Brand essence of Malaysia Airlines – experiencing Malaysian Hospitality

Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and that resulted in an overdose of branding messages from regional airlines like Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Tiger Airways.

I was intrigued in particular by Malaysia Airlines’ “Malaysian Hospitality” campaign – which is a play on the MH code of the airline. Soon enough, I got to experience the “world’s best in-flight service” myself, on Business Class from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles (see photos at the bottom of this article). And here’s what I feel is the essence of Malaysian Hospitality – it’s the “human-ness” of flying. Let me explain what I mean.

Malaysian Hospitality – a story of genuine care

It may sound strange, but a lot of airlines that have good service often lack “humanity” in their service. Sometimes, it even becomes robotic – I’m sure you’ve seen robotic smiles plastered on flight attendants. Malaysia Airlines’ service, in contrast, was genuine and very human – one that makes you feel good as a person. Let me share a story.

I opted to have my meal soon after take-off, while the gentleman next to me chose to have it later. I first received some traditional satay (a Malaysian specialty), and then more aromatic dishes. This obviously tempted the person seated next to me and he kept stealing glances at my food. Without him asking for anything, the leading stewardess asked him if he’d like some starters or dessert – he opted for the latter and happily munched on the tiramisu.

Not only was the service genuine, it was pro-active. I’m not saying no other airlines provide such service, just that it’s a rare feat. Moreover, we were all greeted by names, and complete eye-contact was made before we were spoken to – all the basics of providing a personal service.

The omnipresent Malaysian essence – on-board, and in the lounge

Not only was the food very Malaysian – like the satay and the teh tarik (pulled-tea), the products and service were too. The crew pointed not with their fingers, but with their thumb above their fist- a very Malaysian gesture. In the Business Class lounge, there were a variety of local foods available, and local massages too. So even if you’re in-transit, and not getting out of the airport, you can experience glimpses of Malaysian life.

Moreover, I was impressed with the lounge because not only did it have a dedicated Business Center and phone booths for private calls, but also a golf putting area and a children’s playground. I’m not sure how many children frequent the playground, but the other services were certainly desirable.

Room for improvement?

For one, the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft that Malaysia Airlines uses for this flight isn’t the newest. In fact, Singapore Airlines has retired all but two of this type from their fleet. Not only is this a competitive disadvantage, the wear and tear and the older business class product shows. In fact, the new flat-bed by AirAsia X may even prove to be a challenger, given the airline’s competitive fares.

I guess things will improve once the airline gets the new A380s over the next few years. The CEO recently mentioned that it will have a refurbished product, including a Premium Economy class.

Having said that, I think the excellent service and the genuine show of care more than makes up for the not-so-latest product. Overall, it was a pleasure experiencing Malaysian Hospitality, and I’d encourage you to give it a try.



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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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  • matt_the_fish

    Great article, I have experienced this outstanding service from Malaysia Airlines and they were in fact the first Asian carrier I had flown with some time ago.

    What is it with Asian carriers and this unsurpassed level of service?

    Just last week, speaking of this genuine service, I flew with SQ. On Sunday on a flight from Singapore to London (SQ318) I had gone to lengths for best chance of getting exit row without being stung with their seat fee. All looked good, when at MEL checking in online and then at bag drop the best I could get was Upper Deck Aisle – still good and mentioned to chat to agents in SIN when I arrive. I did and they managed to move me to what I was told was Upper Deck exit row (towards back of that Upper Deck cabin). Though when I boarded as one of last pax it was in fact the row behind exit row and agent wasn't 100% sure on the config of seating. Now stuck with the worst possibility, middle seat of four on 14hr flight! I spoke to one of the 'leading' stewardess' walking past (I knew it was almost 100% full flight, so prepared for defeat!) and immediately said yes she would see what she could do to at least get an aisle.

    Later she came back with a print out, must have been PNR messages etc and flight manifest and could see there was an oversight. Mentioned she was going down stairs to see what could be done, 5mins later she came back and I had an aisle downstairs. Wow I was so grateful!

    During the flight at several points throughout if she was checking on the cabin and walking past she would acknowledge me by name. I WAS SO IMPRESSED! Then later she went past had a Gold or PPS card in hand perhaps – doing some things for business / first class pax and asked if I needed any on the ground assistance on arrival in LHR. NOW TOTALLY BOWLED OVER!

    If in the galley getting anything or having a walk around, again I was asked how I was getting on. Talk about service recovering and then some!

    The Asian carriers just seem to have a level of service so far beyond other airlines. It is done in a genuine way and the staff actually care for the passengers. There can be great service but like in the article it can be robotic, but this was great service where they really care what is going on.

    If only I took down the name of the person, because I would have certainly written in with positive comments – I hope someone at SIA see's this. I just have no idea how these airlines train their staff to this level, simply outstanding.

    • Firdaus Hashim

      I don't know if this would meet what you need but hope this would help in understanding more of SIA customer service.

    • Shashank Nigam

      Matt, you share a story that resonates with a number of Asian
      carriers, and Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Jet
      Airways, Kingfisher – are all up there internationally. Thanks for
      sharing your story.

  • Firdaus Hashim

    I don't know if pointing using your thumb is a Malaysian thing or not because I do point using my thumb too.

    But yes, if there's one thing I like about MH is their human-ness, as compared to the fembots of its competitor, 45 minutes away by flight.

  • oussama

    Far Eastern hospitality is well known and has been at the top in airline passenger service surveys. However, they are getting competition from the 3 GCC airlines (EK, EY and QR). The eye contact and addressing the passengers by name is nothing new airlines in MENA like RJ and EK among others have been doing it for years. The humaness factor is an advantage and is assisted by the cultural disposition of the region. The challenge resides in the ability of an airline that has more than 60 nationalities to provide that human service. The rule that you should have at least one flight attendant that can speak the language of the destination is either ignored by some or not fully adhered to. One destination language speaker in an all economy A320/B737 aircraft may be adequate, but one in a multi class multi compartments and now 2 decks is not adequate in a real emergency or even from a service perspective (the ability to respond to more than one passenger at the same time in an aircraft like the A380).
    These are challenges that are facing all airlines in terms of passenger service and branding. I am not so sure that what worked for the Far East carriers so far is sufficient for them to compete on the global scene. American carriers are colossal but mostly domestic and very little international destinations. The Far East and Australasia are more of regional players and that goes for most European carriers. EK, EY and QR with a few other MENA carriers excel in the fact that the majority of their destinations are outside
    their region.

  • vinaykumarverma

    No doubt about Malaysian Airline cabin crew attitude. Yes, I agree with all the point and specifically for ‘humanness’. I also flown to KUL in business class and way back in economy class and realized that cabin crew did justified their job in both cabins.

  • TmsTms

    Very interesting post and I also have to say that he airline industry is defined by their customers. Customers hop from one airline to another depending on the price or the quality of the service. Great service, as a part of the branding experience, is what brings airlines to the top of rankings, such as Skytrax. When customers have the experience of a lifetime with one airline, they will come back for more and eventually become loyal. When you have loyal customers, they will perform the most powerful form of marketing for you – word of mouth.

    In an economic downturn, it has been proven that airline companies who keep up their branding and marketing efforts end up doing better in the long-term. You must integrate your quality and branding into every aspect of your company from the design of the airplane (interior or livery), provide great food experience in stunning packaging design, up to the way stewards are dressed. This is what we call Total Consumer Experience (TCE).

    This is an interesting example of Total Consumer Experience applied on Airlines:


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