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Arik Air dogged in customer experience quagmire *** As passengers decry incessant flight delays, cancellations -By Goddie Ofose

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Henry Ford, customer service specialist once said, “a business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry -profits. They will be embarrassingly large”.

This may sound a little simplistic, but there is certainly truth behind this observation.

Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business or organisation. A   manufacturer or service provider can offer promotions and reduce rates to attract new customers, but unless some of the customers are satisfied enough to thirst for more, that business may not be profitable on the long run.

The measure of good customer service is all about bringing customers back. This involves sending them away happy – happy enough to pass positive feedback about your company to other potential customers, who may then try your products or service for themselves and in their turn, become repeat customers.

At a time when air mishaps have occurred repeatedly in the past 17 months, there is the dire need for airline operators in Nigeria to be very concerned about the need to sustain the loyalty of their customers and ensure adequate up-to-date maintenance of their fleet, to remain in business.

This reporter was one of several passengers billed to travel from Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State to Lagos on Thursday, but could not after waiting several long hours, the flight was cancelled, owing to what the airline called- a faulty craft.

This development, which also affected passengers in Calabar, Cross River State, however put the brand managers under intense pressure.

On November 4, 2013, an Uyo bound aircraft; Bombardier propeller Arik flight was cancelled shortly as the pilot announced that the aircraft was not fit to fly. At the time, the aircraft had completed boarding and was ready for start taxiing; when the pilot suddenly alerted passengers on board that there was a caution light. Passengers were disembarked when it was realised that it was a mechanical fault.

For a flight scheduled for 10.45am, it took the management and technical staff of the airline over five hours to rectify the problem, only for the flight to be eventually cancelled at 4.00pm. The airline took little or no effort to communicate this development to the agitated passengers, including 20 journalists on their way to attend a workshop on “ethics and business journalism” in Uyo, facilitated by the School of Media and Communication of Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.

Though the passengers took this development in good faith, a rescheduled flight was made for Tuesday (November 5, 2013) but this time there was no direct flight to Uyo. The airline however provided an aircraft that took passenger to Uyo en route Calabar. Then the worst happen, all the checked-in luggage of the 20 journalists were left in Lagos yet little or no apology was offered to the already traumatised passengers.

As if that was not enough, a return flight on Thursday (November 7, 2013) was delayed for over seven hours, yet there was no communication whatsoever from the management or the staff on duty.

Same day, Arik office in Lagos was reported to have been besieged by angry passengers who had their flight disrupted over a fault in the Uyo bound aircraft.

While all of these were going on, the airline’s management went about their duties as if all was well with the brand, and most importantly those who keep them in business. Some of the journalists who were trapped at the Arik craft include Sunday Omoniyi of The Nation, Harriet Agbenyi, Channels TV, Amaechi Ogbonna, The Sun, Godwin Ijediogor, The Guardian, Friday Olokor, The Punch and Edith Bolokor, News Agency of Nigeria. Others include: Iheanyi Nwachukwu, BusinessDay, Ngozi Amuche, BusinessWorld, Evelyn Usman, Vanguard, Kayode Ogunwale, Daily Trust, Salif Atojoko, Tell Magazine, Tony Chukwunyem, Daily Newswatch, Kehinde Ibrahim, Nigerian Pilot and Salami Semiu, National Mirror.

Reacting at the weekend, Adebanji Ola, Public Relations and Communications Manager of Arik Air Limited, said in a statement at the weekend that the management considers safety as paramount at all times, a  promise the airline will not renege on. The company, he said, promises to also provide a “comfortable and reliable airline of which Nigerians can be truly proud.”

The statement titled: “Delay on Lagos-Uyo flight of Thursday,” recalled that “Arik Air flight W3 531 scheduled to depart Lagos to Uyo… developed a technical fault shortly before taxing for take-off. The passengers were then de-boarded to allow our Engineers carry out maintenance checks on the aircraft.

“The aircraft later became serviceable and boarding announcement made. Some of the passengers however opted not to travel again and arrangements were made to refund their fares. The aircraft then departed for Uyo,” Ola added.

But besides customer service issues that have involved the brand in recent time, Arik has also been inundated with many other crises.  Recently, the embattled Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah had described as cheap blackmail, the allegation that she requested for five percent equity in Arik Air, which the airline “turned down.” She has directed her lawyers to seek legal redress on the matter.

According to her spokesman Joe Obi, the airline should stop grandstanding and pay up the debt it owes the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), totalling about N18 billion rather than making laughable allegations.

The Calabar-Uyo-Lagos passengers’ experience is not the only case of bad press that has bedevilled the airline in recent times. In September, there was a report titled: “My Arik Air Flight Nightmare,” published by online medium- Sahara Reporters. The report was about a passenger on the Lagos-New York Arik flight of August 5, 2010.

According to the airline management, the article caused much damage to the company’s image and the perception of its customer services at the Lagos airport.

Commenting on the report, the airline greatly regretted the report and “so many threads purporting to be in support of this baseless piece.

“At Arik Air, we have prided ourselves on setting a new standard in international and domestic travel and our front line customer serving staff has to manage many varying incidents (including, sometimes, abuse) at the hands of aggrieved passengers. Whether rightly or wrongly, the premise for this aggravation, we do not tolerate either abuse towards our staff or the destruction of Arik Air property as was the case in this incidence,” the airline said in the statement.

Continuing, it said: “Mr. Inyang’s report has received wide spread coverage and viewing and we felt that we could not allow our reputation to be tarnished by one side of the story. The following is a statement of facts as we have gathered from relevant personnel present on the day and as presented to security and airport authorities.”

Speaking of Arik Air’s superior customer service, a customer service analyst, Onche Utor said for once there is a Nigerian airline whose services are good and spot on, and that “if they continue in that way, who needs British Airways. It’s a total shame; Nigeria does not have a National Carrier flying aboard.”

No doubt, the ban on Dana Air has put increasing pressure on Arik and its local flight schedules are suffering. Flight schedules across the cities mainly Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt keep changing, thereby threatening the essence of the brand that was introduced to offer service and safety to not only Nigerians but also global audience.

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction; the distinction is usually clear in context.

Analysts and commentators who write about customer experience and customer relationship management have increasingly recognized the importance of managing the customer’s experience.

A company’s ability to deliver an experience that sets it apart in the eyes of its customers serves to increase the amount of consumer spending with the company and, optimally, inspire loyalty to its brand. Loyalty, said Jessica Sebor, “is now driven primarily by a company’s interaction with its customers and how well it delivers on their wants and needs.”
-By Goddie Ofose

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