Singapore Airlines’ Quality Management

Preface

This paper will evaluate the existing quality management practices of Singapore Airlines (SIA) to devise and implement an effective strategic change.SIA is a leading airline company that has successfully delivered top quality services to customers for nearly five decades. Currently, the company thrives in a differentiation strategy that sets its services apart from those of rivals. SIA also focuses on developing its human resources to promote high-quality service delivery.

The Role of Operations Management in an Organization

The Importance of Effective Operations Management in Achieving Organizational Objectives

Operations management refers to processes established by the management to foster efficiency in an organization. It targets the efficient conversion of materials and human input into goods and services to maximize profits. Operations management is primarily involved with tasks revolving around manufacturing, production, and service delivery. Specific tasks under operations management include procurement, managing relations, and marinating a sustainable utilization of resources within the organization. Two key terms are instrumental in illustrating the importance of operations management. The terms include:

Supply chain management

Logistics

Supply chain management calls for monitoring consumer trends to facilitate an efficient response to market demand. Logistics refers to activities relating to the sustainable use of company resources in a cost-effective manner. Supply chain management and logistics elucidate the pivotal role that operations management plays in ensuring the smooth functioning of a firm.

Operations efficiency translates into proper utilization of resources, desirable output, and profit maximization. Sustainable use of resources has become increasingly important as their demand rises above supply, often resulting in shortages. Therefore, firms must strive to make the most of the raw materials, labor, office space, and technology to compete effectively with rival firms. Slack (2015, p. 63) introduces the concept of ‘sustainable competitive advantage, which is an organization’s focus on internal resources to achieve an above-par performance’. Here, business is primarily interested in maximizing its core competencies to attain market success.

The Success of Existing Operations Management Processes in Meeting an Organization’s Overall Strategic Management Objectives

SIA has attained a distinct competitive advantage through its brand image, namely, Singapore Girl. Singapore Girl has launched nearly fifty years ago. However, it has remained an effective customer attraction technique. By providing the airline with an effective differentiation strategy, Singapore Girl has helped the company to remain relevant in a competitive industry.

Chan (2000) observes that Singapore Girl is the longest-serving differentiation strategy in the airline industry. This observation explains its effectiveness over the years, with the promise to grow stronger in the future. Human assets are another area that SIA has paid keen attention in developing to attain internal success. The company believes its employees are the primary driving force responsible for its success in the market. Through the skillful integration of tradition, instruction, and practice, the company was able to successfully turn the human asset into an important source of competitive advantage. Highly specialized recruitment and training are employed to equip employees with the necessary skills to keep the brand image competitive.

SIA takes fleet management seriously. It is the only airline whose airplanes have an average age of 5 years. Relatively new flights are important for the brand image in several ways. Newer planes reflect top-of-the-line improvements and technology, an attribute that customers are pleased about (Ramaswamy 2002). They are also fuel-effective and require less labor input compared to older aircraft. Additionally, they are safer and more comfortable, further enhancing the differentiation strategy.

SIA has entered into strategic partnerships with key global players to tap into the international global market. Superior service also identifies SIA as a company dedicated to offering passengers the best traveling experience. Activities like luggage handling, catering, and terminal management are performed to the satisfaction of customers. The company also maintained an impressive client list, which included Qantas, British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Lufthansa (Ramaswamy 2002).

The Importance of Managing Quality in an Organization

The Importance of Effective Quality Management in Achieving Organizational Objectives

Quality management is adopted in organizations to promote perfection and effectiveness of the output (products and services) while at the same time achieving high quality. Quality management and operations may be termed as two sides of a coin, and they serve the primary goal of assisting a firm to achieve its objectives through their joint efforts and impacts.

Three factors are crucial in attaining and marinating quality services and products in an organization. The factors include planning, assurance, and quality control. Quality improvement system, which is developed through careful monitoring and control, is yet another important aspect of quality management for any organization. SIA has devised an effective quality management strategy to identify the need for quality services and unique methods to assist in ensuring this is achieved. As observed, SIA rides on a differentiation strategy that sets its services apart from those of other players in the airline industry.

The Efficient Quality System at SIA is perhaps the strongest pillar that supports the company’s vision to remain the most trusted airline. Quality services offered to passengers identify the company as being creditworthy and trustworthy. By marinating customer trust through delivering quality services, the company can achieve considerable customer loyalty as well as attracting new clientele.

This translates to a competitive advantage that has been sustained for decades. Additionally, the company has implemented the “six sigma” in its operations, to achieve international quality. The six sigma techniques are concerned with customer needs and maintaining perfection in service delivery (Antony, Kumar, & Madu 2005). The Changi International Airport provides top quality terminal management services for SIA in areas like luggage handling and cleanliness.

