Before I wrote my first post, I made a list of products and services that I felt met the buy,use, love criteria. They span many industries but today I wanted to pick an industry that continually baffles me with its troubles and its inability to deliver… the airline industry.
There is ample evidence that the demand for travel and air travel, in particular, will continue to grow (after a brief hiccup over the last couple of years) for the foreseeable future. So the industry definitely doesn’t have a demand problem. The problem might actually be an excessive supply of equivalent offerings fueling the need to differentiate in a crowded marketplace; a familiar problem for a lot of businesses and Product Managers.
In the midst of this endless rat race, one of the airlines compelling travellers to buy, use, love their service is Singapore Airlines. I am sure there are others that are worthy competitors, but I’ve spent decades hearing praises of Singapore Airlines from family members traveling between the west coast of the US and India.
Singapore Airlines’ ability to prioritize and focus on what matters is a great example for Product Managers. Here’s what I learnt…
- Align with your customers not your competitors: All kinds of businesses, airlines included, look at their competitors’ latest tactic and try to optimize it. This happens mostly at the expense of the customer – think airline baggage fees, no food, charging for water etc. As articulated in this HBR blog post, Singapore Airlines is in an anachronistic state of mind, they still seem to believe that air travel should be a pleasant experience – their customers agree and pay more for it.
- Spend more on improving the customer experience and less on everything else: Singapore Airlines overspends competitors on airplanes and staff training – areas that directly improve the customer experience (link to HBR article). They lag their competitors in areas like the swankiness of their headquarters and their back-office technologies.
- Being flexible and awesome is better than being consistently bad: Everybody loves consistency because it makes it easier to predict the future – after all, all businesses are run based on projections and forecasts. Singapore Airlines trains frontline employees to make one-off judgement calls to wow the customer with exceptional service. The financial impact of a one-off pleasant customer experience can’t be modeled but it’s worth the unpredictability every single time.
As I look back on this post, it all seems so darn obvious. However, we all know, especially Product Managers, that following simple rules to ensure long-term success is a lot harder when there are so many short-term crises to avert. Here’s to taking the long view and sticking to the basics.
Disclaimer: I should specify that I am a software and web guy and not an airline industry expert. My goal is to merely study players in various industries that have created offerings that capture their customers’ imagination to find the common threads of wisdom.