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Why customer feedback matters for an airport. The case study of Cochin International Airport. August 16, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Aviation, India, Marketing, Travel.
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2 comments

Image credit: Shahin O.

One of the reasons I like Cochin International Airport (COK) is because of its large spaces. A lot of airports I have been to in India or in the Arabian Gulf region are bursting at the seams or are under a constant state of development.

Opened in 1999, Cochin International Airport has all the whistles and bells of a modern airport. Larger spaces. Faster check-in. A great view of the tarmac from the gates. A reasonable duty-free selection. And the airbridges, which means no bumpy rides in the bus to the plane or no getting wet in the rains. And yes, a bookshop will be open soon. I’m told that the newly opened international terminal at Trivandrum (TRV) is catching up with Cochin and I can’t wait to check it out soon.

I was recently traveling through Cochin and with a couple of hours to kill for my flight to Muscat, I chanced upon a register placed in a corner of the Departure Terminal under a board that said ‘Feedback on Airport Security’. I couldn’t help but glance through the feedback book and what I read is going to be the crux of this post.

1.    Airport security needs be more friendly.
Majority of the people complained about the cold, indifferent attitude of the airport security staff. Someone wrote: “The airport security should learn to speak proper English; English being the ‘national language’ of India.” I don’t know if the airport authorities can influence behavioral changes among the security staff. I think airport security is managed and run by CRPF, a central government agency whose functioning is outside the purview of the airport management’s control. But yes, there was almost universal criticism of their ‘customer service’ skills and their general approach to dealing with travellers. Now some of you may ask, shouldn’t their focus be on airport security than being nice to people in an age of heightened terror and security risks, but isn’t it better to have pleasant people skills no matter what your job.

2.    Please smile, Mr. Immigration Officer.
The immigration officials at the airport came under fire too. Someone had written – Can someone teach these people to smile? Or getting them to smile is like asking for the moon… something in that lines. Frequently traveling through airports in India, I know this is true. It doesn’t matter that the immigration official is probably one of the first people you come across in a new country, especially if you are a tourist. I have given up on all etiquette and polite manners when I submit my passport at Indian immigration. I give a cold stare and get a colder one back along with the stamped passport. On good days, I get the passport and boarding card flung at me. Oh why not, I’m being done a huge favor after all by this official who had to forgo his siesta at 6 in the morning to see the back of planeloads of travelers bound to the Arabian sands. This is where I admire the immigration officers at Muscat International Airport. They never forget to wish you, enquire your well-being and heartily welcome you to their country before stamping your passport.

3.    “Can Cochin Airport have a dedicated smoker’s lounge?” What really impressed me about this request was not the request itself, but the sincerity and manner in which it was expressed.
“More than 60% of travellers and tourists around the world are smokers and hence this airport should make convenient arrangements for smokers to light up in peace without going out of their minds and troubling fellow passengers.” A feedback suggestion that is always substantiated with a fact has a better chance of going through. (In this case, the ‘60%’ fact).

4.    A gentleman requested for a separate prayer room for gents as well as ladies… fair enough.

5.    A traveler to Houston made the brilliant observation regarding the absence of a single clock in the entire boarding gate area. True, there are giant screens showing flight schedules, but it would be wise to have the local time on them as well.

6.    A tech-savvy traveler requested the airport authorities to provide passengers with Worldspace Radio… a couple of them demanded a better selection of TV channels on the airport TV. I guess Asianet or Surya is not everyone’s cup of tea.

7.    One of the ultimate requests was by a couple of travellers who requested a bar in the terminal; nothing like a neat Scotch on the rocks before departure. Full marks to that. And no points for guessing that they were Malayalees.

8.    Almost everyone complained about the lack of decent dining facilities in the departure terminal and the exorbitant price of tea & coffee. A cup of coffee costs 50 rupees. (A passenger wrote that the price of coffee was more scalding than the coffee itself). And COK Airport Coffee takes the crown as one of the ultimate listless coffees I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

9.    A passenger wrote about the how the drive-in entrance at the departures & arrival terminal wasn’t covered leading to travelers and their luggage getting drenched in the rains as they entered the terminal building. A very valid point; I came under the showers too as I was leaving COK that morning. Not a good experience to take off wet.

