Singapore Airlines is back at No. 1, with a little help from Singapore Girls

08-Sep-2018 Intellasia | AFR | 6:00 AM Print This Post

I’ve only just mastered the gun grip (used so your fingers don’t touch the rim of the glass) when we move on to the various tray settings for Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Western cuisine more than 50 types of plates, bowls and other crockery.

And that’s not counting the four types of tongs: one for ice, another for the bread basket, plus red-handled tongs to dispense the hot towelettes and blue-handled sets for collecting them.

Then another curve-ball lobs.

“If someone orders a Japanese meal in first or business, it’s important you get the nuance of the service right, especially presentation,” explains Stefan Loe, my guide for the morning through this beauty-school-meets-international-diplomacy 101 otherwise known as the Singapore Airlines Training Centre.

“Asian dishes are always presented with the starch rice or noodle component of the meal facing the passenger, whereas Western food is always served meat facing.”

We haven’t even made it to hair and make-up.

Welcome to the life of a Singapore Girl, arguably the most recognised and universally loved hostie. In 1993, a model of the Singapore Girl was displayed at Madame Tussauds in London, and the refrain “Singapore Girl you’re a great way to fly” is among the world’s longest-running and most successful advertising campaigns since it appeared in the early 1970s. She even has her own Wikipedia page.

This demure yet foxy stroke of marketing genius is an outdated concept in the eyes of many, and over the years the airline has been criticised for sexism, racism (only Asian women can apply for the job) and encouraging an ideal of the female form as out there as Barbie and Jessica Rabbit.

But when a formula works, you stick with it. As one American aviation blogger commented years ago, the Singapore Girl “still holds power… In a commodity marketplace, Singapore Air found an honest to goodness point of difference.”

Thus the Singapore Girl continues to reign in her overtly snug sarong kebaya, created by French designer Pierre Balmain in 1968 and virtually unchanged since 1972. In the (unlikely) event of an emergency, crew are trained to hitch the sarong up around their knees and fix it with a knot to facilitate movement in the water.

Of course, it’s not all about the uniform. Most Singapore Girls are bilingual at the very least, and often speak up to four languages.

Aviation ‘theme park’

Alongside me, a dozen swan-like new recruits are being put through their paces. With immaculate nails, the famous blue or smoky brown eye shadow (depending on skin tone) and cherry-red lips, they practise on the PA system and take turns at reclining each other in the business-class flat-bed seats.

Just near SIA’s headquarters on the outskirts of Changi Airport, the training centre resembles an aviation theme park, with sections of real planes, two flight simulators for pilot training, and two emergency evacuation mock-ups one for a “dry” evacuation and another positioned above a large swimming pool to practise wet ditching.

Recruits spend 14 weeks at the training centre, mastering everything from pouring champagne to detailed fleet knowledge and hundreds of safety scenarios. SIA’s training is almost twice the industry standard of just over eight weeks.

Singapore Girl has become so successful winning countless industry awards that the airline has been quietly moving to ensure its favourite child doesn’t eclipse her siblings, not least because almost half of SIA’s 8000 cabin crew are male.

The next day I am chatting with Mak Swee Wah, executive vice-president commercial, about how Singapore Airlines reclaimed the coveted “world’s best airline” gong at the annual Skytrax Aviation Awards in July. Mak readily acknowledges the Singapore Girl as the “heart and soul” of the airline’s people-pleasing strategy.

“Service excellence is the key differentiator for SIA: we always talk about ‘Singapore Girl’ but really it’s more that she personifies the high standard of service for which the airline is known,” he explains.

It takes many parts to make a whole. To push more ground staff to the fore, the cabin crew’s internal slogan of SOAR (Service Over and Above the Rest) has been tweaked to “SOAR as One”.

Last year, training for all customer-centric roles was corralled under that banner. “That means all our front liners go through the same service training, focused on changing customer needs and new ways to ‘surprise and delight’,” Mak says.

Another way management ensures all employees feel visible and rewarded is annual award nights. “We ask them to dress to the nines and our mini Oscars are a wonderful motivating tool,” Mak says.

Deep down, don’t we all crave a bit of Singapore Girl glamour? Now, which way to hair and make-up?

https://www.afr.com/brand/boss/singapore-airlines-back-at-number-one-with-the-help-of-singapore-girls-20180822-h14cur

 


Category: Singapore

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