Air Costa, Where is your Customer Centricity?


Air Costa is a small, Vijaywada (India) headquartered airlines that seemed to have specialised on some routines (like Chennai-Jaipur, Chennai-Ahmedabad) connecting South India with some key towns in the North and West India. The airlines seemed to create a niche for itself by connecting towns that had no direct flight by other major airlines.

Take the example of the Chennai-Jaipur sector. With no other airlines connecting the two cities with direct flights, Air Costa launched one and became a preferred choice for me over the last two years. The airlines clocked the sector in two hours and twenty minutes flat while the other airlines took four and a half hours with their hopping flights.

Therefore, despite being a Jet Privilege member, I preferred Air Costa whenever I travelled on the Chennai-Jaipur or Chennai-Ahmedabad sectors.


However, the way Air Costa treated passengers like me recently on the Chennai-Jaipur sector during the peak 2015 Christmas-New Year season has left a bad taste and has forced me to take a pledge – never again travel by Air Costa. It is better to rely on the likes of Jet Airways as they are not only more reliable but also highly customer friendly.

I had my Silver Jubilee school reunion planned in Rajasthan during Christmas of 2015. I therefore booked to-and-fro tickets for the entire family with Air Costa in September 2015 itself. On December 21st, 2015, I got a shocker of a call from Air Costa that all flights on the Chennai-Jaipur sector between 26th December 2015 and 4th January 2016 had been cancelled.


Since I was leaving for Jaipur on 23rd December 2015 itself, that flight was confirmed but the return flight on 2nd January 2016 for all family members was summarily cancelled. The terse communication from Ait Costa was that the flights were being cancelled due to ‘operational reasons’ and that the booking amount was being refunded.

I had the following objections to what Air Costa had done.

  • The cancellation was last minute. With fares sky rocketing by December 21st 2015, any alternative bookings would cause immense financial loss to customers like me, who had bookings done for the entire family.
  • Air Costa, despite repeated requests, didn’t divulge the ‘operational reasons’ that resulted in cancellation of flights. Why? Clearly, the cancellation had something to do with gross negligence and dereliction of duty somewhere within their system – reasons behind which they knew they would not be able to hide. I will speculate on the reasons a bit later.
  • Air Costa decided that it would neither book the passengers in alternative flights with other airlines nor re-imburse the excess ticket cost incurred by me in alternative bookings owing to the last minute cancellation.

When Air Costa didn’t respond favourably to my request for booking us in alternative flights of other airlines, I had to book our return flight with Indigo, incurring more than double the original cost of tickets. Not only that, I lost two days of the family vacation as I had to pre-pone my return journey to keep the financial impact of the rebooking within reasonable limits (else, the cost to me would have been 3x the original cost).


Air Costa turned down my request for reimbursing the excess fare incurred, citing some rules. This was grossly unfair which has forced me to do three things :-

  • Write this blog post, so that the readers are aware of the pitfalls of flying with Air Costa.
  • Put up a formal complaint with the DGCA and request for justice from an erring airline.
  • Take a pledge to never ever fly with Air Costa in future.

On the probable reasons on why Air Costa summarily cancelled the peak season flights at the last minute, there are two theories doing the rounds.

  • The aircraft flying the Chennai-Jaipur sector had to undergo a repair by 31st December 2015; mandated by some guidelines, something which the Air Costa management knew well in advance yet didn’t plan the repair. I think the airlines realised only as late as December that the repairs were mandated by guidelines and couldn’t be avoided, resulting in the last minute cancellation. If this theory is true, it’s a clear case of gross negligence and poor management by Air Costa. Air Costa not only didn’t arrange for an alternative aircraft but also continued to accept flight bookings.
  • The aircraft flying the Jaipur-Chennai sector was put on duty on some other, more lucrative sectors during the peak season. If this theory is true, nothing could be more unfair to the customers.

Please note that I am forced to speculate on the reasons of cancellation as Air Costa refuses to divulge the actual reason till date. My assessment is based on my informal chats with the Air Costa ground staff and some fellow passengers.

