Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jet set to go?

When Jet Airways listed on the Indian stock exchanges, lot of questions were asked about its seemingly high valuation , its promoter heritage and its international strategy. One aspect which was never questioned was its customer service. Although Kingfisher made it pull up its snooty socks, Jet has set the benchmark in aerial and on ground customer service for a lot of Indian corporates. And in my opinion it continues to do so even in its international flights.
Let me compare Jet Airways and Singapore Airlines on the mostly full Mumbai-Singapore route. Jet Airways has a better flight schedule since its flight leaves at 1130 pm in Mumbai and reaches Singapore by 715 am allowing enough time to catch that morning meeting. Whereas SQ reaches at 830 am on the busier terminal leaving you slightly hassled if you have morning appointments.
Now SQ is probably regarded the best airline in terms of customer service in APAC. But in my travel with them, the style of customer service is a bit cold or seems to come from laborious practice rather than genuine warmth. The worst experience was when I asked for water after the flight took off , the hostess told me that they would be serving 'drinks' shortly. She had to be admonished that water and drinks serve completely different thirsts for her to get me water.
Now water is probably a key requirement in flights and only Jet manages to serve that before take off with a smile alongwith the freshening towel. In fact they are happy to give small water bottles sometimes as well if you ask. The Jet After mint is almost a signature item. SQ has in fact tried to imitate that but they havent been able to get the quality right. Plus Jet Airways hostesses seem to stock extra after mints and happily give that out unlike SQ.
Although Jet has a single aisle flight which can be really painful when there are tussles between the airline crew and passengers for space, it makes up for that with better customer service. But a smaller aircraft also means faster boarding and alighting time. Once Jet converts this route to a jumbo, they could make up for what they lack as compared to SQ in terms of space and entertainment. ( last time 50 heads were craning to watch phir hera pheri on 8 overhead screens on the Jet flight)
For a lot of Indian corporate travellers,flying Jet on overseas routes also adds critical miles that can provide the much needed free ticket for a must-attend wedding or holiday. Thats a reason why Jet has been able to get a good customer mix on their international flights, where you have executives rubbing shoulders parents visiting kids and of course Kesari tours and Raj Travels customers.
What surprises me is how Jet Airways has created a genuine customer oriented organization that can be really world class in the airline industry. Its air hostesses exude a certain warmth and helpfulness that I think could be a key competitive differentiator. But Jet has never got the attention as a probable case study in management literature . I would be curious to know what kind of management practices they have or how do they incentivize and train their staff, what their utilization ratios on international routes are and so on.
Till then, its a tough choice when deciding the airline to fly home from Singapore. Its literally a miles vs smiles tradeoff.


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