How Does Singapore Airlines Fly So High?

by Ron Kaufman

Profitable every year since the beginning, Singapore Airlines (SIA) frequently wins international awards for top flight quality and service. Here's how they do it.

Clarity and Commitment
 

SIA's focus on service is completely clear. The mission statement and core values establish without question that quality service to customers is a fundamental objective and aspiration of the airline.

Every major issue, question or decision can be considered through the prism of this commitment to providing world-class customer service.

Continuous Training


Training is not a "one time affair." SIA understands that daily customer contact can be draining, and that customer expectations are on the rise.

To meet this challenge, four training centers within the company (Cabin Crew, Flight Operations, Commercial and Management Development) offer a wide range of inspiring and demanding educational programs.

Whether in the classroom, on the job, or through full scale simulations, SIA staff members are continually motivated to upgrade and improve their performance.

Training is not just conducted during robust economic times. Even during the downturns, SIA's investment in training goes on. This gives the airline a two-fold advantage.

First, it allows SIA to surge ahead in service quality when other carriers may be cutting back. Second, it demonstrates to all staff that continuous learning and improvement are essential principles for success, not just "nice to have" additions.

Career Development


SIA staff are regularly appraised for performance, and potential. High-flyers are identified early and given every opportunity to learn and grow. Senior managers are uniquely well developed with frequent rotations amongst top positions in the company.

This leads to a management team with great breadth and depth, with a shared understanding of "the big picture," with a commitment to do what's best for the customers and the business, not just for one or another department.

Internal Communications


SIA is a large organisation, with more than 28,000 staff located in cities and subsidiaries throughout the world. People from different cultures must work together to produce a seamless and positive customer experience. In the pilot pool alone more than twenty-five countries are represented!

To keep everyone on the same wavelength, SIA publishes a variety of department newsletters and a monthly company-wide magazine. Regular dialogue sessions between management and staff keep communications flowing. A "Staff Ideas in Action" scheme ensures that new suggestions are constantly put forward for improvement.

Semi-annual business meetings provide the forum for evaluation of hard results in sales, markets, yields and customer satisfaction levels.

Consistent External Communications


Whether the advertisement is about new destinations, new airplanes, new cuisine on board or brand new seats and video services, the legendary "SIA Girl" is always featured in the advertising layouts and copy. Why? Because the bottom line for SIA is not the plane, the seat, the video or the destination.

The bottom line is delivering quality service, and the "SIA Girl" is the brand identity - the public personification of that service.

Of course everyone knows it takes the entire SIA team to deliver excellent service, but showing a picture of a smiling engineer, a competent pilot or a friendly telephone reservations agent would not carry the same consistency in external communications.

The "SIA Girl" represents impeccable quality service. In the airline's external communications, she is always there.

Connection with Customers


SIA makes a concerted effort to stay in touch with customers through in-flight surveys, customer focus groups and rapid reply to every compliment or complaint they receive. SIA consolidates this input with other key figures to create a quarterly "Service Performance Index" that is closely watched throughout the airline.

Frequent flyers are especially well connected with special messages, offers and publications sent regularly to members of the priority passenger "PPS Club". Very frequent flyers achieve an elite "Solitaire" status, with a wide range of valuable privileges, including most convenient check-in, additional baggage allowance, priority seating and waitlist and more.

Benchmarking


The airline industry is intensely competitive with every carrier seeking new ways to "get ahead of the pack." SIA introduces new innovations, and tracks competitor's progress closely.

Even outside the industry, SIA keeps an open eye for new ways to improve and grow. When hotels, banks, restaurants, retail outlets and other service industries take a step forward in their amenities, convenience or comfort, SIA watches closely to see what can be adopted or adapted for the airline industry.

Improvement, Investment and Innovation


From the earliest days, SIA has built a reputation for taking the lead and doing things differently than the others. This includes free drinks and headsets, fax machines on board, individual video screens and telephones in every seat, leading edge gaming and in-flight entertainment, "book the cook" service for special meals in First and Business classes, phone, fax and e-mail check-in, innovative cargo facilities, the list goes on and on.

This commitment to continuous improvement is coupled with a cultural determination to try-it-out, make-it-work and see-it-through. Not every innovation succeeds, and some are eventually removed from service (the fax machines are long gone), but SIA makes every possible effort to find the key to success - or create it.

Rewards and Recognition


While excellent staff performance is rewarded with increased pay and position, the most prestigious award of all is reserved for extraordinary acts of truly superior service.

"The Deputy Chairman's Award" is given yearly to teams or individuals who respond to unique customer situations with exceptionally positive, innovative or selfless acts of service.

This award carries no financial benefit, but it is the most revered accolade in the airline. Winners and their families are flown to Singapore for a special dinner celebration, the story of their unique efforts is published in the monthly "Outlook" magazine, and their personal status as a "Deputy Chairman's Award Winner" remains a badge of distinction for life.

Professionalism, Pride and Profits.


The result of all these efforts is a staff culture vigorously committed to the airline, to customers and to continuous improvement.

Staff pride and sense of ownership are evident in the way they protect the airline's reputation and participate in special programs like the "aircraft adoption scheme."

And good profits are also achieved, but not as the end in themselves. Rather, SIA's profits are "the applause we receive for providing consistent quality and service to our customers."

Does all this mean that SIA is perfect? Of course not. Even SIA cannot satisfy every customer, every time. Bags go astray, telephone lines become congested, and meals at 39,000 feet are not always deluxe. There will always be room for improvement.

With a track record of success, SIA must work doubly hard to avoid becoming complacent. Managers must be open to change, not arrogant, high-handed or defensive. Staff must be proud of the airline yet remain eager for passenger suggestions, recommendations and constructive critique.

The definition of a truly loyal airline customer is someone who is pleased with the service, flies with the airline again and again, recommends the airline to others, and takes the time and effort to point out ways the airline can still improve.

I look forward to my flights on SIA, and I use the carrier two or three times each month. My speeches and training programs are peppered with positive stories from airline history and lore. And my outgoing mail to SIA includes plenty of ideas and suggestions to help the airline improve.

Singapore Airlines has earned my loyalty on the ground and in the skies.

It's a great way to fly.


About the Author

Copyright Ron Kaufman. Visit: www.RonKaufman.com for more information..