I shall be forwarding this blog post to DGCA as well and request that

  • My blog post be treated as a formal complaint against Air Costa.
  • The DGCA should investigate the real reasons behind the en-masse cancellation of Air Costa flights from 26th December 2015 to 4th January 2016 which put the customers at extreme inconvenience and financial distress during peak season.
  • If the DGCA finds that it was gross negligence and dereliction of duty within the Air Costa system that was behind the cancellations, the airlines must be appropriately penalised.
  • I request the DGCA  to direct Air Costa to reimburse my return fare on actuals. Mere refund of my September 2015 booking amount would be grossly unfair, considering the circumstances.


I have learnt my lesson from the episode. Always trust the airlines which have painstakingly built their reputation over the years instead of betting on some rooky novices like Air Costa which can ditch the customers at any point of time.

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Surviving In A Crisis

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Curtesy saharasamay.com

What’s it like to be a household in crisis during a natural disaster? Well, we had a close shave during the ongoing Chennai rains.

Chennai rains this time broke a 100 year old record and have, in the process, brought immense discomfort to the residents, to put it mildly. They also gave a glimpse of what all can go wrong during a crisis of this nature.

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Curtesy The Hindu

It all starts with the event (heavy rains in this case) followed by an electricity outage. This outage is due to both – faults in the distribution lines as well as precautionary, lest it should electrocute someone accidentally if not shut down.

This starts the downward spiral. Loss of electricity results in outages at the mobile towers and internet service providers. The household gets totally cut off from the outside world. Landlines too, especially if they are from BSNL, become inactive in no time.

At home, inverters provide backup for a few hours. However, since the electricity outage is for days together, they offer succour for a limited period.

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When the clouds come again and again and…!

The next hit are the essential supplies. Panic buying ensures that milk and bread disappear from shelves of the neighbourhood shops in no time. Fresh vegetable cannot be stored as refrigerator at home won’t work. Hence, limited quantities of whatever is available is bought at exorbitant prices. With fresh supplies uncertain owing to blocked roads and closed shops, vegetable that can last longer (like potatoes) are bought in larger quantities. The household shifts to pulses and dishes made of flour.

Bank ATMs do not function due to electricity outages and inability of banks to load cash in time. Card is not accepted if there is no electricity at the stores. A family not having enough cash runs into trouble.

Candles too vanish from shop shelves quickly. If available, shopkeepers quadruple the prices. Take it or leave it! Petrol pumps run out of fuel but that’s not much of a worry as one cannot anyway take one’s vehicle out.

At home, drinking water becomes an issue as water purifiers won’t work! One has to boil tank water and drink; that too if the tank has any water left! If the household depends on a pump to push water to the rooftop tank, it is stuck till the electricity is restored!

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Curtesy Mansoor Alikhan K/Twitter

Simultaneously, clothes pile up for washing and drying and in a few days, one runs out of clean clothing!

In this scenario, for how many days would a household last? And Yes, if one wishes to escape the mayhem, one cannot; as air, train and road traffic is shut down too!

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Curtesy financialexpress.com

The above description is of a household that hasn’t needed to be evacuated to safer destinations, doesn’t have aged members, patients or pregnant women. Imagine the scenario when these variables are brought into the picture!

One comes across three broad sets of people during such crises. One, that starts looking for needy people in the immediate neighbourhood and offers help. Two, that doesn’t actively seek out people needing help but offers help, both monetary and otherwise, when requested. Three, that makes such crises an opportunity to make a fast buck. Yes, the third category exists.

Having gone through a crisis recently (actually one that’s not fully over yet as I write this), I realise we are so dependent on public utilities that there is no one way to be best prepared for a crisis. However, we would do well to be part of neighbourhood communities to be able to pool resources to survive, if the need arises. How important, therefore, is to know and engage with one’s neighbourhood, is worth a thought!

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Isha Insight : A Leadership Development Program With A Difference

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Narayana Murthy with Sadhguru at Isha Insight 2015

I am a management professional who believes that learning is a continuous process; and to that end, it is important to keep oneself up-to-date with the latest and the best programs in the country.

