Are You Setting Yourself Up For Failure

The Situation:

My job entails a lot of travel and that has resulted in me amassing a decent number of miles on an airlines frequent flier program.

A few weeks back, I got an email from the airline announcing that they will equip their aircrafts with wi-fi and if I downloaded an app, I shall be able to have access to an array of inflight entertainment options.

I love watching movies. This was exciting news for me as it gave me an opportunity to catch up on movies that I had missed watching when they originally screened.

So, excitedly, I downloaded the app and was eagerly looking forward to my next trip on the airlines, which was coming up in the next couple of days.

On the day, I board the aircraft and eagerly ask the flight attendant about the wi-fi access. I was then informed by the attendant that the aircraft that we were flying was not equipped with this feature as yet. Though I was disappointed, I was looking forward to actually having access to all the movies soon.

On my return trip, I asked the check-in clerk if the aircraft that I was about to board had the in-flight entertainment system and realized that she had no idea about what I was talking. So, I asked the flight attendant and was yet again informed that this particular aircraft was not equipped with this feature yet. It was disappointing.

On my next flight, which was a much more busier sector (Bangalore – Mumbai), I tried to find out again  and was informed by the cabin-crew in-charge (yes, I did ask her this time, not relying on anyone else) that this feature was enabled, every time an aircraft went for its scheduled maintenance. For the in-flight entertainment to be made available on all the flights would easily take more than a month.

I have flown atleast three more sectors since the announcement and I am yet to see in-flight entertainment in the airline.

What Went Wrong:

This made me think – what made the airline announce this feature so far ahead of time, when almost none of their aircraft was equipped to offer this facility to their customers?

The only effect this left with their customers is a feeling of disappointment every time they flew on an aircraft that was not equipped with this feature.

This is a classic example of setting yourself up for failure Click To Tweet

What Would I Have Done:

If I were the person responsible for this communication at the airline, I would have done two things differently:

  1. I would NOT HAVE sent out an email announcing this feature to all the passengers. I would wait for them to come on-board and once they are there, I would announce this on the in-flight announcement system and request the passengers to download the app to make use of in-flight entertainment. This would have served two purposes – it introduces an element of positive surprise, which increases the customer satisfaction levels. And these passengers would then go out and tell their family members, friends and colleagues about this app. This makes them an insider along with the airline and makes them look cool. Again, this increases customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. This also creates word-of-mouth publicity for the airline.
  2. I would wait for atleast 50% aircrafts to have the facility before announcing this either on email or in-flight.


5 Questions you could ask yourself, before sending out product announcements Click To Tweet
  1. Is there any benefit of letting our customers discover this for themselves, rather than us announcing it (if it is possible)?
  2. Can we enable our customers to spread the word about this rather than us doing this? Can we make our customers look good to their followers (on social media and social settings) when they spread the word about this?
  3. Is this the right time for me to communicate this to my customers? Is there any benefit of delaying this further?
  4. Is this the right medium for me to communicate this to my customers? Is there a better medium available?
  5. What do we want our customers to feel and do, once they become aware of this? How can we help them with this?

Answering these questions honestly will enable you to not set yourself up for failure, like the airlines did when it pre-announced the availability of its in-flight entertainment system.

So, the question that we all need to answer is the following:

Are you doing something that is setting yourself up for failure?

The Tale of 2 Hair Stylists

24b01414-af79-4811-a1c9-dae0acf37633I would like to share with you what I have seen happen with two hair stylists in my neighbourhood.

I would call the first hair stylist one as HS1. This saloon has been around in my neighbourhood for a long time, about 15 – 16 years. The stylists who work here used to know all their customers by name. They were very good at what they did.

However, over time, the owner became cynical and took his customers for granted. All the small talk vanished and instead was replaced by a cynical look and the scorn on face.

This change happened over a period of time, slowly. I have witnessed and experienced this change first hand. They continue to be very good at what they do.

About a few months earlier, there opened another saloon – HS2. I decided to give them a try as I do with most new businesses. The stylists at this saloon were just about proficient at what they did, no where as good as the stylists from HS1.  However, they were open, warm, did a lot of small talk, asked about my family, my work and listened.

