Oct 30, 2006

Bathroom blogfest week - Restrooms v/s toilets...not just a matter of semantics

My most memorable experiences in the loo date back to my days in college when I spent long hours outside of home or college with friends.Our rambling almost always came to an abrupt end with one of us wanting to visit the loo. At that time no matter where we were, we would head straight to the gateway of india...near which is the luxurious Taj Mahal hotel. While entering we chattered loudly about visiting their pastry shop or visiting some imaginary uncle / aunt who was their guest - out of fear - so that the durbaan (concierge) did not take note of us as just a bunch of giggly girls who ambled into the foyer for no reason.

Once inside the restroom however, the fear gave way to fantasy ...for it was difficult not to lose oneself in that brightly lit room, treating oneself to the cold fresh face towels re-stocked regularly beside elegant faucets. There were dispensers that doled out generous portions of rich creamy fragrant liquid soap. One could admire oneself in the many full length mirrors placed at angles that would allow one to make girly comparisons ranging from whose hair looked the best when tossed behind to whose backside looked the worst ! I do vaguely remember that those rooms had fresh flowers that completed the circle of luxury for me.

Honestly speaking, for those few minutes (read 20) i spent there - I felt like royalty. Luxurious bathrooms or even tastefully designed bathrooms, atleast in India, have been regarded a luxury a privileged few have access to. I don't know the reason - whether it is cultural or habitual or just the state of development in the country - but bathrooms & toilets have for long been neglected terrains. Public facilities are best left untouched (in more ways than one) here for the unsavoury memories they conjure up but even in people's homes and in some cases even rich homes, the toilets i have seen have been a let-down. It could be because of the strong notions of 'purity' that people held on to - not just in the physical sense but also in a cultural sense (cleaning of toilets were considered menial tasks confined to people from the lowest castes). It was also for this reason that historically toilets and bathrooms found their place away from the main house - in a courtyard.
Coming back to the loo at the Taj Mahal hotel, apart from the grandeur that obviously comes with 5 star standards, what was memorable for me was - that it was a place where i did not pinch my nose and rush out. It was a 'room' a place where i did not mind spending time. In fact it was a place where i felt good spending time. It's not without reason that those facilities were and still are referred to as - 'Restrooms'. More than a matter of semantics, words like restroom / powder room / ladies rooms connote an experience.

It's not always possible to rush to a Taj and let's face reality that there are only a handful 5 star facilities but it's possible to recreate the same feeling

#Strip the bathroom of that clinically clean / industrial look.
# Introduce Pretty lamp shades instead of jarring white tube lights

# Place Mirrors set in beautiful frames
# Keep Fresh flowers...and if that is an avoidable chore...potted plants are good too
# Embellish with Pot pourri / paintings / beads and baubles - anything to give it a little personal touch

What I liked about this tile border, apart from the cheery sunflower design, is the detailing at the centre of the flowers...those stand out from the rest of the border giving it a 3- D feel.

This bathroom has soft yellow lights, ornate lampshades and even a little ceiling fan - truly adding to the comfort and making it look very personal

customer experience, bathroom blogfest, ladiesrooms

Oct 22, 2006

Air carriers, Down-grade benefits, & customer delight…

Last week Jet Airways downgraded my frequent flier membership tier from Platinum to Gold. The large pack that was handed over to me by the courier delivery boy (containing my Frequent Flier Goodies) took me back reminiscing about the good old days when traveling 3 days a week had become a norm and I could reel out airline schedules if woken up in my sleep … but what was I doing with this pack if my tier has fallen a step?
I expected it to contain a handbook with the usual information and was about to chuck it in the bin when I flipped through the papers and was delighted to see ‘3 complimentary business class upgrade vouchers’. These vouchers are usually given to frequent fliers as part of their tier upgrades.

So was this a mistake or was it sent intentionally? Well honestly I do not know. Though I knew that…

As a customer I was delighted
As a customer I was still ‘Valued’ (even though I did not fly with this carrier as often as I used to) – I had not been written off

At a time when there is a glut of cheap, low fare, no frill carriers in the market – here is one that will stand out in my mind for offering ‘a positive experience’ around flying. The airline industry not only in India but also across the world is seen as offering consumers rock bottom prices in a bid to woo them. Of course the rock bottom prices come with little or no service offering. While this tactic works well with the self-financed traveler – it leaves out the chunk of business traveler who is not price sensitive and values comfort or even luxury over economy. Price cuts are tactical, easily replicated by competition and progressively erode the bottom line and brand value. Wooing consumers instead by creating small subtle differentiators around their travel experience and making them feel special goes a much longer way.

Another air carrier that has successfully created such subtle yet important differentiators in their service offering is Kingfisher Airline.

With KF their consumers are referred to not as passengers but as guests. This is not just a matter of semantics. It reflects an attitude - evident in the way the KF staff treats its customers. Step out of your cab at the terminal and you’ll find a KF staff member appear to help you with your luggage into a trolley and right through to the point when you have checked those bags in. What I value the most about KF is their consistency - that it is the only organization I have encountered so far that does not penalize the consumer for lack of clarity on the how their policies are interpreted. On this one occasion I was trying to get my ticket postponed. The response I got from the call centre was that I could get it done at the airport, while at the airport I was told that since my ticket was a free ticket it could not be postponed at all. When I told them the call centre staff had mentioned otherwise – the lady at the airport enquired with her supervisor and came back with the response – ‘we do not normally do it but since the call centre staff has promised you this – we’ll keep up their word’. And if this is not all if you have any service issues feedback mails sent by you are read by the chairman himself.

And now for some mentions – ‘not so positive’…

While thinking about what annoys me the most about air travel I arrive at two areas that are top on my list

a) Long winding instructions (and especially if you are in a multilingual country) repeated in 2 – 3 different languages. Why can’t they keep their language simple, informal and instructions short. For instance – instead of saying ‘please continue to remain seated till the aircraft comes to a complete halt’…why not say – please keep seated till the aircraft halts… I am sure the sentence can be edited even more
b) And secondly - why don’t they have gender specific restrooms on board? If its not enough that there is such a paucity of space in the restrooms – the thought about & experience of using the unisex restrooms makes me want to never get on an aircraft again. I am sure the information on the number of male / female passengers is captured while people are boarding and it’s possible to allocate 1 or more of the restrooms exclusively for women depending on the traffic.

Taking about restrooms – we have a blog event coming up towards the end of the month called the Bathroom Blogfest, where women bloggers would be posting about their experiences around the ladiesroom and how these can be designed to make the experience better. You can find more details about it here and here.

customer experience, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, ladiesrooms