Yesterday, I travelled by the Shatabdi train from Chennai to Bangalore, which set me thinking on the appropriate components of a service – In any good or service being offered to a customer, there will be multiple components, not all of which are perhaps necessary. The consumer may not value these equally. Some are hygiene (basics/musts), some are truly relevant, some differentiate the brand from others, some don’t make a difference whether they exist or not – and some, they actually pull the brand down. The last one can be a challenge for any business – knowing what to leave out.
Now, in the case of the Shatabdi, the fact that it covers the journey within 5 hours as opposed to the 7 hours that other trains take is truly differentiating. Even if you compare it to flying, with the security checks, waiting time etc, a flight ends up taking 2 hours, and the Shatabdi costs half the price of the cheapest flight. So yes, there is a worthwhile benefit there. The fairly comfortable seats, now thats become a basic for me – something I demand when I pay 700 bucks for a train ticket. The food – well its so average that it doesn’t make a difference to me, but yes, it could perhaps be another basic factor.
But the one thing that actually made my journey yesterday thoroughly unpleasant, was the fact that the train had curtains on all its windows – dirty, dusty curtains at that. I got the window seat and spent a good part of the journey coughing away, until I took some medication.
Two things. Firstly, I am not sure why an AC train needs curtains. Surely one of the pleasures of the Indian train journey is being able to look outside and see things pass by. Little villages, green fields, cattle, small towns, people going to work. This is part of what makes the journey fun. And the AC has closed glass windows which in any case shut out the dust and heat. So first thing, this feature is perhaps superfluous. Secondly, why offer a feature that a business cannot maintain? Don’t promise something which you can’t do well or do consistently. So the railways has decided to put in curtains on the Shatabdi windows, because it is a “premium” train and they think curtains make it look fancy. But, unless they can be maintained in good order, its just annoying to passengers.
Like I said, sometimes, its better to leave out some things. Less can be better?