I’ve just had my first experience of travelling Business Class on Singapore Airlines. In the back of my mind I had thoughts that they had a good reputation. Upon returning I checked this out and they claim to be the world’s most awarded airline, including the Best Airline in The World in 22 out of the last 23 years! Wonder what happened in that odd year out?
So what are they getting right and what could other service providers, including law firms, learn from Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Let’s look at what impressed me…
- First impressions. With just a few exceptions, a plane is a plane is a plane – in the same way that most offices look and feel the same. But the staff that greet you? That can feel different. Singapore ‘girls’ (as they’ve been called consistently since 1972) have such distinctive outfits (designed by top designer Pierre Balmain in 1972). Other airlines, such as those for Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand have similar attire, but they aren’t as classy or distinctive somehow.
So, as a passenger, you start with a positive good impression. You’re already looking at them through rose-coloured glasses.
The Singapore ‘girl’ branding has been controversial but a quote in Singapore’s Straits Times puts its finger on the importance of the brand: “To remove the Singapore Girl icon from SIA is like removing Mickey Mouse from Disneyland”.
Some hotels get this first impression right as well. They bother to check if you’ve stayed with them before. They might greet you in front of the desk rather than behind it or do the check-in procedure in your room. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is impressed by this attention to detail.
The questions for law firms: What first impression is your firm trying to make? Are you succeeding? How do you know?
2. The service is better. The Singapore Girl is said to engender “Asian values and hospitality” and has been described as “caring, warm, gentle, elegant and serene”.
My experience was that the cabin crew who greeted me seemed a little brighter and were possibly a bit more outgoing. They seemed to provide a greater level of attentiveness. It’s as if they really, really cared about providing a great service.
Here are just a few examples of what Singapore Airlines did:
- Instead of just leaving magazines on the rack, they walk them around. Then they just have a better selection of magazines. The articles and photos in their own magazine are that bit classier – more Vogue than Good Housekeeping.
- Instead of just handing out menus they are prepared to give you time. They stand there to help you chose and answer any questions.
- They don’t bring a tray with everything on it. They lay your table!
- You chose what chocolates you want, rather than getting two in a box pre-chosen by somebody else (I only like plain!)
The question for law firms: Just how good is the service delivery to your clients? Are you systematically checking? Do you reward those who consistently deliver good service?
3. It’s not just the service that’s different. There is attention to detail on the product as well. After takeoff they hand out drawstring bags of socks- but not like the other socks- these have padded soles to make them more comfortable for walking around. Then there’s the range of products available. Their tea selection had 13 varieties including decaffeinated Earl Grey and 3 different green teas. You can choose what coffee beans you’d like. They also have a distinctive salt and pepper pots. One nestles on top of the other and looks like a snowman!
The questions for law firms: How much selection do you offer and how much product or process innovation is your firm doing? Or are you just offering what your rival firms offer?
4. But most impressive of all was their way of handling mistakes – on a late night flight, my meal hadn’t been warmed up and one member of the cabin crew owned up to it. But this is the best bit – she was so, so apologetic and wanted to make up for it. She asked if I was staying in Singapore so I could try the dish there. She asked others in the plane and recommended where I should go. A great way of addressing a potential problem and demonstrating impressive initiative!
The question for law firms: Mistakes are inevitable, but how good are you at dealing with them?
Overall, I got the impression that everything SIA said and did came from a place of having a deep belief that they are one notch better than everybody else.
Upon my return, I’ve read up about SIA and I’m not surprised my experience was so good. They ran a recent service excellence initiative, called Transforming Customer Service (TCS), involving staff in five key operational areas, including back office functions (eg Engineering) that don’t directly interface with customers. This investment was split pretty evenly on people training, product innovation and innovating new processes.
The question for law firms: What levels of investment in client service training are you making?
The Senior VP responsible for the Cabin Crew at Singapore Airlines sums it up. “Profit is the applause you receive for serving your customers well.”