Basically, they took interest in me and my life.

So, I started visiting them more frequently. This story repeated with a lot of other people in the vicinity and today, HS2 is always full, while HS1 is just about surviving.

I still visit HS1 once in a while and they still don’t get what hit them. They are still cynical, i would argue that they are more cynical now than they were before, they are more angry at what has happened to them and their business than ever before.

Now, this is a common story in almost all businesses, what is so special about this that I am writing about them you ask?

What is special is that we see this happening all around us? Sometimes this happens to us and how we respond determines our future.

There is no right or wrong time to take a re-look at some basics of doing business, irrespective of which business you are in:

A smiling face is always better than a scornful one.

It is the simple things that matter the most. No one wants to visit a business that is run by people who are scornful or cynical, unless thats what they come to you for (startup comedians who make a living being cynical and scornful and abusive).

People already have enough problems to deal with. If you can’t alleviate some of them, at least lets not add to it.

The best way to spread happiness is by being happy. The best way to get a smile is to give a smile. Click To Tweet

Besides, smiling customers are good for business.

Taking interest in your customers’s lives is a critical strategy.

This is so basic. This is business 101. Yet, so many of us lose track of this.

We get so embroiled in our own business that we stop taking interest in our customers lives. Click To Tweet

Stopping to take interest in our customers is the surest and the fastest way to lose them at the drop of a hat.

Its not always about the best quality product/service.

It is important to have a great product or a service. However, it is not the only ingredient for a successful business.

There are countless examples of superior products and services failing when competing against far inferior products. Understand & internalise this.

Almost all purchase decisions are emotional in nature. Plan accordingly. Click To Tweet

Daniel Kahneman and other researchers have proved this beyond any doubt. So, invest in getting your customers emotionally involved in your business.

Appeal to their emotions & intellect.

Expect competition to arrive sooner or later. Build relationships with your customers so they don’t leave for your competitor at the first whim.

New Competition will arrive sooner or later. Expect it. Plan for it. Click To Tweet

Discuss and have a clear plan of actions to implement when competitors knock at your customers doors.

This also means that you need to be aware of any changes in your customers purchase decisions or customer behaviour.

Make your competitors work hard to get your customers.

Don't make it easy for your competitors to steal your customers. Make them work really hard to get them to switch Click To Tweet.

However, some customers will leave for your competition. When this happens, instead of getting angry or frustrated or cynical, get back to focus on doing the right thing – start building up the relationships with the one’s that continue to do business with you and plan a way to get back the customers you lost..

These are simple yet powerful lessons that i learnt from the story of the two hair saloons.

What did you learn? Do you observe the changes that happen around you? Are you aware of what is causing this change and what is its impact?

Keep observing!

Right Data at the Right Time to the Right People

Right Data, Right time, Right People

Today I was travelling from Bangalore to Mumbai on an airline. I had a upgrade voucher that I used and got upgraded to Business Class.

As soon as the flight took off, I realized that 6 of the 16 business class seats were un-occupied.

That is such a waste of opportunity. The airline could have used this opportunity to delight at least 6 of their loyal customers.

All the airline had to do was the following:

  1. Include the Frequent flier status/miles of the passengers in their manifesto.
  2. Once the boarding is completed and if there are vacant seats in the business cabin, look at the manifesto and invite the passenger with the most miles to move to the business class seats. It is such a waste to let business class seats go un-used.

This is just one small thing that the crew could do based on the information that the passenger manifesto could have.

There is so much more that the airline could do:

  • They could have meaningful conversation with the customers on-board as they would know if the passenger is home bound or out bound.
  • They could give gifts to passengers who were flying on their birthdays or anniversaries. Maybe they could even throw an impromptu party for these passengers in the sky.

These small things can go a long way in not only delighting their customers but also making them keep coming back.

What I am driving at is that the possibilities are limitless once you are able to get the right data made available to the right people at the right time and empowering your employees to make decisions that are right in that moment.

And this is something that can be done right away, without any additional information, just by tweaking the existing information and making it available.