The Success of Existing Quality Management Processes in Meeting an Organization’s Overall Strategic Management Objectives

With the assistance of the six-sigma technique, SIA has emerged successful in disseminating high-quality services to their clientele, as well as attaining employee satisfaction. The two are the primary objectives of SIA. The company is also investing colossal efforts at equipping its workforce with high-quality skills to foster efficient service delivery.

These strategies help in achieving customer satisfaction, hence attaining increased revenues since quality services can pull more customers. Also, with enhanced service delivery, the company has eliminated time wastage either during flights or at the terminals. This plan can promote competitive pricing for SIA with the best quality services and huge profit margins.

Apart from focusing on customer satisfaction, SIA instills profit consciousness in its employees. The management is acutely aware of the need to run a cost-effective and profit-oriented airline. The company’s policy focuses on a highly printable business as opposed to being a large business. This culture of pursuing profitability explains SIA’s strong market capitalization in the industry, which is only second to Southwest Airlines.

Additionally, proposed innovations are carefully analyzed to establish a clear balance between predicted customer benefits and operation costs. The importance of efficiency as part of SIA culture is best explained by examining the physical spaces at the company headquarters. As a sharp contrast to the excellent fleet, the headquarters lack expensive decorations. Instead, a simple, functional design that reflects internal efficiency is put in place.

SIA employs the Deming model of continuous improvement through employee involvement (see Fig. 1). This process is achieved by constantly improving processes and services by employing creativity to solve problems and work-related challenges. Kaizen (Japanese term for continuous improvement) equips employees with the necessary environment to engage creatively.

Because employees at SIA are encouraged to identify with the brand, they are motivated to provide creative solutions and improvements for the airline. A bonus reward system is also in place to encourage innovation. The result is a competitive internal environment that has led to effective solutions to the existing and anticipated problems.

Deming Cycle
Fig. 1: Deming Cycle. Source: (Deming Cycle: The Wheel of Continuous Improvement 2009)

Planning a Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

Planning a Strategic Quality Change to Improve Organizational Performance

Strategic quality change is important for an organization that intends to enhance its performance. Some organizations may require a quality change to confront challenges such as changing customer trends and competition. An effective quality change strategy helps the organization to analyze the overall quality of services and/or establish processes aimed at improving organizational quality. The following is a description of the stages that need to be implemented to attain a strategic quality change in the organization.

Establishing the areas that require quality improvement

  • Analyzing the current organizational quality versus customer expectations to establish the required amount of change
  • Engaging employees of SIA to promote high-quality service delivery
  • Creating benchmarking opportunities to engage in a continuous improvement process (Deming model)
  • Designing goals and objectives that are in line with the long-term vision of the company
  • Putting in place high standards of quality
  • Promoting effective operations

SIA needs to deploy processes for monitoring and controlling activities at the airline. The ABCDE is an effective quality change program that can be implemented at the airline. It assists the organization in implementing systematic procedures for quality management.

Assessment of both the internal and external environment alongside the company resources is the first step in devising an effective organizational plan. The Baseline method helps in understanding the past state of a business and current position to determine the effectiveness of the adopted change. Depending on SIA’s objectives, the plan should be designed alongside strategic actions as a way of ensuring the plan is fulfilled.

Important components at SIA include key resources, goals, and the mission. These three elements should be analyzed as part of devising the effective quality change strategy. The objectives of an organization provide direction about where the company should reach within the specified duration. For instance, part of SIA’s long-term goal may be the acquiring of state-of-the-art passenger planes with reduced fuel consumption, improved passenger comfort, and guaranteed safety. In line with this goal, a careful quality change strategy will first examine the features of the existing planes, observing any deficiencies that require upgrading. Secondly, it is equally important to scout the airplane industry to establish whether there are airplanes with such features that are already in the market. Where such technology is available but not already in place, the company would need to consider the financial implication of ordering customized airplanes.

Resources, Tools, and Systems to Support Business Processes in a Strategic Quality Change

This part presents items that are necessary for developing a strategic quality change in the organization. It is important to note that even areas that have been previously identified as Critical Success Factors (CSFs) may need critical evaluation and subsequent improvement to match future trends.

Resources

Human Resources

Available statistics indicate that SIA has actively engaged in human resource development over the years. This practice not only leads to employee satisfaction but also helps in high-quality service delivery. SIA’s policy treats the company’s workforce as the primary element capable of driving quality change through various initiatives and within set periods.

