Epitome of Asian Hospitality
Crying babies, cramped seats, and overzealous airport staff usually mar an otherwise perfect travelling experience. SIA is one of the few exceptions. Setting impeccable service standards that other airlines try to emulate, SIA has brought back the romance of travel. We speak to Lionel Yeo, one of the people responsible for ensuring each and every SIA customer experiences the epitome of Asian hospitality.
By Farhan Shah
“Learn to cook, take good care of your teeth, talk to people in the elevator and whatever you do, don’t set the water temperature to ‘hot’ while washing your clothes,” Lionel Yeo Shen Kiang says, laughing heartily as he gives advice gleaned from his own experience as a student in a foreign land.
A League of Its Own
The 26-year-old is a Ground Services Executive for Standards & Performance in Singapore Airlines (SIA) and one of the recipients of the company’s coveted Open Scholarship. Much like how SIA is in a league of its own in the aviation industry, its scholars and employees are also a rare breed, exuding eloquence, charisma, and a tenacious attitude.
All these qualities came to the fore in March 2011 when a massive earthquake struck Japan, causing widespread devastation and chaos, most notably triggering the tsunami that set in motion the events that led to the nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima.
“There was a surge in travel demand out of Japan due to this crisis. Our staff in Japan found it difficult to get to the airport to deal with the passengers because the public transport system was at a near standstill for two days. Yet, they found innovative ways to make their way to the airport – one walked and ran, another rode on her mini bike, while a third endured a 5-hour public transportation ride that usually takes 30 minutes,” Lionel shares.
While scenes of the chaos played out on our television screens from the relative safety of our island, employees of SIA and its service partners agreed to fly to Japan to assist in passenger and crew handling despite the possibility of nuclear fallout.
“The esprit de corps among SIA staff was impressive and heartening; stories like these truly reflect that SIA is more of a large family than simply a place to work,” Lionel proudly says.
Despite only being with the company for less than two years, Lionel has already had many significant milestones in his career. Besides being part of the team that handled the Japan crisis, Lionel was also involved in SIA’s expansion to Sao Paulo. He facilitated the first few trans-Atlantic A380 flights to Tokyo and Los Angeles and organised a series of airport manager conferences, two of which were held overseas.
This is just a tip of the iceberg that Lionel does. In a nutshell, he is in charge of monitoring and improving the performance of SIA’s overseas airport operations and products & services on the ground.
What this means is that Lionel has to ensure that service standards on the ground are upheld. From the check-in process all the way to when an SIA customer finally reaches his or her destination, Lionel has to ensure that he or she receives the kind of service that SIA is famous for.
“On a typical day, I may analyse passenger feedback on our services, or work with our overseas airport managers to see if we can implement ideas to delight our customers at the airport. I also analyse our delay survey results and make recommendations on how to ensure our passengers are well taken care of in the event of a delay or major crisis,” Lionel says.
On the Operations side, Lionel is part of the team responsible for ensuring that SIA holds true to its commitment towards on-time departures.
Achieving this is no mean feat considering the extent of SIA’s services but Lionel does this without much fuss, regularly attending meetings that study how the efficiency and safety of the ground process can be improved and working with other operational ground crew to see how operations can be made even smoother.
So, what are his secrets to tackling the challenges of working in one of the best known airlines in the world?
The University of Pennsylvania alumnus says without hesitation, “First, you have to dare to be different. While studying abroad, I experienced a culture that encourages everyone to be proud of their own unique individuality, something that I remind myself of every day now that I’ve started working.”
He leans forward before continuing, “Secondly, you cannot be afraid to fail. Failure is something that not many top students are acquainted with; hence they are unsure of how to handle it. Americans have embraced failure as something to be proud of, judging by the number of failed entrepreneurs, websites, products, and businesses. Yet, they produce some of the world’s best products, services, and ideas. Failure is a prerequisite of innovation, because after trying, failing, and trying again, all you need is one success that will make all the difference!”
It’s these two approaches to life that Lionel advocates all JC graduates to adopt, both in their scholarship search and subsequent tentative steps towards their new career.
The Future Beckons
“Ultimately, taking up a scholarship is deciding on a career. There is no ‘perfect’ career, only a career that perfectly fits you. Find out more about the company and its culture, talk to current employees, and discover what career progression prospects there are. This will help you decide if you will be a good fit for the job,” Lionel says.
As for students who hope to score the coveted SIA Open Scholarship, Lionel promises that they will be in for a great time.
“Most scholarships offer very similar benefits, covering your educational and living expenses as well as a secure job after graduation. However, the SIA Open Scholarship offers you a career with an internationally-recognised icon and a world class leader in aviation, one of the most exciting industries in the world. In addition, you will have the opportunity to undertake a diverse portfolio of departments through our rotation programme. In SIA, I believe that dreams are the seedlings to reality – your ideas may well take SIA to even greater heights,” Lionel says contentedly.