How Singapore Airlines converts the biggest critics into its strongest brand advocates


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Remember the story about food on Virgin Atlantic?

Earlier this year, I had published an article on how Virgin Atlantic had dealt with a passenger whose grievances about bad food had made it to The Telegraph, as the “world’s best complaint letter”. Sir Richard Branson had personally called him up and requested him to help choose the menu for future flights. Virgin Atlantic had successfully turned a critic into a fan.

Generally, this is an exception in the airline industry, as complaints often fall on deaf ears. But as I discovered, at Singapore Airlines, it is a practice to take special care of a disgruntled passenger, ensuring that he is a convert by the end of the brand engagement. The first time I heard this, I was wondering how this was possible. That’s when I was enlightened by an experienced SIA crew member.

The downside of an unhappy passenger

On every flight there are bound to be passengers who feel that they have been shortchanged, mishandled or even mistreated in some way or the other – often resulting in anger or frustration. But instead of trying to understand the situation and try to appease the passenger, most airlines tend to ignore such passengers, to not cause further trouble. But in such bad economic times can airlines still afford to maintain the same attitude when dealing with unhappy passengers? Probably not. And here’s why.

  • With social media, an unhappy passenger can spread the word far and wide. Did you read almost a hundred comments on the United Airlines saga?
  • An unhappy passenger not only doesn’t fly the same airline again, he also takes away other potential business
  • We all know it’s much harder to get a new customer, than to please the current customer and get him to fly again

Therefore it makes perfect sense to treat an unhappy passenger like a VIP and this becomes even more so relevant in an enclosed and constrained environment like an aircraft.

How Singapore Airlines cultivates VIPs?

Singapore Airlines has a very systematic approach to service recovery whenever a problem is encountered within the flight. And here’s how they turn unhappy passengers into their biggest fans:

  1. If the problem is directly or indirectly caused by the airline, the airline acknowledges the problem and assumes full responsibility. EG, if the in-flight entertainment system doesn’t work on a flight, the customer if offered a seat-change and if he doesn’t take that up, he’s given a $50 voucher. Who wouldn’t be pleased with that?
  2. Other than generous compensation, having an ever-smiling and courteous cabin crew helps calm nerves in a tense situation as well. SIA Girls seldom lose their cool.
  3. If for some reason the crew isn’t able to resolve the situation, he or she doesn’t hesitate to ask for help from the in-flight supervisor.
  4. And even the in-flight supervisor is not reluctant to apologize. He knows that if he can make this customer happy, he will be back.

Here are the simple rules SIA crew follows in making a decision in situations like these: If it’s simple, give it to the customer. If the thing that was miscommunicated is easy to do or follow through with, just do it. If it’s complicated, try to compromise.

And it’s these simple practices that make Singapore Airlines the only airline in the Forbes Top 50 brands in the world.

What do you think? How has SIA managed do it consistently while others are struggling with this? Let’s discuss…

Special thanks to veteran airline crew, Z. Ahmad, for his inputs for this article.

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