Six Secrets of Superior Customer Service: Singapore International Airlines

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I almost jumped out of my seat when the food cart bashed my knee. As I grabbed my leg, I saw the flight attendant with the “hit-and-run” cart heading down the aisle. I remember the days when flying was an enjoyable experience–no longer true today.

On this trip I was heading back to Atlanta from Los Angeles on the final leg from Singapore. The knee bashing occurred on a well-known airline once admired for good service. Only hours before, I was flying on Singapore International Airlines (SIA) and enjoying the wonderful experience.

SIA is so superior that it leaves other carriers in its vapor trails. The positive experience on SIA makes the Air Passenger’s Bill of Rights completely unnecessary.

How does SIA create this experience? It places the needs of passengers first, and offers service above and beyond the ordinary. Even in economy class, the experience is unforgettable. Pillows and blankets are carefully placed on every seat. Once in the air, smiling attendants offer champagne or orange juice, and carefully avoid smashing passenger’s body parts with their carts! Passengers receive a kit containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and special socks for the trip. At the beginning and the end of each flight, passengers receive hot towels to freshen up.

One of the primary reasons Singapore Airlines provides superior service is because they only hire people that enjoy a service role–enjoy serving others. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the more time an organization invests in finding, hiring, and training employees, the more successful the organization becomes. Because SIA has spent extra effort and energy in creating alignment between employees and the company, employees take pride in what they do.

Step 1: Clear Vision & Purpose. SIA’s places a priority on quality service. All issues, all questions and decisions are made as they relate to the needs of the customer. While other airlines cut back on service to make more profits, SIA places the needs of customers as the first priority. The bottom line for SIA is not the plane, the seat, or the destination. The bottom line is delivering exceptional service, and the personification of that service.

Step 2: First Class Treatment for All Classes. The bottom line for SIA is not the plane, the seat, or the destination. The bottom line is delivering exceptional service and personifying that service. Customer service directs and guides SIA in all it does. Priorities and decisions are based on the needs of the customer, not executive perks. By placing the needs of passengers first, the whole atmosphere and the flight experience changes. Each passenger is presented with a menu with choices. The food in the back of the plane is better than other carrier’s first class flights I have taken. Down the aisle the attendants come again with liqueurs, beer or basically anything else you want–no charge.

Step 3: Staff Training and Development. SIA’s heavy investment in staff development and training—conducted in good times and bad—enables staff members to stay focused and continuously upgrade their performance. Training and development fights complacency and keeps crewmembers capable of handling demanding situations. It also gives the airline a distinct advantage. First, it demonstrates that continuous learning and development help people do a better job, which in turn helps individuals improve their potential. Second, it allows SIA to stay ahead of its competition while other carriers are cutting back.

Step 4: No Fear of Change and Innovation. SIA is known for innovation. Instead of copying other airlines, it takes the lead. Instead of charging passengers an entertainment fee, they allow everyone a headset. Instead of charging for drinks, it gives them away—along with free postcards and the postage needed to mail them. SIA benchmarks other service industries such as hotels and restaurants to make its service more comfortable, convenient, and creative.

Step 5: Consistent Communication. With over 27,000 staff members representing 25 nationalities, communication is critical. SIA keeps staff informed of important matters through newsletters and publications, regular meetings between management and staff, and a “Staff Ideas in Action” program that helps new suggestions and ideas move forward for action and improvement.

Step 6: Recognize, Reinforce, and Reward the Right Behavior. Excellent service is a learned behavior requiring constant reinforcement and recognition. Unless an organization develops systems and processes to reward and recognize the behavior it needs for success, it will never get it. SIA rewards excellent performance with increased pay and promotions, but reserves its most prestigious award for superior acts of customer service. “The Deputy Chairman’s Award,” given yearly to people who have managed customer situations with exceptionally selfless acts of service, is a badge of honor coveted by all employees. Winners and their families fly to Singapore for a special dinner. Information about winners and their families is published in the monthly Outlook magazine.

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