10.    Hidesign has a swanky outlet at the airport. I hope they are making money.

11.    Thought to end the post: I find liquor at Cochin Duty Free cheaper than Muscat Duty Free. And the last time I checked, they were giving a bottle free with every 2 bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

A couple of thoughts on Feedback:

1.    Feedback is vital.
For individuals, brands and organizations, feedback tells you what’s working right and what isn’t. Feedback is critical to customer service, product improvement, cost savings, productivity and work efficiency.

2.    Feedback matters only when it is from the right person.
So I worked on this snazzy looking marketing campaign. Getting suggestions on its look and feel from my peers isn’t as good a feedback from the customers of that product or service.

3.    Use the right tools to collect Feedback.
A complaint book at Cochin International Airport seems to a simple and old-fashioned method to collect feedback. But it is any day, a more effective and practical tool than a website form. The customer should find it convenient to share feedback and feedback collection should ideally happen at touch points where customers interact most with you.

4.    Feedback should lead to action.
Feedback is of no good if you don’t act upon it. Also, it helps to acknowledge that have you received feedback.

To conclude, do enjoy this video of an Emirates B777 landing at Cochin.


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What can Steven Slater learn from a pillow fight onboard Lufthansa August 14, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Airlines, Aviation, Conversations, Marketing, Travel.
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3 comments

Flight attendants are very much in the news these days.

This year belongs to Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who after an altercation with a passenger on an aircraft that had just landed at New York’s JFK International Airport, announced via the in-flight intercom that he was quitting his job and hurled profanities at the passenger who provoked him. He then grabbed a beer, activated the aircraft’s emergency chute and bolted off the plane.

While many are hailing Mr. Slater as a ‘working-class hero’ for standing up against an unruly customer & walking away from an ‘unpleasant’ situation, his otherwise social media-open and transparent former employer is forced to remain silent as this matter is under investigation. Mr. Slater looks certain to benefit from his newfound fame as an ‘air rager’ and there are calls for JetBlue to take him back to the skies. Personally, I believe he shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

Being a flight attendant is a tough and demanding job that requires immaculate stress management and people handling skills beyond the veneer of a smiling and glamorous exterior. Needless to say, cabin crew are the human face of the airline to the flying public. How they conduct themselves plus how they treat passengers in the skies and on the ground reflects the general service attitude of the airline to the world. 20 odd years into the job, it doesn’t bode well for me to have Mr. Slater on my flight losing his top and bolting off the aircraft like a renegade general.

Cut to the story of this inspiring Lufthansa flight attendant who is now the star of an emerging YouTube viral video titled ‘LH 687 – The endless dispute between the French and the Germans’.

A hilarious pillow flight broke out recently on a Lufthansa flight bound to Frankfurt from Tel Aviv. A German cabin crew was handing out complimentary pillows to Economy Class passengers when pillows were thrown back at her. Not one to be cowed down, she joined in the fun and threw back pillows at the passengers (a group of French tourists). In the 42-second clip, the stewardess can be seen dashing for the safety of her curtain as the hail of pillows intensifies. A passenger recorded a video of this funny pillow fight that ended with rounds of applause for the flight attendant for being a sport. The video is becoming a hit and there is overall appreciation for the flight attendant and the fliers for bringing some light-heartedness into flying.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman later said that the airline is laughing along with everyone else. “It’s an example of passengers enjoying themselves in economy class. And it shows we still offer pillows to our passengers in economy class,” she said.

The lesson to be learnt from this experience is simple. Mass brands such as airlines that come in close contact with human situations that are odd, impromptu, unpredictable or challenging need to be spontaneous, creative, positive, calm and responsive in a professional manner, on the go.

In today’s age of social media, judgments and opinions are formed and shared before corporations or brands can react. Hence, forget about controlling the message. Note the positive spin Lufthansa is giving to the whole incident. Kudos to them for this smart marketing plug in and not going for the staid and natural corporate measure of punishing the flight attendant. Today’s ‘age of social’ demands that we remain constantly on our guard displaying our best social behavior, no matter what the situation. Mr. Steven Slater and his kind can certainly learn a lot from this pillow fight onboard Lufthansa 687.

Book Review: Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity May 4, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Books, Conversations, Marketing, Social Media.
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3 comments

When you hold a book titled ‘Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity’, you know you are in for something special.

And if the author happens to be Hugh MacLeod, it’s time to dive straight in.

But then there are always chances that you will ask ‘Hugh Who?’.

In that case, I recommend that you browse the Contents page and read gems like:

  1. Ignore everybody.
  2. Good ideas have lonely childhoods.
  3. You are responsible for your own experience.
  4. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.
  5. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.

