One of my most memorable moments during a trip to Sikkim, was on a road trip in the mountainous region around the river Teesta—beside the road, a shallow stream accompanied us, riding on a bed of hundreds of smooth pebbles; the green hills all around were lifting their misty veils.
Over the week-long holiday, we had got used to the natural beauty of Sikkim, but it appeared that there was no way for us to document it through the windows of a moving vehicle. Try as we might, the rough terrain was impossible to capture without looking like a smudge of paint.
It was during one such trip, that one of our drivers, Mahesh, slowed down at a river crossing, and surprised us.
“You can take the picture now! See, I want you to take as many pictures as you can. I want, that when you go home and you see these pictures, you will remember me!”
Mahesh asked us to soak in the view and take our time — something, that we later realized, no one had said throughout any of our road trips.
Throughout our holiday, we traveled with many drivers, some for transfers, and some for sightseeing. As a driver, Mahesh was just like every one else. Every driver we traveled with, was equally skilled in navigating the rough terrain and guiding us to tourist spots. The difference was that while everyone took us from point A to point B, Mahesh cared about our experience while we were traveling. While some drivers kept calling us to hurry up so that we could complete the itinerary, Mahesh told us to soak in the atmosphere and take our time.
As Design Thinking is gaining popularity, companies are running every which way to train their employees in the methodology and its tools — and that’s a great thing. But at its core, Design Thinking starts with an emotional connect with the end customer. Without this mindset in all aspects of conducting a business, all the tools and methodologies are just jargon. What’s critical is that this emotional connect — call it human centricity or empathy — must permeate throughout the organisation’s culture to the very last mile — especially to the last mile.
Having previously worked within the travel industry, one thing that I observed was that it thrives on partnerships for pretty much everything — transportation, accommodation, sightseeing, recreational activities etc. Customers book their tours with one agency, and interact with other agencies who fulfil the itineraries.
Servicing the end customer may not be your job, but if your partner doesn’t, you lose the customer.
Collaborating with other stakeholders and sensitising them to the importance of ensuring that the customer has, at the very least, a neutral experience, if not a delightful one, is perhaps most crucial for the B2B travel ecosystem.
We loved Mahesh for his empathetic attitude; but even so, due to the overall handling of that tour, after that holiday, we vowed never to take tour packages. With travel advise from fellow travellers and bloggers online, our subsequent travels have been quite fulfilling, all without the involvement of travel agencies.
So how do you (and your partners) treat your customers? Are your employees like Mahesh, or is your entire ecosystem eroding to DIY travellers?