The Indian Railways is the world’s fourth largest railway system, operating across 67,956 km (42,226 miles) connecting the hinterland of the world’s seventh largest country with every nook and corner of its diamond-shaped geography that is dotted with the Great Himalayas, large hill systems, plateaus, plains, massive river basins, deserts, dense forests and more is no mean feat considering the multiple economic strata it needs to cater to as well.

Urban migration and a growing demand for experiential travel over the last three decades has prompted the Indian Railways to provide a variety of travel experiences for its millions of travelers. From extremely low-cost tickets to luxury cabins, it has a variety of travel services for everyone to choose from.

But why am I talking about this? Let me share a wonderful experience I enjoyed recently.

After a long and tiring road travel through a section of the Himalayas, my two young daughters and I reached the railway station at Dehradun to catch a train to Delhi. We reached two hours prior to the departure and were waiting on the platform in the sweltering heat of Dehradun, where even the shade roof gave us no respite from the late afternoon heat. The train was at the platform but was not open for passengers yet. A few minutes later, I even considered taking a flight and found the airfares competitive enough. But the departure time was much later in the day and we were too exhausted to wait that long.

I then took a conscious decision and stepped into the empty Dehradun-New Delhi Shatabdi Express and sat down in our designated seats. It was hot inside as well, but it was a better bet than standing in the sun.

Few minutes later, a railway official who was checking the appliances in the train walked into the coach we were sitting in and suggested that we wait outside as the air conditioning would not be switched on for another hour. But when I explained to him that the heat outside was way too much to bear, he simply nodded and walked away.

Within a few moments, we heard a whirring noise and then there was a blast of cool air!

The railway official peeped into the coach, gave me a smile and a thumbs-up, shut the door and walked away. Could there have been more pleasantly surprised and happy passengers than us!

Given that the Indian Railways is government-owned and we have our personal preconceived notions and prejudices about apathy within government organisations, this act of kindness by this railway staffer who employed his discretionary effort and went above and beyond, felt overwhelming. It brought about a positive change to my perception about government organisations and that is precisely what every business – irrespective of whether you operate in the government, public or private sector – should aim for. The reason why I emphasize this is because this act of the railway staffer was not only most unexpected, but more importantly, it made us feel cared for, valued and even supported.

We work very closely with our clients and help them strategize strong business growth. Oftentimes, we find two aspects lacking:

  1. Staff are often unaware of the discretionary powers that they can leverage upon to deliver great customer experience.
  2. In instances where staff employ their discretionary effort and provide great customer experience, the leadership is unaware of this.

This happens when staff across departments and designations are not aligned to the value proposition, strategy and direction of the business, and are therefore not motivated. However, every time that we have worked closely with our clients, we have helped them uncover policies and processes that are inadvertently creating detractors. When they take active measures to set right these concerns, they realise how easy it is to empower their staff with discretionary effort to deliver WOW experiences.

Let me take you back to my experience with the Indian Railways. Now imagine if the organisation had an ideation session with their train management staff on how to create unexpected ‘wow’ experiences and such incidents were shared. These would become learning experiences for others too and open doors to multiple such situations where staff go above and beyond to create WOW customer experiences. They can be turned into a force that steers the organisation towards success as it will lead to repeat purchases, increased loyalty, recommendations to friends and family and positive reviews as it has such strong emotional resonance. This is of course in addition to delivering on their unique value proposition with gusto.

This one act of kindness from a service where I, and probably many others least expect it, has sure won us over; besides, the in-train service through our six-hour journey was nothing less than an in-flight service. It was quick, efficient and the rail stewards were extremely kind and courteous. And not for one moment through this travel did I believe that I should have booked those air tickets I was considering. It was quite a wonderful end to our memorable vacation.