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SINGAPORE AIRLINES: WHAT IT TAKES TO SUSTAIN SERVICE EXCELLENCE – A SENIOR MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

Jochen Wirtz and Robert Johnston1

Published in: NUS Business School Research Paper Series, December 2001

1

Jochen Wirtz is Associate Professor of Marketing with the NUS Business School, Faculty of Business Administration, National University of Singapore, 17 Law Link, Singapore 117591, Tel: +65-8743656, Fax: +65-7795941, E- mail: fbawirtz@nus.edu.sg, Http://www.nus.edu.sg; Robert Johnston is Professor with the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. We are most grateful to the various members of Singapore Airlines’ senior management, who generously provided their time, ideas and secrets to success in a number of in-depth interviews. The case was commissioned by the Institute of Customer Service in the UK as part of a study into Service Excellence. The authors gratefully acknowledge the sponsorship provided by Britannic Assurance, FirstGroup, Lloyds TSB, RAC Motoring Services, and Vodafone. We also like to acknowledge Karen Liaw, Public Affairs, Singapore Airlines for arranging our interviews with SIA’s management, and Jasmine M.C. Ow for providing excellent research assistance throughout this project.

2 SINGAPORE AIRLINES: WHAT IT TAKES TO SUSTAIN SERVICE EXCELLENCE – A SENIOR MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

ABSTRACT

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading carriers. This article reports a series of in-depth interviews with SIA’s senior management on the ir views on what made SIA a service champion, and what it will take to maintain its lead in the industry. Excerpts from there interviews were broadly organised into the four sections: (1) SIA’s Perspective of Service Excellence, (2) Understanding Customers and Anticipating their Needs, (3) Training and Motivating the Front Line, and (4) Managing with an Eye for Detail and Profits.

3 SINGAPORE AIRLINES: WHAT IT TAKES TO SUSTAIN SERVICE EXCELLENCE – A SENIOR MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

“Profit is the Applause you receive for serving your customers well.”

Sim Kay Wee Senior Vice President, Cabin Crew Singapore Airlines

INTRODUCTION

Service excellence is both unobtrusive and elusive. We know when we have received it, and we know when we have not. Such service, both poor and outstanding, has a strong emotional impact upon us as customers, creating intense feelings about the organization, its staff and its services, influencing our loyalty to it. Yet many organizations seem to find service excellence elusive, hard to grasp, and often difficult, if not impossible to deliver. Paradoxically, we, as individuals, instinctively know what it is and how simple it can be.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading carriers. It has been consistently one of the most profitable airlines in the world, and it is routinely voted the ‘best airline’, ‘best business class’, ‘best cabin crew service’, ‘best in- flight food’, ‘best for punctuality and safety’, ‘best for business travellers’, ‘best air cargo carrier’, even ‘Asia’s most admired company’. This article is the result of a series of in-depth interviews with SIA’s senior management, on their views on what made SIA a service champion, and what it will take to maintain its lead i the industry. Specifically, the following senior n members of SIA’s management team were interviewed (in alphabetical order):

Mr Choo Poh Leong, Senior Manager Cabin Crew Performance Dr Goh Ban Eng, Senior Manager Cabin Crew Training Mrs Lam Seet Mui, Senior Manager for Human Resource Development Ms Lim Suu Kuan, Commercial Training Manager Mr Sim Kay Wee, Senior Vice President Cabin Crew

4 Ms Betty Wong, Senior Manager Cabin Crew Service Development Mr Yap Kim Wah, Senior Vice President Product and Service

We broadly organised excerpts from the our interviews into the following four sections: (1) SIA’s Perspective of...
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