And more.

And then it hits you that this is a unique book. Especially if creativity matters to you, irrespective of your profession. If making a difference is important to you. If you feel you are yet to fulfill your true potential, but want to get there. If you are waiting for that AHA moment in your life when you realize your true calling. ‘Ignore Everybody’ is for you.

This book is based on Hugh’s life experiences in his inspiring journey from a struggling copywriter at Madison Avenue to a successful entrepreneur straddling the worlds of art and new media.

Those in the creative arts will easily identify with Hugh’s thoughts and ideas; many of our pains, pangs, joys and jubilation are echoed in his words, which is why I would recommend this book to the creative tribe.

I wish colleges gifted ‘Ignore Everybody’ to students because they can learn so much from this book and be better prepared for the curve ball that is life.

I love the bit-sized chapters of the book. And most importantly, the amusing yet thought provoking biz card size cartoons that introduce and conclude each chapter of wisdom.

There are cartoons on relationships that appear in between chapters that I found a bit jarring and out of place. But then I think Hugh is trying to make an important point – As we go about the business of changing the world, it is our relationship dynamics with ourselves, our good soul, our inner demons and those who matter to us that hold the key to how we get to bring about the change.

There will be several points during the book when you will feel both Hugh and you talking in the same voice. That I think is the greatest compliment the author can get.

Dear Hugh: Thank you for sharing ‘Ignore Everybody’ with the world.

As he says:

“Work hard.

Keep at it.

Live simply and quietly.

Remain humble.

Stay positive.

Create your own luck.

Be nice.

Be polite.”


SkyBuzz: Arabian Gulf Aviation Report, Issue 1 May 1, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Marketing, Travel.
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SkyBuzz: Arabian Gulf Aviation Report
Issue 1 – May 2010

Welcome to the first edition of SkyBuzz – The Arabian Gulf Aviation Report for the month of April 2010. The purpose of this report is to provide a short monthly summary of news, events and developments concerning aviation and airlines in the Arabian Gulf Region.


The Eyjafjallajkull Effect
IATA has said that it will take the global airline industry at least 3 years to recover from the volcanic ash cloud crisis, which started on 14 April 2010 following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajkull volcano in Iceland.

The aviation trade body further estimated that the current crisis, which crippled almost the entire airline industry, cost airlines more than $1.7 billion in lost revenue through Tuesday, 20 April 2010 – six days after the initial eruption.

For a three-day period (April 17-19), when disruptions were greatest, lost revenues for airlines worldwide reached $400 million per day, according to IATA.

“Lost revenues now total more than $1.7 billion for airlines alone. At the worst, the crisis impacted 29 per cent of global aviation and affected 1.2 million passengers a day. The scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11 when US airspace was closed for three days,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director-General and CEO.

Effect on Arabian Gulf Carriers
All leading Gulf carriers were hit by the spread of the volcanic dust cloud over parts of Europe.

Emirates President Tim Clark said that the airline suffered an income depletion of about $60 million, including 2,000 tons of cargo disrupted, for the 6 days of ash clouds and an additional $5-6 million in accommodating stranded passengers so far due to volcanic ash-related grounding of planes. 270 flights were canceled, 30 Emirates aircraft were grounded, equivalent to one fifth of the fleet, and 120,000 passengers were stranded across the globe from volcanic ash-related groundings.

Meanwhile, the UAE government issued 96-hour visas to airline passengers stranded in Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports.

Etihad Airways recommenced its full scheduled operations on 22 April 2010. More than 22,000 Etihad passengers were affected by flight cancellations and delays as a result of the aircraft closures around the world. Ash groundings cost the airline $30 million. The government-owned airline put up 2,500 passengers stranded in the UAE capital in 16 hotels.

Qatar Airways canceled more than 135 flights to and from 11 destinations in Europe since 15 April 2010 for safety reasons, resulting in disruption to its network. All flights returned to normal operating schedule on 22 April 2010.

Gulf Air canceled over 32 flights from Bahrain to London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris. Besides, as a gesture of goodwill, for those passengers stranded in transit in Bahrain, Gulf Air also offered a free ticket at a credit value equal to their original full ticket for future use.


Emirates: A380 Ahoy, Amsterdam Calling, Kochi Turbulence
In April 2010, Emirates announced the launch of daily A380 flights (517 seats) to Manchester from 1 September 2010. Manchester will become the world’s first regional airport to have a regular A380 service. The airline currently operates 8 A380s to London Heathrow, Toronto, Paris, Jeddah, Bangkok, Seoul, Sydney and Auckland.

