01 August 2010

Constituents and Customers: Go Fly A Kite

When it comes to effective service provisioning, there are two worlds in today's Russia.  The first world is a post-perestroika world; the second is the legacy Soviet world.

I have discussed the quality fo customer service and customer orientation of Russian businesses.  Modern Russian businesses are very much American-like, in the sense that they understand that a customer has many choices and his business is not to be taken for granted.  The quality of customer service that these modern, post-perestroika business have is certainly above their Western European counterparts.  This is the modern, refreshing side of Russia.

Then, there is the legacy Russia.  By "legacy Russia" I mean the part of the current Russian apparatus that was created during the Soviet times, which persists to this day.  Modern Russian government is more or less an extension of what was in place some twenty years ago; the same is true for some government sponsored businesses, like Russia's principal airline, Aeroflot.  A personal experience with Aeroflot will demonstrate the attitude of legacy Russia to customers and constituents.

Customer Service from Legacy Russia?  Go Fly A Kite!

Some visitors were flying out of Moscow recently on Aeroflot.  Escorting them to the airport, I took them to the Aeroflot check-in queue, where passengers to four destinations were standing in line for three check-in agents.  The passengers self-selected the line according to the length of the queue.

With only one person ahead of us, the agent at my check-in counter very abruptly put up a "line closed" sign and quickly walked away.  I assumed, as I imagine that most people in my queue did, that she had a biological emergency of some sort, like an exploding bladder, and expected her to be back shortly after the emergency was abated.  We waited for about 15 minutes; she did not return and no substitute came in her place.  Getting impatient and worried about my visitors' flight, I hopped over the Aeroflot counter and found another employee.  With my broken Russian, I expressed to her that the check-in agent had abandoned her post and there were some fifty passengers stranded in the line waiting to check in.  The Aeroflot's employee's response was classically unfortunate and irresponsible:
This is not my problem.
Then, she quickly walked away as if nothing was wrong or, perhaps more accurately, to avoid having to fix a wrong because this is not part of her job as she sees it.  Time-pressed passengers, left to themselves and their own problem solving skills, quickly cut into the remaining two lines, creating contention and confusion in the process.

Please Bring the Erstwhile Aeroflot Logo Back

Dear passengers [Уважаемые пассажиры]:  Fly a kite.

Per my experience with modern Russian airlines, this situation would never occur.  The line would have been closed more predictably, customers would have been redirected orderly, and another employee surely would have taken ownership of the problem to ensure a better passenger experience with the airline.  As it happens, Aeroflot, a Soviet-era legacy, a semi-private entity, and the largest Russian airline, has little incentive to ensure that customers have a positive experience (or at least can board a flight on time).

If a semi-private entity treats its customers this badly, you can imagine how the government - with very little to check its behavior- is likely treats its constituents.  Dear Russian citizen: Fly a kite.

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