Those connected with me on social media and regular readers of this blog would recall my posts like My Yoga Experiences, Corporate Life And Spiritualism, When I Walked On Fire (Literally), Human Process Lab : Unmasking behaviours, Having A Personal Vision, Spiritual Quotient And Leadership etc..

I have tried to share details of some of these novel programs; should it interest anyone looking for such programs for one’s own development.

I recently attended a leadership development program with a difference – one that not only allows entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs to network with the creme de la creme of the corporate sector but also blends business leadership with spirituality and yoga.

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The program was Isha Insight : The DNA Of Success. This 4-days program is an annual feature and is organised by the Isha Foundation. Isha Foundation is a non-religious, non-profit, public service organisation which addresses all aspects of human wellbeing through Yoga and Outreach programs.

The structure of the program, which is still evolving, involves 200+ participants seated on 20 odd round tables and watching panel discussions, lectures and debates on stage, relating the learning with their business realities, asking questions and discussing among themselves.

 

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One of the team tables at the program

Each table of participants has a resource leader who is a big name from the corporate sector. These resource leaders guide participants through discussions within the table and are a privilege to listen to and interact with.

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Resource Leader of my team table, Mr MS Unnikrishnan, MD & CEO, Thermax Group

There are some keynote speakers, like Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy, KV Kamath etc. who share their life experiences to take learning from. Other keynote speakers involved are entrepreneurs who started small and made it big, or faced big hurdles but never gave up and ultimately built world class organisations. These stories are inspiring, deeply moving and it is a treat to listen to them from the horse’s mouth.

Sadguru, a mystic and a realised being as well as the founder of the Isha Foundation, is present through all these sessions and enthrals the audience with his wit and wisdom. Sadhguru also conducts 1.5 hour yoga sessions every morning for the participants which is a big attraction.

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Preparing for the morning yoga session conducted by Sadhguru

Then, there are huddles with resource leaders of one’s choice where one can discuss and seek advice for problems one faces in business.

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My huddle with Mr Deepak Satwalekar, Retd MD & CEO, HDFC Standard Life Insurance and Ex MD, HDFC Ltd. My question to him was – Can we predict business cycles?

For example, I noticed some entrepreneurs discussing their need to raise capital with some resource leaders associated with Banking industry. Some others discussed how they could professionalise their family run businesses.

There are also workshops conducted by these resource leaders on specific topics. Participants can choose the workshop of their need and learn.

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With Mr Luis Miranda, Chairman of CORO & Centre for Civil Society, Mr Deepak Satwalekar, Retd MD & CEO, HDFC Standard Life Insurance and Mr Pramod Chaudhari, Executive Chairman of Praj Industries, after a workshop conducted by them on Organisational Transformation

This is an excellent opportunity to have an outsider view from a top business leader of one’s organisation and the challenges one faces at work.

The program brings down barriers between big guns of the corporate sector and the rest. One interacts with and sees managing directors and CEOs of top organisations from such close quarters that the program seems a dream-come-true. It was amazing to find them humble, accessible and forthcoming. It was, therefore, not a surprise when I saw LinkedIn buzzing with MDs and CEOs connecting with many participants they met at the program.

Moreover, Isha Foundation has built a web based platform of its own to help the participants and business leaders stay connected. The participants’ network just grew qualitatively that much richer!

On the last day, a trek is organised to the nearby jungle at the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains (which are considered the Kailash of South India) where, near a small river stream, there is an opportunity to interact with Sadhguru through a Q&A session.

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Sadhguru at the Q&A session in the jungle at the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains

Q&A is followed by lunch in the jungle itself. (Utmost care is taken not to spread any filth in the jungle). This is as close to Mother Nature as one can get, given the concrete jungles that we have got accustomed to.

During the program, one finds time to take a dip in the Suryakund (for gents) and Chandrakund (for ladies) as well as visit the Dhyanalinga temple.

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Suryakund

Dhyanalinga

Dhyanalinga

This, coupled with morning yoga with Sadhguru and simple, satvik food rejuvenate one in ways one can’t imagine!

Not to mention the commitment levels of the volunteers – most of whom are highly qualified, well-to-do people, out there to give something back to the society without expecting anything in return.