On 1 May 2010, Emirates will launch daily flights to Amsterdam, marking its 23rd route into Europe.

On 25 April 2010, Emirates flight EK530, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 350 passengers from Dubai to Kochi, encountered a weather cloud and a short period of heavy turbulence when cruising at 35,000 feet prior to its descent, injuring 20 passengers and 3 crew members. It dropped about 200 feet in altitude, but landed safely.


Oman Air – 3 new destinations in May
Following back-to-back launches of 5 destinations in 2009, Oman Air is seeking to up the ante by launching 8 new destinations in 2010.

On 1 May 2010, Oman Air will commence its weekly non-stop 4 times service to Kuala Lumpur, its second destination in the Far East after Bangkok. The service will be operated by a new Airbus A330-343 in a three-class configuration.

Oman Air will commence a daily service between Muscat and Ras Al Khaimah from 2 May 2010. Daily flights to Al Ain commence on 3 May 2010. Both routes will be operated by ATR aircraft.

This will be followed by the launch of flights to Lahore (4 times a week) on 10 May 2010 and Islamabad (3 times a week) on 16 May 2010, both destinations served by Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Dar-Es-Salaam (4 times a week) will go live on 1 June 2010 and Kathmandu (4 times a week) on 17 June 2010, and Milan will join the network in the winter schedule.

Oman Air has hiked its capital to $1.3 billion from $779.2 million. Oman Air carried 2.4 million passengers in 2009, up 19 percent from the previous year. Oman Air CEO Peter Hill told Reuters in March 2010 that Oman Air, which posted a loss of $109 million in 2008, planned to return to profit by 2014.


Etihad Airways – Flying high; takes off to Iraq
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported 25.4 per cent growth in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) in the first quarter of 2010, far out-pacing the industry average and running ahead of the airline’s available seat kilometers (ASKs) growth of 22 per cent. The improvement, against the first quarter of 2009, was matched by an increase in seat factors, from 73 per cent to 75 per cent. Passenger numbers increased by 11 per cent and premium traffic increased by 5 per cent.

Etihad commenced non-stop flights from its home base in Abu Dhabi to Baghdad, becoming the first airline in the UAE to operate to the Iraqi capital. Etihad operates 5 flights per week to Baghdad, using two-class Airbus A320 aircraft, and will expand its operation with two additional A320 return services to a second Iraq destination – Erbil – from 1 June, subject to government and regulatory approvals.


Qatar Airways – 2 new route launches
Tokyo became Qatar Airways’ 89th destination on 26 April 2010 making it the only Gulf carrier with daily flights to the Japanese capital. Qatar Airways flies an Airbus A330 in a three-class configuration to Tokyo with 12 First, 18 Business and 208 Economy Class seats.

On 5 April 2010, Qatar Airways launched a weekly 4 times service to Ankara from Doha. Qatar Airways is the only Gulf carrier flying to Ankara, operating an Airbus A320 with 12 seats in Business and 132 in Economy Class.


News from Gulf Air
Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air has rolled out a dedicated B2B (Business to Business) internet booking tool – for its corporate customers and travel agents. Gulf Air resumed its flights to Najaf following the reopening of the airport on 27 April 2010.


High 5 for flydubai
flydubai, Dubai’s low cost airline has announced 5 new routes in April 2010 taking its network to 18 destinations.
· Flights to Kabul will commence on 17 May 2010 with a frequency of 5 times per week and are priced from AED725.
· Flights to Luxor in Egypt will be 3 times per week, commence on 19 May 2010 and are priced from AED350.
· Flights to Assiut, the largest town in Upper Egypt, will be 3 times per week, commence on 24 May 2010 and are priced from AED350.
· Flights to Istanbul, European Capital of Culture 2010, will be 5 times per week, commence on 17 June 2010 and are priced from AED450.
· Flights to Latakia, flydubai’s third Syrian destination, after Damascus and Aleppo, will be 4 times per week, commence on 20 June 2010 and are priced from AED350.

All fares are for one way journeys including all taxes and charges and one piece of hand luggage.


Kuwait AirBuzz
Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways will commence its thrice-weekly service to Lahore in Pakistan from 12 May 2010. Meanwhile Kuwait-based Wataniya Airways will launch flights to Rome from 31 May 2010, 3 times weekly. Rome is Wataniya’s 11th destination and will follow the carrier’s thrice weekly Istanbul service set to launch on 5 May 2010.

