Singapore Airlines – A legacy of Customer Experience, struggling with Digital Experience


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Singapore Airlines (SIA) is one of the first Airlines in the world to officially solicit Requests for Proposal (RFP/tender) for procurement of a Customer Experience Management System last year. A display of innovative thinking to surpass customer expectations, with this, SIA expressed explicit intent to move towards personalised customer-centric servicing for its passengers (both on ground and on-board). Singapore Airlines has a proven track record of delivering well on its promise of a memorable travel experience. Just look at the number of accolades it has gathered over the years.

A senior leader of SIA once recalled that in the late 60s and early 70s, SIA resigned from its membership of IATA in order to effectively compete with better established Airlines of the time. These competitors had better aircrafts and SIA decided to focus on providing exceptional services, giving away free meals, free headsets and free drinks on-board against the IATA guidelines of the time. For a new-kid-on-the-block, that showed real gumption and commitment towards experiences-based differentiation. Secondly, Singapore Airlines was one of the earliest to recognise that genuine customer experience can only be delivered on the core competency of effective and engaged employee workforce. This it served out with the creation of its iconic “Singapore Girl“, the first commercial undertaking figure to get its own wax statue in the world famous Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London in 1994. Other product innovations like KrisWorld (for inflight entertainment) and International Culinary Panel (ICP – for raising standards of its inflight dining service) further enhanced the in-flight customer experience offered by them.

Backed with such a strong legacy of innovation in on-board experience, it is no surprise that SIA is one of the very few airlines in the world to have never reported a financial loss in its annual reports. Today Singapore Airlines continues to be a leader in its customer experience as evidenced by the SkyTrax ratings and online review.

One area, however, that SIA has consistently struggled with over the last decade or so, is its technology adoption for serving high quality Digital Experience. Whether it is the public apology of its CEO due to website glitches, or its failure to promote adoption of self-service kiosks, SIA has had a series of false starts when it comes to the quality of the Digital Experience that it offers. Once the best in class, even its inflight entertainment system has lost a lot of its market appeal to competitors like Emirates. For social media, it has roughly 240K likes on Facebook as compared to 1.5 million for Emirates. On LinkedIn, Singapore Airlines barely exists with none of its products or services being officially listed or maintained. On Twitter, Southwest Airlines has 1.47 million followers compared to less than 30,000 for SIA. For a company which has long understood the value of customer experience, it has a long way to go when it comes to digital experience. For the new generation, the always connected, gadget-savvy traveller, this prestigious carrier may seem antiquated, if it does not alleviate the Digital Experience of its passengers to the same high standards that it has set for the in-flight Experience.

Having a Digital Experience execution strategy and making quick wins is a lot easier than putting a customer service strategy or a product experience strategy in place. So for an Airline like SIA, that has successfully served high quality customer service and product experience for decades, cracking the nut of Digital Experience should be relatively straightforward. May be SIA has just been unlucky or may be it has its hands full or may be it has not prioritised the Digital Experience appropriately. Whatever the reason may be, SIA displays clear intent to overcome the challenges with its technology procurement initiatives of a Customer Experience System and millions of dollars in IT investments over the years. And for technology players, it presents a clear opportunity for them to capitalise and be part of another historical experience-based innovation in the aviation sector. Where there is will, there is a way and I am sure SIA, along with the right technology player would get there soon. As for me, I eagerly await the outcome as the future unfolds…

Abhishek Singh
Currently, Abhishek holds the responsibility for conceptualizing, implementing and managing the IT product strategies for Infosys subsidiary, EdgeVerve, in the Digital space. Prior to this, several years at Singapore Airlines as well as his years of entrepreneurship ingrained in him the importance of customer experience.


  1. Great points there Abhishek ! It indeed makes immense sense for airlines to prioritize their digital execution strategy and provide the best customer experience where its customers are found most, the digital world !

  2. What Singapore Airlines is known for is in-flight product and mainly service quality. Not holistic customer experience. They did the right training and had the right service culture and brand image of the “Singapore Girl” to direct guide attendants. All other touch-points were never award-winning. Ground staff is outsourced. Airports aren’t their own hubs either. It’s pointless to single out digital channels unless you work for an IT company. Oh wait…

    And there is no such thing as a customer experience management software.

  3. I think “CEM guy” makes a valid point. The digital/social experiences may not matter very much to travelers who really like (in the traditional sense) to fly Singapore Air.

    Other airlines may be innovating in digital CX to make up for weaknesses in the in-flight experience. Good strategy for them, not necessarily the right move for Singapore Air.

    There are many ways to build a loyal customer base. Take Ryanair, for example. At the opposite end of the CX spectrum from Singapore Air, Ryanair take low cost and “no frills” to a new level (or depth, as the case may be.) Yet it makes money and passengers return because competitors are not able to match. (read more)

    That said, I think good digital experiences are becoming more expected. So even if not a driver of loyalty, Singapore Air will probably need to make some investments so as not to fall too far behind industry norms.

  4. Hi Bob,

    I agree that Digital Experience may not be a loyalty driver but a poor digital experience would most definitely lead to a loss of fringe-customers or potential new customers.

    And like you rightly pointed out that the eCommerce industry is spoiling the customer with such rich digital experience that the new generation is taking it for granted and expecting it as norm. So although it may not lead to a loss of your current loyal customers, it surely is a hindrance in securing new customers.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Appreciate it.

  5. Hi CEM guy

    Thanks for reading. The main reason to single out digital channels is that they are easy to fix. Ground staff, call centres, etc. depend on human beings and therefore are much more difficult to fix. Please do spare sometime to read another of my posts where I have identified reasons of why Digital Experience can easily be executed for airlines and hence should be prioritised to get quick wins with the passengers.

    Anyway thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Your article got me thinking about two "IT” concepts that are currently being used in other sectors and could be used in hospitality as well:
    omni-channel commerce – same customer experience across different channels – physical and virtual/digital
    Gamification – "fun” part of customer experience

    A lot of times companies are hesitant to adopt new technology as they are not sure if it can give ROI. And the truth is that a lot of concepts have not been successful. So software product companies have come up with the concept of "try now and pay later”. They let users use their applications/technology free for few months and then charge if companies see ROI and want to continue. Subscription model or pay as you use model or on demand model.

    In such models, typical IT issues like system downtime, errors or inefficient UI results in loss to the software company and not to the actual business.
    As a result, software product companies have to
    – ensure that their products give good customer experience to users of the product i.e. airline customers
    – ensure that businesses that subscribe to their products are happy with their own experience i.e. airline companies using the product.

    You would soon see self-service sites that allows users to register and start using applications like we register on facebook/yahoo. A new concept but the way to go.

  7. Well said Rita. Do you have any examples of self-service sites of IT product companies that cater to a B2B audience in the way you describe above?
    Your comments are much appreciated


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