What makes Indigo Airlines one of the best budget carriers in India?

I flew on Indigo Airlines for the first time about three weeks ago. This was a flight from Bangalore to Jaipur, via Ahmedabad, in India. All airline staff seemed to have a spring in their step that morning, from the point of check-in, where I was greeted by a lady smiling ear-to-ear. But the best seemed to be reserved for in-flight.

When the stewardess, Neha Shenoy, came to ask me if I wanted any drinks or sandwiches, she greeted me by name. Yes, you read that right. I was asked, “Mr. Nigam, how’re you doing today? Would you like to have some sandwiches…?” I was bowled over. It was the first time I was being greeted by name, in an Economy Class on a domestic sector in India. Something that’s usually a feature of international Business Class on reputed carriers like Singapore Airlines had somehow made its way to this Indian budget airline. And very simply too. Neha was carrying a copy of the passenger list on her cart, and just read out my name from there. A simple method. But very, very effective. I got a drink from her.

But that was just the beginning of my fascination with the airline. I managed to get in touch with a senior executive at Indigo and had a candid chat with him about what makes the airline so successful that it has captured 15% of the Indian market in just a short time.

Three tenets of success for Indigo Airlines

Sanjay Kumar has been with Indigo Airlines for almost two years now, having previously made SpiceJet a runaway success upon launch in India. Sanjay is the Chief Commercial Officer at the airline and is responsible for generating revenue and building a sustainable business model for the airline.

When I asked him what makes Indigo so successful, he mentioned three key tenets for success: affordable fares, on-time performance and hassel-free travel. These may seem like big words, but I personally experienced this while flying the airline. The fare was the second-lowest on the sector I flew, and I picked the flight because of its superior on-time performance as compared to others on the same route. In fact, even in-flight, there was emphasis on these three tenets, especially on-time performance. As for hassle free travel, I found the planes to be extremely clean and soothing music was being played upon boarding and alighting from the plane.  Even the turnaround in Ahmedabad was extremely efficient, which took less than 15 mins!

Focus on excellent customer service pays off

It’s Indigo’s emphasis on ensuring a great customer experience during interactions with the airline that is doing wonders for the brand. Sanjay shares that special attention is paid to ensuring consistency in service across the A320 fleet and the experience at the airport matches that on-board the plane. In congested Indian airports, Indigo has roving “check-in counters” where passengers with only cabin baggage can check-in with an Indigo official with a handheld device, rather than lining up at the check-in counter. Another simple, yet effective measure.

Personally, I feel Indigo is on track to be one of the best airlines in India, especially with such experienced professionals like Sanjay at its helm. And I’m not alone in this thinking.

For now, I’d like to invite you to watch Sanjay’s interview and hear straight from the man himself, on how he and his team of less than 20 have created an airline in India that everyone seems to be talking about. Do turn up the volume a little.

What are your thoughts about Sanjay’s strategies? Are they easily duplicatable around the world? Why is it that some airlines like those in the US seem to have stopped caring about customer service? Let’s discuss…

Do look out for Part 2 of this interview this Friday, when Sanjay talks about Indigo’s brand strategy and the Indian aviation scene.

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 11 comments
  • Radharamanan Panicker

    i dont think so it is any problem for any carriers anywhere in the world to adopt the same strategy as Indigo. in fact INdigo may have actually copied the SouthWEst Airline strategy. The question is do airlines really want to do it.
    Most of the american carriers have become legacy carriers secured in the knowledge that they have their customer base intact. So they have stopped being innovative.
    Asian carriers on the other hand are younger and their staff are younger therefore more energetic and enthusiastic about their work than the older lots in legacy carriers. You need to look any further than the Air India and INdian airlines ( now merged) to see the difference in approach of management and people.

  • Preetam Leonard Lobo

    Well leasing their aircrafts to Etihad well ask Indigo what recession is and i think they will be numb Indigo is not an airline per me for they copied and even taken data from other airlines if the market does not know they should not hurt others.

  • Aveek Roy

    Apart from ontime performance…. the quality of service both on ground and on borad adds to ones experience… not doubt it has emerged as the best in just three years…

  • Ramachandra Rao

    I completely agree with your experience of flying ‘Indigo’. Its on time arrivals/schedules is what moved me the most on my trip BLR-AHM recently.

  • Dietmar Kirchner

    Very interesting subject.

    To my view some things can easily be duplicated:
    – Simple effecient processes (avoiding complexity)
    – Innovative small ideas focussed at the perception of the customer (not just the visible cost-cutting approach)
    – Fresh attitutude towards even large-scale innovations (or copies of successful innovations elsewhere)
    – Flat hierarchies (and open straighforward communication)
    – Passion for the industry (avoid overpaid job-hoppers)

    Certainly the service attitude in Asia cannot be copied easily. However, countries like the USA (or Switzerland) have a long service tradition. Yet, if you rely too much on frustrated, maybe underpaid, staff, you will not be able to create “good vibrations”. Southwest still shows how this can be achieved in the USA (Ryanair is less ambitious in Europe).

    Maybe also size matters. It is hard for huge companies to maintain simple processes (with many departments developping complexity day in day out), to manage the staff in a very direct way (with HR controlling access to the the employees), to constantly promote innovation (with huge committees killing most of the ideas).

    So let’s hope for companies like IndiGo to leed the way for a more successful airline industry. If the “old” companies cannot follow quickly, they will be replaced by new ones. Good for the travellers, good for the shareholders.

    Dietmar Kirchner

  • Pradeep Hegde

    Unfortunately I travelled by Indigo 2 weeks ago. I really don’t know what were the criteria for calling Indigo one of the best low cost carriers. I’m not sure if they are the most profitable and comming to service, I have an experience to share – I reached the airport and the crew was making the last call for me. I was surprised but was also feeling guilty and I ran all the way to the aerobridge. However when I boarded, I noticed there were still quite a few passengers to board. They still had a long time before starting. Then the routine inflight sales started and the airhostess greeted me by my name. I thought she remembered me as my name was being called all over the airport. Well she had a list of all passengers on her cart and the service was indeed personalized. But such personalization adds little value when there is not enough range. They couldn’t give me any thing warm. Add to that the pilot droping suddenly to make me feel that my ears will explode and I had my worst flight experience to date.

  • Nilesh Trivedi

    First of all, I don’t like this phrase “one of the best”. it means nothing and provides no valuable information about the topic at hand. There can be only one “the best”.

    Second, this is a loaded question. It is not proven that they are the best airline. it is like a lawyer asking an accused “when you murdered that guy, what were you wearing?”.

  • Pravin Parulekar

    What parameter are you using to suggest that they are the best budget carrier?
    I thought Spice jet was run much more eficiently and is expected to break even faster than any other (budget and non budget) airline.

  • Sundarraj Mahadevan

    My take:

    They don’t focus on “overt brand building”, which takes up too much time and money on press conferences, bikini-calendars, competitive advertising etc., and instead focus on the real value behind the brand- viz., the product they sell

    Outcome- Talk less, do MORE..

    • Shashank Nigam

      @Sunderaj: Exactly. As I often say, an airline brand is what it does, now what it says it does.

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