need to employ different approaches to tap into the “Hearts” of the many different consumers and what their self intrinsic value is with the product or service – and when the service delivers the functional in the same way that others can (e.g. OTP etc) then the consumer is only left to evaluate the Customer Experience between services.

    Organisations need to ensure they have the right people in the right positions, first and foremost. I was on a flight a couple of months ago with my partner from CPT/LHR where we encountered a what I can only describe as disgusting behaviour by the gate staff who were clearly not competent at managing a boarding process and subsequently caused choas and panic amongst customers on a full 747 flight. Now I know from being in the industry that the gate staff were a GHA and not the airline company, (I have managed GHA's in ground ops) however in my mind it still reflected severely poorly on the airline and left me fuming. However once onboard and settled, the situation seemed to have been defused by the cabin staff, who, in complete contrast were trained and had emotional intelligence! Therefore personable people are the key, the brand ambassadors, it's personality. Not only for the initial delivery, the right people are the ones who claw back service recovery when things do go wrong! It's that simple, and we all know it! So, my advice to any company involved in service delivery, is invest in your people, take the time and spare the expense in ensuring you have the right PE fit etc, and don't pay lip Service to your customers.

    Lets not forget, as humans we are not as rational as we like to think, but we never forget how something makes us feel!

  • Walter White
    Reply

    Most US airlines only offer annual re-current safety training to their Cabin Attendants. Service training only happens once – when you are a new hire. At United, for example, they used to require International Services Training, but that has pretty much been eliminated due to Budget Cuts since 2001. Next time you fly on a US airline ask your Cabin Attendant when was the last time their company invested in Customer Service training for them? Probably 30 years ago for some of your Crew. It's amazing. Another problem is that there is no Onboard Supervision. The “Purser” is just a union position that gives one of the Attendants a little more responsibility and extra pay. However, because of the “don't turn in another union member” mentality, most infractions do not get reported to Airline Management. Usually it is the Customer who complains and that is when the Airline hears about the problem employee. Purser roles with Asian and European carriers are much more successful with Evaluations done on each flight. These Evaluations directly affect the employee's schedule. This is a huge motivator for the employee. US Airlines only have Seniority determining schedules, which combined with no supervision, creates no motivation for employees to strive for excellent Customer Service. The saddest part is that most of these unmotivated older, bitter, employees are bidding the companies highest revenue/most competitive flights (Long-Haul International).

  • Mark Finch
    Reply

    Great anecdote Shashank, and again another example of how simple service delivery can have such a profound 'affect'!

    I can echo your encounter with countless experiences of my own, which always leaves me astonished at how easy it is to make a difference! My background is within the LCC sector and previously (while studying for my B.Sc Consumer Psychology) lead a customer experience project studying the customer and employee perceptions during the merger of two major EU LCC's. We covered the corridors at HQ, check-in, the gate, cabin and facilitated employee and customer focus groups in our 8 weeks research. In sum the findings established that the most significant “bang for the buck” for the consumer came from what should be the most natural and simplist of attributes a service should posses, service!

    “Service” can of course mean different things and have different priorities for individual consumers, (e.g. OTP vs attentiveness), and cost to the consumer is not always financial (lower fare vs more convenient airport/schedule etc)however the perception of competent, professional and friendly encounters are definte differentiators when competing products/services become commodotized.

    Call it classical conditioning if you like, a peripheral route to persuasion for some. To engage and appeal to a wider market you need to employ different approaches to tap into the “Hearts” of the many different consumers and what their self intrinsic value is with the product or service – and when the service delivers the functional in the same way that others can (e.g. OTP etc) then the consumer is only left to evaluate the Customer Experience between services.

    Organisations need to ensure they have the right people in the right positions, first and foremost. I was on a flight a couple of months ago with my partner from CPT/LHR where we encountered a what I can only describe as disgusting behaviour by the gate staff who were clearly not competent at managing a boarding process and subsequently caused choas and panic amongst customers on a full 747 flight. Now I know from being in the industry that the gate staff were a GHA and not the airline company, (I have managed GHA's in ground ops) however in my mind it still reflected severely poorly on the airline and left me fuming. However once onboard and settled, the situation seemed to have been defused by the cabin staff, who, in complete contrast were trained and had emotional intelligence! Therefore personable people are the key, the brand ambassadors, it's personality. Not only for the initial delivery, the right people are the ones who claw back service recovery when things do go wrong! It's that simple, and we all know it! So, my advice to any company involved in service delivery, is invest in your people, take the time and spare the expense in ensuring you have the right PE fit etc, and don't pay lip Service to your customers.

    Lets not forget, as humans we are not as rational as we like to think, but we never forget how something makes us feel!

  • Walter White
    Reply

    Most US airlines only offer annual re-current safety training to their Cabin Attendants. Service training only happens once – when you are a new hire. At United, for example, they used to require International Services Training, but that has pretty much been eliminated due to Budget Cuts since 2001. Next time you fly on a US airline ask your Cabin Attendant when was the last time their company invested in Customer Service training for them? Probably 30 years ago for some of your Crew. It's amazing. Another problem is that there is no Onboard Supervision. The “Purser” is just a union position that gives one of the Attendants a little more responsibility and extra pay. However, because of the “don't turn in another union member” mentality, most infractions do not get reported to Airline Management. Usually it is the Customer who complains and that is when the Airline hears about the problem employee. Purser roles with Asian and European carriers are much more successful with Evaluations done on each flight. These Evaluations directly affect the employee's schedule. This is a huge motivator for the employee. US Airlines only have Seniority determining schedules, which combined with no supervision, creates no motivation for employees to strive for excellent Customer Service. The saddest part is that most of these unmotivated older, bitter, employees are bidding the companies highest revenue/most competitive flights (Long-Haul International).

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