Business Management
5 min read

How to deliver great customer service on board an aircraft: SIA's case

Holden Madison
Written by

2020 will remain in our memories for some time – the aviation industry included. However, let’s have a throwback when we use to travel the world and when we had the chance to choose between several airline companies to go where we wanted. Remember, when planning a trip to Asia. Of course, the top company that comes to everybody’s mind is Singapore Airlines.

Despite the covid pandemic, the airline has been awarded for the 25th consecutive year, World’s Best International Airline for the 24th consecutive year by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Officially becoming Singapore Airlines (SIA) in 1972, SIA took a different approach right off the bat by putting passengers first from the beginning. To make their passengers a priority at different touchpoint, SIA puts its employees at the forefront to enhance customer experience on & off board while maintaining its leading position in aviation.

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The Keys to Customer Service Excellence

A unique perspective on service excellence

Given SIA’s prominent reputation, passengers pack their expectations with their carry-ons. As its former SVP for Product & Service puts it, the whole goal is to have customers come away and think: “Wow! That was something out of the ordinary."

As customers subconsciously share their expectations across industries when booking, boarding, and deplaning, if passengers had a great experience with a rental car company or boutique hotel, they will expect the same standard for a global airline.

Simply put, okay is not enough and travelers' high expectations can only be met through a constant monitoring of how the SIA experience is delivered across the board and by never settling for what has been achieved. This applies to food and beverage offerings, in-flight entertainment, and ground services. Moreover, SIA just thrives to be a little bit better in everything all the time, and that means by adapting to 21st century lifestyles: if adapting flight schedules and prioritizing seat comfort are no-brainer nowadays, SIA is investing in its crew. Technical SOPs are packaged with softer skills like warmth, care, and anticipation of needs.

Tangibles elements are important to give great service in the hospitality industry. It also key elements to allow hotel classification. Nevertheless, to make the difference, many service companies are investing in intangible components, such as HR framework to attract, recruit and retain their talents.

How to deliver great customer service? 

1. A relentless commitment to anticipate customers' needs

Understanding the customer, creating the wow effect, and remaining a service leader in the industry are SIA’s goals. To be the best, SIA's service style thrives to identify what passengers need before they even ask. If that means the cabin crew often walks down the aisle to offer refreshments or warm towels, it also means installing wireless internet across the fleet or sending out SMS text messages to passengers for flight statuses. Listening to both compliments and complaints equally is also part of a never-ending job towards perfect service. When mistakes happen, SIA crew members are made aware to ensure it will not happen again. Compliments, on the other hand, are shared collectively and communicated out to all crew members and positive actions are reinforced.

2. A strong investment in front-line employees' training and empowerment

Frontline employees play one of the most critical roles in maintaining service excellence. These employees engage in the most contact with the passenger and are faced with the dilemma of delivering on both technical tasks and personalized touches for passengers.

Happy customers comes from happy employees. Therefore most hospitality companies put its employee first. Singapore Airlines believes in helping all employees achieve their full potential. Hereafter, the airline company show it well with a video talking only about its talents and not about selling the journey.

The world leading airline company has developed a unique competency framework for its talents – the SIA Spirit. Part of the recruitment process, candidates will be evaluated through the following six components:

  • SIA Role model – I live up to the SIA Core values
  • Personal capabilities – I am competent to do my job well
  • Interpersonal skills – I work well with others
  • Result focus – I am driven to achieve results
  • Inspiring character – I motivate and develop others
  • Transformational leadership – I think strategically and lead change
Thanks to SIA high reputation, many applications are received every day. Only 10% of applicants considering a cabin crew position are chosen.
Once the full and comprehensive recruitment phase comes to an end, still cabin crew members are not allowed to fly yet. They will undergo a complete 4-months training programme, famous to be one of the longest and most comprehensive in the industry. Topics such as service procedures, language & communication skills, safety and product knowledge will be covered. Former CEO Dr. Cheong Choong Kong put it this way:

 

Training is a necessity, not an option. It is not to be dispensed with when times are bad. Training is for everybody. It embraces everyone from the office assistant and baggage handler to the chief executive officer. Training is forever. No-one is too young to be trained, nor too old.

As continuous and relevant training is at the core of any good a service delivery strategy, it is also a critical component of the service profit chain and success cycle for service firms. At SIA, that means following the the 40-30-30 rule: 40% of resources are allocated to training; 30% to process and product reviews; 30% to new products and service ideas. This approach has reached such a level now that it has also been touted as a national point of pride, being a multi-time winner of the National Training Award and National Productivity Award for training and development.

Learn more about our training programs.

3. Managing with an eye for detail and profits

Beyond establishing tools for front-line employees to deliver excellent service, senior managers focus on service design and strategy. Through a relentless attention to detail, there’s a sense to continually assess and address issues before being asked by superiors. How do senior managers become more proactive? By getting a taste of every department every few years. Thus, resulting in a better grasp of the company and minimizing issues of interdepartmental disputes. If a process is not efficient and not making money, SIA will cut it. As the airline enters a new decade and digital innovation takes off, SIA wants to make the right investments. By pushing for better processes, SIA can maintain a competitive edge and move the needle towards greater profits while maintaining service excellence.

4. Digital transformation and service excellence

Singapore Airlines’ wants to assure associates that they will not be left behind in the digital journeys ahead, and furthermore, failing is a part of growth. The company launched an innovation lab in January 2019 - KrisLab - to take new challenges ahead and is teaming up with accelerators, incubators, and startups to explore the complexities of aircraft delays, maintenance costs, and service standards. The effort has proved popular, collecting over 400 startup submissions from a pool of 1500 participants from 73 countries. The aim is to collaborate to build proofs-of-concept that might eventually be implemented across the airline.

Beyond tech innovation, the company wants “a commitment [to] excellence and service leadership…We don’t just do digital for digital’s sake. We do it with a focus on improving customer service", according to SIA's SVP of IT George Wang.

EHL and Singapore Airlines have more than we think in common. Firstly, they are both aiming to enhance customer service excellence by providing the necessary tools to its employees. Secondly, we are considering our students/employees as talents and in need of constant development throughout their career whether thanks to induction programs, executive training or job shadowing. Last but not least, innovation as a priority to always seek for new tools to be the best institutions in the world.

For more information on the topic, read this article.

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So what’s happening now?

Due to the current global covid-19 situation, the aviation industry has been hit significantly from travel restrictions and flight/events cancellations. In September 2020, The SIA Group was operating at only 8 percent of its capacity compared to before the pandemic. In order to meet the cash flow, the group has decided to cut a large amount of jobs (about 20%). The Group will have to bring past resources like old times to become a game changer to fly high again after one of the worst year.

In fact the SIA has faced numerous chapter in its history and always came back stronger. No one knows how long the covid-19 crisis will last “but when it does, our customers can be sure that Singapore Airlines will be there to welcome them back on board and deliver, once again, the exceptional service that they have come to expect and are familiar with,” said a SIA spokesman.

 
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