What Can We Learn From Changi?

By Mehmet Baha

After an airplane journey of 16 hours, I picked up my luggage from the conveyor belt, exchanged money and started walking again to get a shuttle bus to the city center. I was exhausted. I could feel the jetlag all over my body. In a few minutes, I arrived to a shuttle bus stand. The officer at the stand told me the price of the shuttle to the city. I was about to hand her the money. Suddenly, she noticed that I had two pieces of luggage and she added: “I need to charge you twice. Our prices include one luggage per passenger. Since you have two pieces of luggage, you need to pay double.” Paying double seemed unfair to me, also it would cost the same as taking a taxi. Therefore, I walked to a taxi stop which was less than 100 metres away from the shuttle bus stand. The lady at the taxi stop politely directed to me a taxi. The taxi driver put my luggage to the trunk very carefully, while I took my seat in the taxi. “Welcome to this premium taxi” he said in a proud manner. “I am sorry I did not know that this was a premium taxi. I just need a normal taxi” were my words, upon learning that the premium one costed twice as much as a normal taxi. Luckily, in a minute a normal taxi came and picked me up.

This was just one small part of my experience at Changi Airport in Singapore where I went to hold a workshop at MERIT Asia Summit. One of the most interesting talks in the summit was given by Lawrence Chan, Head of Organisational Development and Learning at a leading insurance company in Singapore. In his engaging talk, Chan explained how Changi airport strives to achieve excellence. Changi airport has won the world’s best airport award by Skytrax 10 times, 7 of which in the last seven years.

Here are three principles of this award-winning airport which you can apply to your organisation to improve employee experience and continuously add value to your customers.

Customer/employee journey: Lawrence Chan stated that Changi airport used the customer journey mapping as part of design thinking approach to completely understand customer/passenger experience at the airport. According to Chan, the CEO of the airport once asked all the employees to smile at passengers in an effort to provide the best customer experience. The airport later on realised that one of the pain points on customer experience was the immigration desk. In fact, immigration officers are not employees of the airport, so they might not be under the influence of the airport’s CEO. Also, delighting customers/passengers is not the primary task of immigration officers. The airport authority this time provided immigration officers with a cup full of candies so that they could offer candies to passengers at the end of their conversation with them. The airport focuses relentlessly on each and every single detail to provide the best customer experience, even if the related personnel are not directly employed by the airport such as in the example of immigration officers. Changi airport subordinates everything to the needs of passengers.

Practice: How can you use and analyse each and every single detail to provide a great employee experience in your organisation?

End points: When we have a positive experience followed by a negative one, we are more likely to remember the final negative experience. Dan Pink states that many restaurant reviews on Yelp include customers’ comments about the end part of their experiences in a restaurant. Changi airport knows this and wants to provide inspiring moments to their passengers before they leave the airport. “The 10-story Jewel, offering visitors a forest, indoor waterfall and more than 280 stores and restaurants, hopes to make the Singapore airport a destination in itself.” writes New York Times. Frankly, I did not want to leave the airport when I arrived there and saw the magnificent indoor waterfall with a breathtaking light and music show. It was simply spectacular!

Practice: When you organise business summits or events, make sure to have endings that elevate. Even in the case of employee offboarding, strive to provide the best possible ending experience.

Mentality: I timed it. It took me 13 minutes from getting off my taxi, entering Changi airport, going to the information desk, doing the check-in, passing security and passport controls to arriving at my gate. “Everything is about speed at Changi,” says Matthew Holden, vice president of PodAsia Traveller. As a side note, the airport is one of the world’s top 20 airports which welcomed more than 65 million passengers last year. Many organisations start implementing agile practices such as design thinking, while maintaining a bureaucratic mentality. However, Changi airport, which was named Singapore’s Most Attractive Employer in 2016 and 2018 by Randstad, embraces an agile mentality. The fact that it was selected as the best airport for customer service by the Travel Retail Awards confirms that. Continuously delivering customer value is an indication of this mentality.

Practice: What can you and your teams do to go from “doing agile” to becoming agile?

Two days after the summit in Singapore, I was back in Changi airport and very curious to see to what extent the airport could still improve the customer experience. I filled in the feedback form in the departures terminal of the airport explaining in detail my experience mentioned in the first paragraph of this article. “We are sorry that you had an unpleasant time at the airport…We hope to improve and serve our customers better…” was the email I got from the airport within a few hours of sending the feedback. One month later, the airport authority sent me another email detailing specific actions they are going to take to enhance their service based on my feedback. I would not be surprised if Changi airport will be selected as the world’s best airport in 2020 for the eighth consecutive year.

Mehmet Baha is Founder of Solution Folder which provides training solutions to create collaborative work culture in companies. He has more than 16 years of work experience residing in Germany, USA, Turkey, Cyprus and Ireland. He was one of the first employees of Facebook in Europe where he helped Facebook scale its business. He is also a REMO-endorsed artist. Combining his skills in music and his expertise in business, he designs and delivers unique learning experiences to improve collaboration in workplaces.