While we all have heard that Spiritual Quotient is important for leaders, this program is the first one I have come across that actually aims to blend the two together. A must-attend for professionals!

 

 

 

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5 Yoga Mysteries That Will Blow Your Mind

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Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Picture courtesy : Isha Blog

“It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit” – Antoine Rivarol

Many people see yoga as an exercise – a way to lose weight, be calmer, have a flexible body and feel fresh the whole day. However, being a serious yoga practitioner for about two and a half years, I realise that yoga is much deeper than that. It introduces one to a dimension not in the living experience of many.

On International Yoga Day, as we read hundreds of articles on the benefits of yoga, let us have a look at the top yoga mysteries too.

1. Kundalini Energy : Energy in the form of a serpent resides in the muladhara chakra (at the perineum of the body).

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With practise, this energy can be raised to the sahasrara chakra (seventh chakra above the head outside the body). This results in developing a perception par excellence – one sees what others cannot see. Talk about this to a yogi and a doctor/scientist and see the contrast of their reactions!

2. Pineal Gland : Scientists have for long considered this a vestigial organ. Yogis, on the other hand, consider activating the Pineal gland important.

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The gland is critical in the yogis’ endeavour of raising energies to Ajna, the 6th chakra (located on the forehead slightly above the point where the eye-brows meet). Does the Pineal gland actually play a role during birth and death? Spiritual dimension of the gland is mystery for science.

3. Mahasamadhi : We have heard of numerous yogis having simply dropped their bodies off willingly and walked out, just as we drop our clothes. That is Mahasamadhi.

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For example, disciples say Swami Vivekananda attained Mahasamadhi. Here is a screenshot from the wiki on Swami Vivekananda.

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Sadhguru explains the phenomenon and narrates an interesting anecdote here. Try discussing this with a scientist or a doctor at your own risk!

4. Other side of the wall : Practising yoga raises one’s energy. When the energy reaches a certain pitch, one gets a glimpse of ‘the other side of the wall’. This is explained here.

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It is like jumping on a trampoline. Once in a while, it takes one so high that one is able to see what there is on the other side of the wall. Once one has had the look, one tries again, and again, till one goes high again and has a second look. It is then that one wants a ‘ladder’ to go to the other side. But what is actually there on the other side of the wall?

5. Enlightenment : A yogi achieves enlightenment when he transcends the physical nature of existence. Sadhguru explains it here, with an interesting anecdote about Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

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Many enlightened yogis have walked this earth. Here is another interesting anecdote of how Ramakrishna Paramhansa got enlightened. Gautam Budha, during his lifetime, is said to have thousands of enlightened disciples; not to mention his own enlightenment, which is well documented. Sadhguru talks about his own enlightenment here. However, scientists and other rationalists have their own opinion on the subject.

On scratching the surface, one finds some explanations but these raise more questions than they answer. Reason why Gurus, even enlightened beings, do not solve the mysteries upfront is that yoga is an experiential journey for the seeker; a Guru only shows the way. Answers have to be sought by the seeker himself.

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Rationalists and spiritual seekers have been at loggerheads for long. For example, watch this excellent debate between Sadhguru and Javed Akhtar.

My suggestion? Neither believe nor disbelieve in these mysteries. Just take the plunge into yoga and explore for yourselves!

What do you think of these mysteries? Will science be able to substantiate or disprove any of these ever? Your comments are welcome!

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Spiritual Quotient and Leadership

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We have all heard about the importance of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ) in leadership. However, I recently came across the fascinating concept of Spiritual Quotient (SQ).

To begin with, it is important to understand what spirituality is. We will also look briefly at leadership and then see how the two get linked.

Spirituality

Spirituality is about finding the answer to the question – who am I? It is not about our official designations or roles. It also isn’t merely about our personal relationships. It is much deeper than that. Let us try asking this question to ourselves, and see what answers we get. Chances are, we won’t; unless we are enlightened beings.