False start for Iraqi Airways
On 25 April 2010, Iraqi Airways relaunched its service to London from Baghdad after 20 years. Commercial air links were cut after the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990. The maiden flight received a nightmare welcome as the chartered aircraft used for the service was impounded and the passport of national airline boss Kifah Hassan accompanying the inaugural flight was seized. As the Iraqi Airways aircraft landed at London Gatwick, lawyers acting for Kuwait Airways, which says it is owed 1.2 billion dollars, served papers.

From DXB Intl.
Dubai International Airport posted an increase of 21.8 per cent in passenger numbers during March 2010, taking the total to a record 3,968,672 in the month compared to 3,259,072 during the same period last year.

World Travel Awards 2010 on the anvil
More than a thousand of the Middle East’s greatest travel companies are battling it out to be winners of the coveted event that takes place at The Address, Dubai Marina on 3 May 2010 just before The Arabian Travel Market.

Established in 1993, The World Travel Awards is regarded as the most comprehensive and prestigious awards programme in the global travel industry, with nominees selected by thousands of professionals from travel and tourism organizations world-wide.

Hailed by the Wall Street Journal as the “travel industry’s equivalent of the Oscars”, it serves to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the world’s travel and tourism industry.This year’s Arabian Travel Market exhibition will be held in Dubai from May 4-7 2010.

Air India’s Cairo Stand Up
And in some crazy news to wind up this report, on 15 April 2010, the harried passengers of an Air India flight bound from Mumbai  to Frankfurt were literally stood up by the crew during a stopover in Cairo, for 16 hours on end – all because the crewmembers wanted to see the great pyramids of Egypt. Read more here.

About Me:
I am a creative supervisor with Wunderman in Muscat, Oman. My interests are aviation, travel and airline marketing. My professional experience includes providing marketing communications expertise for leading airline and travel brands in the region.You can reach me via email at arunjoboy at yahoo dot com. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

What can an 8-year old & social media teach Boeing about customer service? April 28, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Airlines, Branding, Conversations, Digital, Marketing, Social Media.
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4 comments

Image source: Harry Winsor’s Boeing Drawing

It never ceases to amaze me how small things lead to big actions. Especially in the world of social media.

Last evening, about 17 hours ago, I spotted this tweet by Paul McEnany. He was tweeting about Porter Airlines and then he tweeted

Speaking of airplanes – here’s a Boeing fail: http://bit.ly/aWpekl

I’m passionate about airlines and so I clicked on the URL and what I read made my jaw drop.

And then I tweeted about it. And also marked it to the attention of @simpliflying @RunwayGirl @AvWeekBenet, leading global aviation experts with an active social media presence.

Meanwhile, let me give you a quick background on this ‘Unbelievable customer service story from Boeing’. http://bit.ly/bJrABe

This story is about John Winsor’s @jtwinsor 8-year old son Harry who is a passionate aviation enthusiast. Harry sends a drawing of his airplane design to Boeing and the plane maker gets back to him with a ‘staid corporate response’. I recommend that you take a few minutes to read this blog post – Is Your Customer Service Ready for the New World of Openness? http://bit.ly/bJrABe

Here’s Boeing’s official response to Harry Winsor’s drawing.


(It seems @jtwinsor shared this experience to @edwardboches over dinner and he recommended that John blog about it).

Jon Ostrower, who is Flight International Magazine’s Aerospace Blogger @flightblogger was quick to take this up with Boeing in a tweet.

@boeingairplanes it might be time to rethink your standard form letter. http://bit.ly/aWpekl (via @arun4)

After which, I tweeted twice to @boeingairplanes

@flightblogger Absolutely. @boeingairplanes You are writing to a kid with passion. Where is your YOURS? You can get this right, still!

Dear @boeingairplanes If I were you, I’d fly this kid to your Museum of Flight. @flightblogger @simpliflying @jtwinsor http://bit.ly/bJrABe

@flightblogger ‘s tweet was then RTed a couple of times.