What this also hints at is that before organizations like this airline start looking at big data and data mining, they should start with the small data that they already have and use it well.

So, the question is what in your business is like the un-utilized business class seats? And what are you going to do about it?

What I Learnt About Engagement From My Son and His Friends


We had planned a small new year eve party at our home yesterday. We had invited a few of my 10 year old son’s friends and our neighbors to the party.

The plan was simple – Play some games, eat dinner and watch a movie to ring in the new year.

The kids came in on time and we started off by engaging them all in a few games – getting them to dance, compete against one another and in general have fun. It was all good until it was not so good.

As long as we adults were totally engaged with the kids, the kids were also totally engaged and were having fun. The moment we disengaged with the kids, to prepare and serve dinner, the engagement among the kids went down as well. It was considerably more difficult for us to get the kids to stay engaged.

We then played a movie that kids wanted to watch (it was really difficult to decide on which movie to play as each kid had his own preference and ask). Once we did decide which movie to play and started watching it, I saw that the engagement and joy of all the kids dropped even more significantly.

When I was thinking about this, I learnt the following lessons about engagement:

Engagement is like fire:

One can not demand or request for engagement. It takes a spark of engagement to ignite it among others. That spark can come from any where, not necessarily from the leaders.

Just like you need fuel to keep the fire going, you need fuel to keep engagement going.  The fuel that keeps engagement going can be one of the following:

  • Fun: There can be nothing better for engagement than a set of people having fun together. The very fact that they are having fun is the foundation of engagement.
  • Healthy Competition: Another means that works wonders to increase engagement multi-fold is when people have healthy competition. This is what explains the success of leaderboards across the spectrum to build engagement. One needs to be very careful about the design of the competition to avoid this spiralling into a highly negative environment. My personal experience has been that there should be no significant gift that winners take home. People should compete with each other for the sake of competition and enjoy the process.

Just like lack of fuel can douse any fire quickly and it takes a lot more effort and fuel to re-ignite, so it happens with engagement. It can quickly vanish and it gets more and more difficult to re-ignite engagement every time it dips.

Engagement can not be built by consensus

If you want to build engagement by consensus – good luck to you.. Each person when asked individually has a different idea about fun and what it takes to remain engaged. So, if you try to arrive at a consensus, you will end up with options that are mediocre and not the 1st choice of everyone involved, which leaves everyone except for the one who’s idea is picked not happy with that choice.

So, it is critical that as leaders, we should decide how you want to build engagement and share the same with the team. However, you need to keep in mind the following when you decide to build your model for engagement:

  • Pick something that every one could participate in.
  • Pick something that is not very easy but not very difficult either. There is nothing better than something that pushes your limits a bit to keep the motivation high.

Engagement can not be built Passively

Any idea that doesn’t involve people getting to interact with each other constantly and consistently. Without this interaction, one can’t build engagement.


Employee Engagement Vs Customer Engagement

Customer Engagement Vs Employee Engagement

Yesterday, I went for my regular, monthly haircut and this time chose a different hair dresser from my usual one. For the first few minutes the dresser was talking to me, enquiring how my day was, wanting to check what my expectations were and also about where i lived.

Couple of minutes in, one of his colleagues walked in and they both started having a conversation about something that was common between both of them, totally ignoring me. Though, I think that the result of the hair cut was better than I expected, I don’t think I will be going back to the hair dresser again as I didn’t feel that I belonged there.

It was then did i miss my regular dresser. He was always concerned about me, always talking to me, about something that he is experiencing & asking for advice, enquiring about my life, talking politics, weather or something that involved me in the conversation. I did enjoy the engaged conversations, which I did not realize until I had the experience yesterday.

Though, I believe the employee engagement is critical, my experience teaches me that when there is a customer involved, complete customer engagement, is more important that employee engagement.

So, do you know if your frontline employees are more interested in talking among themselves or do they really engage with their customers? Even a small improvement in the engagement levels can have a dramatic increase in loyalty.

Do you agree? Do you have a story about how you were engaged or ignored by an employee and how did you feel about that incident? Pls share the story with us and continue the conversation.