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Spirituality therefore entails two aspects :

1. Accepting that we do not know the answer to the question – who am I?
2. Continuously seeking to find the answer.

Without the first point above, the second cannot exist. It is therefore important to approach spirituality with an open mind – neither believe nor disbelieve in the opinions we already hold, or what others say. One must understand that the spiritual journey (of finding the answer to – who am I?) is an un-chartered territory for each individual (and hence, it is important to have a Guru, who has been through it all). We do not know how long and treacherous the journey will be, and what would the answer be, if at all we get it. But a spiritual journey opens up the possibility of finding the answer.

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Starting a spiritual journey doesn’t mean we have to leave our family and go to the jungle, as is normally feared. It only means preparing our body for the larger possibilities; certain dimensions that have so far been beyond our realm. This doesn’t take more than an hour a day. If we do this with commitment, we can find the answer. Many have!

Leadership

The concept of leadership has been extensively written about. I will therefore not spend much time explaining it in detail afresh. To me, leadership is about having a vision of the future, being able to communicate the same effectively to the stakeholders and motivating and empowering the team to chase the vision with utmost focus and follow-through.

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Being able to motivate and empower the team is a wide and deep subject in itself, and involves the concept of EQ.

Spiritual Quotient

This brings us to the moot question – why is spirituality important for leadership? Read on..

Setting ourselves on a spiritual course entails the following. I have covered only three of the major aspects to keep the blog post short.

1. Responsibility : What all in this world are we responsible for? Ourselves? Family? Society? Country? Earth? Universe? Can answer to any of these questions be ‘no’?

Implication : Answer to this question helps define the vision of a leader. One difference between a mediocre and a meritorious leader is the ability to intertwine organisational vision with the larger good of humanity, thereby enhancing the support base for the organisation significantly. For more details, do read my blog Having A Personal Vision to find about some people who could do it.

2. Humility : We are just a speck in this existence. Consider this. There are over 7 billion inhabitants on earth, and I am just one of them. Earth is just one of the innumerable heavenly bodies in the universe. The universe in itself is billions of years old. The 70 odd years that I will spend on earth is minuscule in this scheme of things. So, how significant is my existence?

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Implication : We, as leaders, carry big egos, and want to feel all important. We tend to demand, and not command respect. Have we realised if we, after all, are that important? Will our arrogance or our humility make us a better leader?

3. Happiness : Human race has progressed on the back of innovation. The level of comfort enjoyed by the current generation is probably the highest ever. But can we say that we are the happiest generation that ever lived on the planet? There has been a conscious and mammoth effort to set right the outside world. But how much time have we given for our inner well being?

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Implication : A long and healthy work life is important for a leader. Ill-health can either halt a leader’s progress or, even if one succeeds, result in the ‘gifts’ of a heart disease, blood pressure or diabetes. A happy leader also builds a happy team – so critical for achievement of the vision!

Spiritual Quotient therefore is the ability of a leader to see his vision and the ensuing endeavour to achieve the same through the prism of the larger good to the society, bringing good health and happiness to himself and the stakeholders involved. So, what is your spiritual quotient?

The question that might come to mind after reading the above is – why do we need to be spiritual to realise these fairly straightforward implications for leadership? The answer is simple too – unless we set apart time in our daily (busy) schedule to make steady progress in our spiritual journey, we will not get time to even think about these issues. Spirituality brings depth to a leader’s approach and understanding.

My spiritual journey started in February 2013, after I visited the Isha Yoga Ashram. I have blogged about my experiences and progress. Read about it here and here. Significant portions of what I have written above are influenced by what I learnt at the Centre.

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Having A Personal Vision

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Human Process Lab : Unmasking Behaviours

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“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.” ― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

“She had blue skin, And so did he. He kept it hid, And so did she. They searched for blue, Their whole life through, Then passed right by – And never knew.” ― Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

The above three quotes perfectly describe how human beings mask their behaviours. Try answering the following questions.

  • How often do we tell our wives we love them? How often do we seek feedback from them about what they think about us?
  • We all feel emotions like happiness, pleasure, anger, disappointment, satisfaction, hurt etc.. Are we aware where these feelings come from? Why do we feel the way we feel?
  • In case others make us happy, do we acknowledge it upfront? If we get hurt by others, do we immediately point it out? Or do we keep quiet and sulk? In case we do point it out, how well do we do it?
  • We are often the cause of some emotions in others. Are we aware why we make others feel the way they feel? In case others point out to us how we made them feel, do we accept the feedback and modify or reinforce our behaviour? How well do we respond?
  • When did we last vent out our emotions? How many years of emotional burden are we carrying? Do we have anyone with whom we can share it all? Is there a single person who will just hear us out, instead of judging or advising us?