Couple of hours later, Boeing @Boeingairplanes responded directly to John Winsor’s blog post. Todd Blecher, who is Director of Communications at Boeing said in a comment:

Mr. Winsor,
I’m a Boeing communications director. I think I can address your comments. As you state, we have to respond to the thousands of unsolicited ideas we receive in a way that protects us against possible infringement claims. Having said that, we can do better when the idea clearly comes from a child as enthusiastic as your son. We will work on this. I hope Harry remains fascinated by airplanes and grows up to be an airplane designer. To help him and others like him we maintain the following website. http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/aboutus/wond…
I hope he enjoys it.

@BoeingCorporate also responded with a tweet on their Twitter account that said:

“The letter Mr. Winsor posted is, as he said, a required response. For kids, we can do better. We’ll work on it.”

It was a very smart move by Boeing to respond immediately and address the issue with a human touch. Boeing is now making very planned and prudent moves into the social media space. In this post, Ludo Van Vooren explores Boeing’s new communication strategy for new media engagement. (Very topical as it was published just last week!) And it seems that Todd Blecher is at the center of these efforts. Certainly Boeing is walking the talk.

The story doesn’t end there:

Alaska Airlines, whose drawing Harry Winsor created and sent to Boeing, wants to send him a special reward. @AirlineReporter had marked a copy of his tweet to @AlaskaAir asking them to have a look at Harry’s drawing. And they responded back via Twitter.

Sandy Ward at the Future of Flight Museum, Seattle @futureofflight wants to showcase Harry’s airplane drawing at a spot in their museum where they showcase innovative ideas and designs.

The story has been featured on Seattlepi, @piboeing a leading aerospace industry blog. And I’m sure it will be picked by others in the days to come.

And TV stations in Denver and Seattle would like to interview Harry Winsor on this story.

The big picture:

I believe that social media is more about being social, responsive and showing that you care, whatever the size or nature of your business. This goes beyond mere presence on social networks.

Ultimately, this should be the goal of all marketing communications – reaching out to the right target audience, listening to them and telling them what they would like to hear.

Kudos to Boeing for coming out in flying colors in their first test with social media. And kudos to Harry Winsor who will grow up knowing that he made a difference with his passion for airplanes.

Tom Peters has a message for Oman April 19, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Marketing, Oman.
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2 comments

World-renowned Management Guru Tom Peters will be in Muscat on 4 May 2010 for a one day seminar on ‘Excellence – Continuing The Search’. The seminar is organized by Khimji Training Institute LLC and presented by Nawras Business Solutions.

Tom describes himself as a “gadfly, curmudgeon, champion of bold failures, prince of disorder, maestro of zest, professional loudmouth, corporate cheerleader, lover of markets, capitalist pig.” (An impressive bio by all means).

When he wrote his best-selling book ‘In Search of Excellence’ with Bob Waterman over 25 years ago, Tom was the first to introduce the corporate world to the concept of Excellence which is today a universal idea-ideal that translates and transports across all borders.

In 1999, ‘In Search of Excellence’ was honored by NPR as one of the “Top Three Business Books of the Century”—and ranked as the “greatest business book of all time” in a poll by Britain’s Bloomsbury Publishing.

This morning, I asked him on Twitter about what his 140-character motivational message on the theme of Excellence for Oman was. He was very kind enough to reply and said:


Don’t think of Excellence as a “lifelong aspiration.” Forget that! Instead: HOW CAN I EXPRESS EXCELLENCE IN THE NEXT HOUR??

Reflecting on that, I think we focus so much on the future that we lose sight of the present picture. We think we will strive for excellence in some big action in the future while we can do better by applying excellence to an action right away. Yes, so it’s better to focus on excellence with a sense of immediacy in everything we do, however minute or mundane the task may be.

This is Tom’s second visit to Oman and I wish him & the attendees of his seminar an excellent and productive session. I also hope that the ash cloud over Europe dissipates in time so that he doesn’t have to circumvent the globe to get to Muscat.

More on Tom Peters:
Tom is widely credited with almost single-handedly “inventing” the “management guru industry,” now billions of dollars in size. Since 1978, he’s given well over 2,500 speeches, flown 5,000,000+ miles, spoken before 2-3 million people and presented in 48 states and 63 countries.

Tom was the first guru to stress on the importance of design as an extraordinary competitive advantage. He was also the first to voice the need for employees to re-shape their careers around the idea of “brand you” (every person a “businessperson”) if they were to add useful value to their firms and survive the perils of cutthroat global competition.

You can read more about Tom Peters by clicking here.

Dubai: The Identity Crisis Next Door March 15, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Branding, Marketing.
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2 comments

Burj Dubai (now Burj Khalifa), originally uploaded by mikecruz216.

