ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1999


Boeing Flies High

Fostering Creativity: An Early Start

Are We There Yet?

If It Ain't Pretty - I'm Outta Here

Flying Above Mediocrity

Teams At The Top


Large Ideas Expressed In Small Amounts
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Flying Above Mediocrity
Secrets Of Success For Singapore International Airlines

It was the food cart bashing my knee that woke me from a pleasant dream. As I grabbed my knee, I saw the flight attendant with the “hit-and-run” food cart heading down the aisle. Is mediocre service becoming the mainstay of travel on domestic airlines?

I was on the final leg of a long trip back to Atlanta flying on a well-known, but mediocre domestic airline. This airline was once known for its good service, but the level of service has gradually declined over the years. Only hours before this flight, I was traveling on Singapore International Airlines (SIA).

SIA is so superior that they leave other carriers in their vapor trails. Sure, it is an overseas carrier and you should expect good service, but SIA doesn’t even compare to other airlines. The positive experience on SIA makes the Air Passenger’s Bill of Rights completely unnecessary.

How do they create this experience?

Above and Beyond Ordinary Service
Even in economy class, the experience is unforgettable. Walking down the aisle you will find a pillow and blanket carefully placed on your seat. Once in the air, smiling attendants come down the aisles with a choice of champagne or orange juice carefully avoiding smashing passengers’ body parts with their carts. After that, passengers are presented with a special kit including a toothbrush, toothpaste and special socks for the trip.

At the beginning and end of each flight, a hot towel comes your way to freshen up.

Particularly pleasing are the individual monitors on the back of each seat where even the most wearied traveler can select from over 15 videos, telephone, audio programs, Nintendo games and up-to-the-minute travel information.

Clear Vision and Purpose
SIA 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 customers’ needs as 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.

First-Class Treatment for All Classes
By placing the needs of passengers first, the whole atmosphere and flight experience changes. I don’t think I ever saw a peanut on this flight.

Passengers are presented with a menu with choices. The food in the back of the plane is better than other carrier’s first-class flights. After meals, attendants bring liqueurs, beer, juice or basically anything else you want—no charge. I almost wanted to say, “Leave me alone—quit feeding me!”

Staff Training and Development
SIA places a major investment in staff development and continuous training. This way staff members stay focused and are able to upgrade their performance. Training and development fights complacency, keeping crew members more capable of handling demanding situations. Training is not only conducted during good economic times, but even during downturns. SIA’s investment in training goes on to give the airline a distinct advantage. First, it allows SIA to fly ahead in service quality when other carriers may be cutting back. Second, it demonstrates that continuous learning and development are important aspects for success, not just something nice to do if we can afford it.

No Fear of Change and Innovation
SIA has a reputation for doing things innovatively. Instead of copying other airlines, they take the lead. Instead of charging passengers a $5 “entertainment fee,” they give their headsets away. Instead of charging for drinks, they give them away. They give out free postcards and provide the postage. Passengers in the “Raffles Class” section have seats that recline into beds. They benchmark other service industries such as hotels and restaurants to make their service more comfortable, convenient and creative.
Consistent Communication is Critical

With over 27,000 staff members, representing 25 nationalities, communication is critical. SIA publishes a number of newsletters and publications keeping people informed of important matters. Regular meetings between management and staff keep communications flowing. A “Staff Ideas in Action” program helps keep new suggestions and ideas moving forward for action and improvement.

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 they need for success, they will never get it. At SIA excellent performance is rewarded with increased pay and promotions, but the most prestigious award is reserved for superior acts of customer service. “The Deputy Chairman’s Award” is given yearly to teams or individuals that have managed unique customer situations with exceptional selfless acts of service. This award carries no monetary reward, but it is the most highly-valued recognition in SIA. Winners and their families fly to Singapore for a special dinner celebration. Their story is published in the monthly Outlook Magazine, and their personal status as a “Deputy Chairman’s Award Winner” remains a badge of honor for life.

November '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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