What is common in all the above questions? Yes, It is about unmasking the hidden feelings we carry. It is about being aware of impact of our behaviour on self and others. So how aware are we? Is there any way of knowing this? Is there any way to learn this art?

Leadership is a lot about these subtle aspects of human behaviour. It is in this backdrop that I recently attended a workshop called Human Process Lab conducted by Dr Zeb Waturuocha, founder of aui Consultants based at Mysore, India.

A Human Process Lab is conducted with 10-12 participants. It’s not a classroom-with-chairs-and-a-projector kind of setting. Instead, mattresses and pillows are laid out on the floor.

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 About this pic : Typical sitting arrangement in a process lab

Participants are seated on these mattresses as they engage with each other as well as the coach over 40 hours of the lab duration.

The first 16 hours of the lab involves free-wheeling discussion between participants on what concerns them in their professional and personal life. The discussion at times gets intense, as debates occur and participants try to push their own agenda, dominate, digress or simply avoid talking. This develops some sort of dynamics among team members. Feelings and emotions germinate among the participants towards each other. This inventory of incidents, statements, feelings, emotions, feedbacks and judgements form the data which is critical for the balance 24 hours of the workshop.

blogpic3It’s then that the coach takes complete charge and the workshop gets intense. The coach helps participants to express what they are feeling and makes them to get aware where that feeling is coming from. The coach then enables participants to give feedback to (and not pass judgement on) those who made them feel what they felt.

blogpic2By the 32nd hour, the group really opens up. Participants start sharing on their own, as they see in the group a medium to shed their masks which they had been wearing for years. Their pent up emotions, deepest prejudices, fears etc. start flowing seamlessly in the room. The coach as well as the group help the participants in the process.

As the coach digs deeper into each participant on his/her feelings and emotions, things get really interesting. Since participants have inhibitions about sharing too much information, they fortify their positions, leaving little space for the coach to explore deeper. However, pressure gradually builds up on participants.  That the group is being taken over a cliff becomes palpable. It’s at this stage that some participants even break down and emotions literally start flowing out in the form of tears. It is therefore best advised to be upfront, open and forthcoming right at the outset in the lab.

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About this pic : RULER Concept to deal with emotions. To be able to recognize our emotions and respond in a regulated manner.

Participants who see the lab as a unique opportunity to offload their years of emotional burden share openly. They feel relieved after shedding the burden and learn from the experience. The coach as well as the group help such participants to deal with the emotional catharsis. However, there are still participants who do not share openly. They miss out on not only offloading their burden of emotions for good but also valuable insight from the coach and other participants on how to deal with these emotions.

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About this pic : Stress often results in emotional outbursts. We can manage stress by focussing on what is in our control, the smallest circle.

Human Process Lab is clearly like an ocean. If one dives, one has the possibility of getting one or more pearls that can make all the difference to one’s life. If one doesn’t dive, life continues the way it was. No pearls! Mask remains.

Needless to mention, there is a clear understanding among participants not to share outside any specifics of what was discussed in the room.

Clearly, Human Process Lab is a tool to enhance one’s emotional intelligence. It offers what they don’t teach in B-Schools.

Wondering why is it called a lab? These 40 hours bring about behavioural change in a person. However, the outside world doesn’t understand what changed in the person after the lab. Hence, the participant is asked to experiment with his and others’ feelings during the workshop and learn therefrom. This experiment acts as a precursor to using the learning at home or in office. Using the learning directly in the outside world is not advised. Hence the word – lab.

I feel this program is a must for those already in leadership positions or aspiring to be there. It will also help those who wish to improve their emotional intelligence (EQ). That tools existed to help us on such subtle aspects of human behaviour was a pleasant revelation to me!

My other blog posts on leadership
 
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