I have been thinking more about Identity Crisis since reading Alexander McNabb’s interesting blog post ‘Couples Kiss. Naturally.’ While his post is about the latest Western Expat PDA-scandal to come out of Dubai, it’s also a brilliant account of how life in Dubai is changing with the times. And certainly not for the best.

Identity Crisis
A term coined by 20th century developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, an identity crisis occurs when an individual loses a sense of personal sameness and historical continuity. While Erikson used it mostly to apply to the period of transition from teenage to adulthood, it is now thought that an identity crisis may occur at any time of life, especially in periods of great transition.

Today, Dubai seems to be at the crossroads of an identity crisis.

Dubai was envisioned to be the El Dorado where the best of East and West met. A dream destination where the world came to have a good life and a great time. At least that is how it is still marketed as. After enjoying years of supersonic growth as the land of superlatives, a recession almost brought the wheels of progress to a grinding halt. Dubai suddenly became a hotbed of negative PR. When not covering the debt crisis, global media is gleeful than ever to toast scandals such as ‘sex on the beach’ and ‘kiss-gate’. The way Dubai responds to these issues is certainly not helping.

Dubai is changing and is not what it used to be or is meant to be. The universal values of tolerance, openness and multiculturalism are what made Dubai dazzle. They fitted well with Dubai’s vision to be the world’s city. Unfortunately, these are the very values Dubai is trying to control unsuccessfully in an attempt ‘shape’ or ‘preserve’ national identity.

Brands, companies and even individuals can fall prey to the identity crisis that’s hit Dubai. We may be on a journey of meteoric growth. Or we may have just hit a bedrock of stagnation. Somewhere along the line we give up on the compass that’s meant to guide us and lose control of the rudder that’s meant to steer us in the desired direction.

A mismatch between perception and reality is a sure-shot symptom of an identity crisis at work. The one affected will be the last person to see it though.

Going two steps forward and then three steps backward never gets one anywhere. Few questions to reflect on during an identity crisis.

  • In our personal and professional avatars, are we saying one thing and doing another?
  • Are we really who we think we are and who we want to be?
  • Where are we going and how are we getting there?
  • Do our actions lead to the result we want to achieve?
  • What about our values?
  • Are they the same as when we started off on our journey? Are we compromising them somewhere?

These questions make for interesting soul searching during an identity crisis. After all, the bigger we are, the more we risk to lose.

Brand Leadership Lessons from Air New Zealand January 26, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Branding, Conversations, Marketing, Travel.
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At the edge of the world, a small airline is pushing the envelope when it comes to doing the right things. This is a hallmark of a brand that is going places, even in times of adversity. For example: Air New Zealand.

And here’s how they are getting there.

Pic credit: Flickr – source

1. Be bold in your marketing
Air New Zealand is not shy of stirring a little turbulence in your teacup. Bold, edgy and provocative – that’s how I would describe their recent marketing.

Their ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign was an excellent take on low cost airlines adding hidden fares. Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe even made a cameo appearance in full body-paint as a baggage handler in this campaign. It was extended to airline safety where crewmembers went bare naked in in-flight safety videos.

However, Air New Zealand recently flew into a bit bad weather with their controversial ‘Cougar’ campaign. But there’s really no thing such as bad PR.

In October 2009, Air New Zealand flew probably the first matchmaking flight in the world from Auckland to Los Angeles, complete with its own social media networking site, pre-flight airport party, loads of in-flight merrymaking and a ticket to a gala post-flight mixer attended by 150 single Kiwis.

All these activities fit Air New Zealand’s vision of “putting the fun back in flying”.

Lesson: Let your marketing be bold, unconventional and spoken about.

2. Your product matters

No marketing or promotion can save you if you don’t have a good product or improve your existing product offering.

Today, Air New Zealand is in the news for their newly launched ‘SkyCouch’ flatbed seat in Economy Class.

While it’s too early to predict its success, Air New Zealand can be hailed for bringing innovation to the back of the cabin.

Like an enthusiast commented: “The SkyCouch is up there with EK’s A380 showers and SIA’s double beds. Gotta love the Kiwis!”

Lesson: Never stop working on improving your product/service.

3. Be different to be better

If you are doing something different from the pack, recognition follows you.

The airline industry usually witnesses a “McDonald’s” approach of doing things. If someone is launching a Low-Cost Carrier (LCC), everyone else does the same thing. If you start charging for check-in baggage, everyone else follows suit.

Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch is a daring innovation in terms of product, price and positioning. But this is just one of the many innovations they have been up to in the recent times.

No wonder, the Air Transport World magazine  recently named Air New Zealand Airline of the Year.

Lesson: What are you doing differently to be better?

4. Leadership begins from the top

Positive change begins from the top and flows down the ladder. Under the leadership of Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand seems to have galvanized itself and embraced ‘an authentic Kiwi can-do style’ of getting things done.

“We operate this airline in a New Zealand way – we’re not trying to emulate a Singapore Airlines or emulate a McDonald’s. We’re trying to go out there day in and day out and trying to be authentic Kiwis and give people a real genuine New Zealand experience,” says Fyfe.

Lesson: Are you the Fyfe of your organization?

5. Innovation Quotient

Air New Zealand recently made the world’s first flight using a sustainable biofuel. It also attempted sending a rocket into space. These are innovations at work.

One of the greatest assets in any organization is its people, their knowledge and attitudes. Harness them well and you have a strong culture of innovation.

Air New Zealand has an interesting programme called Test Flight where employees pitch ideas to the executive team. If the idea is chosen, the person suggesting the idea can get to work on the project itself and get a share of the profits.

Air New Zealand also looks outside its own industry for ideas. “We don’t just look at other airlines, at airports. We look at shopping centres, we look at universities, we look pretty much anywhere to get ideas that we could potentially use at Air New Zealand,” says Julia Raue, Chief Information Officer at Air New Zealand.

Lesson: What’s your organization’s innovation quotient?

6. People make the difference

As a company, Air New Zealand is known to create a work environment that values and recognizes people for their enthusiasm and ingenuity.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the airline gave its 11,000 staff an extra day off to celebrate their part in winning the Airline of the Year award.

Lesson: How well are your people contributing to your growth? Are there ways to energize them better?

What else can you learn from Air New Zealand? Feel free to add your views and comments.

The Secret Of Making It Work November 3, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Healthy Living, India, Marketing.
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I recently got an interesting e-mail attachment. Without much ado, I’m sharing it with you:

Suvendu Roy, of Titan Industries shares his inspirational encounter with a rickshaw driver in Mumbai:

Rickshaw Mumbai 1 Last Sunday, my wife, kid, and I had to travel to Andheri from Bandra. When I waved at a passing auto rickshaw, little did I expect that this ride would be any different.

As we set off, my eyes fell on a few magazines (kept in an aircraft style pouch) behind the driver’s backrest. I looked in front and there was a small TV. The driver had put on the Doordarshan channel. My wife and I looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of me was a small first-aid box with cotton, Dettol and some medicines. This was enough for me to realize that I was in a special vehicle.

Rickshaw Mumbai 2
Then I looked round again, and discovered more – there was a radio, fire extinguisher, wall clock, calendar, and pictures and symbols of all faiths – from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11- Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan. I realized that not only my vehicle, but also my driver was special.

I started chatting with him and the initial sense of ridicule and disbelief gradually diminished. I gathered that he had been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 8-9 years; he had lost his job when his employer’s plastic company was shut down.

Rickshaw Mumbai 3
He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. No break unless he was unwell.  “Sahab, ghar mein baith ke T.V dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega.” (“What’s the benefit from sitting at home and watching TV? If I work now and earn some money, it will be of use in the future.”)

We realized that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai – the spirit of work, the spirit of travel and the spirit of excelling in life.

I asked him whether he did anything else as I figured that he did not have too much spare time.

He said that he goes to an old age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, hair oil, and other items of daily use. He pointed out to a painted message below the meter that read: “25 per cent discount on metered fare for the handicapped. Free rides for blind passengers up to Rupees 50.”

My wife and I were struck with awe. The man was a HERO! A hero who deserves all our respect!!!

Our journey came to an end; 45 minutes of a lesson in humility, selflessness, and of a hero worshipping Mumbai, my temporary home. We disembarked, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride for a blind man.

I hope, one day, you too have a chance to meet Mr. Sandeep Bachhe in his auto rickshaw: MH-02-Z-8508.

What this experience tells me is that: even the most mundane, uninspiring jobs on Earth can be made a fulfilling experience with one ingredient. PASSION. Passion brings with it the unique ability to make a difference in your own little ways. Ultimately, the secret is not to believe that you are driving a simple, humble rickshaw, but to believe that you are driving the world ahead in your own special way.