SIA creates frequent passenger smiles

SIA told The Straits Times that it has been developing its own digital customer database in the past few years, and has come up with an app that helps flight crew more consistently deliver what the airline prides itself on - the human touch.
SIA told The Straits Times that it has been developing its own digital customer database in the past few years, and has come up with an app that helps flight crew more consistently deliver what the airline prides itself on - the human touch. PHOTO: AFP

Its digital database lets crew cater to passengers' preferences

Airlines around the world are ramping up efforts to harness information technology (IT) for everything from flight scheduling to customer service, and Singapore Airlines (SIA) is no exception.

SIA told The Straits Times that it has been developing its own digital customer database in the past few years. It has come up with an app that helps flight crew more consistently deliver what the airline prides itself on - the human touch.

Mr George Wang, senior vice-president of IT, said: "The idea is to give our crew sufficient information, but in the end, we still need the crew to make the decision on how to deliver the service.

"Otherwise, it becomes robotic."

The cabin crew's app, co-developed with international IT company Tata Consultancy Services, was launched in 2014 after about two years of work.

Tata is already marketing the software to other airlines - albeit only the basic version, without SIA's customisations.

The SIA app, called Beyond Excellent Service through Technology (Best), is now used in the airline's first and business class cabins.

The crew members are given iPads with the app installed, which they use to retrieve and add information on passenger preferences.

These can cover minute details, such as a passenger's preference for having tea served in a tall mug instead of a standard cup, or another's predilection for a Bloody Mary with extra Tabasco sauce.

The app enhances crew efficiency, said Mr Wang, as crew members can submit reports electronically at the end of the flight, instead of filing paperwork.

The data is automatically synced with the servers and the app can store photos to go with the reports.

Mr Campbell Wilson, SIA's acting senior vice-president of sales and marketing, said customers have expressed surprise at being offered extra items such as their favourite magazines, without their having to ask.

"You don't want someone to have to tell you something more than once," he added.

The electronic data is deposited in the airline's customer experience management database, which was set up in 2014.

The data is analysed to find patterns in passenger preferences. "For example, there may be a Europe flight that historically has demand for Chinese magazines, and we can tailor to that," said Mr Wilson.

"The data analytics allows us to structure our product and give customers things they didn't even know they wanted."

However, some passengers are not convinced that the app would make a noticeable difference, as several key preferences are already tailored to the individual.

Dr Au Kah Kay, 54, a frequent traveller who has flown different classes on various airlines, said: "Basic passenger preferences like favourite seat and meal preferences are already in the database for premium passengers.

"Special requests can always be ordered prior to the flight."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'SIA creates frequent passenger smiles'. Print Edition | Subscribe