How brands like Singapore Airlines and Emirates win your heart? It’s in the eyes…

I recently traveled First Class on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Los Angeles. And then traveled Business Class on Emirates, from Singapore to Dubai.The former has been a dream for some time, and I was keen to learn what the real difference was. Alas, it was quite simple.

Image Source: Singapore Airlines

In both the flights, I felt a distinct connection with the flight crew that was serving me. I kept wondering why that was. The difference was eye contact. In Singapore Airlines, each time the Singapore Girls spoke to me, they kneeled down, looked at me at eye-level and then spoke. In Emirates, while the flight attendants didn’t kneel down, they always looked me in the eye when speaking with me or passing me something.  And coupled with a smile, it was always heartwarming. Even the smallest of interactions were a pleasure.

Quite simple isn’t it? It doesn’t cost anything to smile, and while it might take some time to kneel, it creates a lasting impression. One that often drives brand loyalty. Hence, it’s worth it.

What do you think? Why aren’t more airlines using more such gestures that hardly cost anything, to win over hearts and wallets? Let’s discuss here, and on Twitter (@simpliFlying)

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 17 comments
  • Troysfilson
    Reply

    I recently flew from SYD to LAX and returned SFO to SYD a few weeks later. This was on a US carrier that I will not name (but you can figure it out by the routing, I'm sure).
    As an 18 year veteran of the airline industry, I tend to critique airlines whenever I fly. I was expecting that this carrier would at least have the experience of international flying to realise that the global market demands service. Sadly, they did not. And I use the word 'sadly' because it truly does sadden me that airlines are so fixated on containing costs that they overlook the things that cost them nothing. Does it cost anything for a smile or simple eye contact? Is it too expensive for the flight crew to be visible during the entire flight? Mine were rather annoyed that I peeked into the galley and asked for a glass of water. Hopefully, their recent merger partner will teach them a trick or two about service, but I'm not optimistic.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience Troy. Indeed, airlines need to train up their staff to do the small things right..

  • Kiron Nair
    Reply

    Hearts would be won by the genuinity the individual renders, and since that individual would be representing a brand the credits are passed on to the brand and it gets built for good, I think. I am sure the effect generated by the gesture (of kneeling down and maintaining eye contact and smile while communicating) by two different individuals (one genuine and the other ingenuine) would definitely be different. The organisation would have succeeded already if it hired a genuine person. Identifying genuinity is tough without losing one's own inflated ego.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      I think you have a point Kiran – hiring genuine individuals is quite a skill. And I think Southwest is quite good at it too..

  • Oussama
    Reply

    I totally agree it is in the eyes and the smile. I had the opportunity to fly Emirates Business but was served by the cabin crew. You can tell the difference, the smile, the attention and the smile. While smiling does not cost anything it seems to be a rare commodity.
    I recall Air Arabia (an LCC) had a one day course, SMILE. Teaching cabin crew to SMILE, and smile genuinely for 10 hours continuously on some flights is no easy feat. Bt miles uplift passengers' morale and put them at ease, especially those who find flying stressful.

  • Zsolt
    Reply

    Shashank, this is a keen observation. Maybe part of the problem is that here in the US, we focus on measurable effort when we tally the ingredients of revenue generation. And how can you measure eye contact and a smile? That's right. You can't, because they are priceless.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Couldn't agree with you more! I truly wish that in 2011, more US airlines do some priceless things like these 🙂

  • Cawilliamson2001
    Reply

    I had the displeasure of flying Emirates last May. I was on an official media trip when I learned by brother died. I had to immediately return to the United States and was, of course, barely functioning, I was crying so hard. I asked for an upgrade to business class so I could at least try to get some sleep on my way back (Hong Kong to Dubai to NYC — there was availability) explaining my circumstances and also letting them know that I was on an official media trip, I all I got was put in the bulkhead economy with three crying babies and one child who literally kicked at my while his mother looked on. I would n't fly them if you paid me.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Though I'm sure your situation was special and genuine, airlines generally don't give upgrades for free, and I don't think it's right to blame the airline for not giving you a free upgrade. And since you were on a media trip, it was a free ticket anyway..

  • Craig Leaming
    Reply

    I agree. They created a positive emotion with service, servant actions and joy. Emoted memories are easier to recall. Making and taking time, in a speed bent culture, equates to personal commitment. I am willing to suggest that you will, not only, quickly remember this experience, but will actually crave to recreate it.

  • Mark Vincent
    Reply

    Frankly I find this kind of thing quite tacky. Eye contact yes, but the idea of 'training people to smile'? I like my interactions to be genuine, and not of the master-and-servant variety.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      Well, I'd rather have smiling flight attendants serving me, than those who don't 🙂

  • Virginia Gordon
    Reply

    This experience is something that has application in other parts of the service industry. Waiters who adopt this approach in restaurants are more likely to receive tips.

  • Gerald Lim
    Reply

    full paying first class ?

  • Gerald Lim
    Reply

    I noticed that flight attendants on Singapore airlines tend to be a little bit racist on coach class ! There is a significance difference in service standards between a paying caucasian customer and an a japanese customer or even myself. I've had instances where the flight attendants assumed i would liked the asian meal choice and put it on my tables without even asking me on singapore airlines or talking to me rudely while putting on at least a fake smile for the german guy next to me? Service is my only main complain so far with singapore airlines and it is taking the company downhill. ESPECIALLY the inefficient call center's

    • trafficdiva
      Reply

      The general perception among the crew is that for Asians, they rather not and like to be left alone. as far as the Caucasians are concerned, they always like a small banter, so the crew do the polite thing, and respond.

  • trafficdiva
    Reply

    Generally, the the Asian crew a quite tongue tied when it comes to talking or engaging pax when the topic is something outside of the in flight domain small talk. So in order to get away from being engaged in a conversation (during their lull periods) they generally smile a lot, giggle and nod quite a bit.

    Well here is another insider tip, the crew has a Pax List indicating who is is the high level traveler, who who has complained before, who is the survey / review conducting pax, and a whole lot of other who is!! The crew then are told to pay special attention to that pax, be in in cattle class or first class, which in my opinion may be the case here.

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