Nevertheless, the company has space for improvement in areas such as recruitment and selection. By recruiting only citizens of Singapore, the company will ensure important values are acquired and retained. This is because citizens may identify better with the goals of the company as compared to migrant workers. Cabin crews should be well versed in safety and emergency procedures or equipment.

Financial resource

The ability to manage finances is a significant indicator of a company’s ability to withstand difficult financial times, and importantly, to make profits. An effective strategic quality change must obtain its bearing from the financial standpoint of the organization. The financial resource has two important aspects:

The source of finance

How the resource is utilized

Regarding the utilization of financial resources, a cost-effective strategy is vital. Because the company has measures for attaining cost-effectiveness already in place, this step should be relatively easy to implement. For instance, the company maintains a fleet of young aircraft with an average age of 74 months. This strategy ensures that mechanical failures are minimal, thus reducing maintenance costs. For instance, in 2008, only 4% of the airline’s total costs went to repair and maintenance. Additionally, takeoff delays are rare while fewer flights are canceled, resulting in less wastage of flight hours.

Tools

  • Total quality management (TQM) and value manufacturing are the two areas that define the tools necessary for attaining strategic quality change.
  • Feigenbaum defined TQM as an agreed-upon operating structure contained in procedures that guide activities by people, machines, and information toward achieving customer satisfaction (Larson 2003).
  • Tools that must be deployed include state-of-art technology, fuel-effective engines, and modernized luggage-handling procedures.
  • Intense competition has driven rivals to imitate SIA’s service delivery and implement it at an even lower cost.
  • Competition has the potential risk of undermining SIA’s brand presence. The company must revamp its In-flight cabin with the latest technology trends to eliminate this threat.

Systems

The focus should be directed on attaining customer satisfaction. Therefore, the overall system must be based on pooling effective resources and tools. Therefore, a “system” in strategic quality change refers to an ideal combination of tools and resources.

The Wider Implications of Planned Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

The implications of the proposed strategic quality change at SIA may be reviewed regarding the internal and external environment. Financial stability for one can be used to analyze the overall improvement in performance because financial performance is an efficient way of monitoring performance in an organization. If an organization records unstable financial performance following the execution of a quality change strategy, the wider implication is that the strategy has not been effective. Customer satisfaction is another implication of enhanced customer service.

This case requires a dedicated quest at identifying the actual needs, expectations, and demands of customers, which is instrumental in creating effective customer satisfaction. Employee satisfaction is yet another implication of quality change. SIA being a service industry means that its employees are in constant contact with the clientele. Therefore, employee satisfaction emerges as a primary way of attaining customer satisfaction because satisfied employees will portray a positive image of the company to customers.

Designing Systems to Monitor the Implementation of a Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

By increasing connectivity through employee empowerment and improved communication, the company will be able to manage the strategy and collect important feedback. The Change Acceleration Program assists the management of an organization to spearhead quality change. This goal is attained through employee training at all levels of the organization. If conducted regularly, performance appraisal practices such as benchmarking and assessments may encourage employees to participate in promoting positive change in SIA.

Implementing a Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

All successful businesses must identify the needs of their customer and design an effective process to meet them. Implementing a successful quality system requires conducting market research to establish customer needs, followed by conducting a customer satisfaction experiment on the current service. SIA must work with the ISO 9000 to assess its processes continuously to ensure they match the current standards.

Efficient communication is part of a strategic quality change. Communication can be downward, upward, or horizontal. Communication moves along the prescribed channel. It can be either formal or informal. Formal communication may be viewed as ‘the flow of information, which follows an official chain of command’ (Agarwal 2010, p. 12).

Embedding a Quality Culture in an Organization to Ensure Continuous Monitoring and Development

Formation of quality circles

Quality circles are groups of individuals who create a team of individuals that work together to solve problems. The technique originated in Japan after realizing the need to involve people in direct contact with a challenge in coming up with an effective solution. Forming quality circles at SIA will promote quick resolving of problems.

The Fish Bone Diagram

The fishbone diagram identifies the cause of a problem as opposed to handling symptoms.

The fishbone diagram
Fig. 2: The fishbone diagram. Source: (Beckford 2003)

Monitoring the Implementation of a Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

The process of implementing quality change also involves setting up a monitoring system consisting of goals and targets.

Results obtained from the monitoring system help in evaluating performance.

  • Monitoring assists enhance accountability.
  • The tasks of monitoring implementation include identifying goals, selecting key indicators to be used in monitoring progress, and setting targets.

Evaluating the Outcomes of a Strategic Quality Change in an Organization

The evaluation process will involve setting up a pilot study to oversee the entire process or even parts of the strategy. A pilot study protects businesses from potential failure. Ordinarily, a feasibility study is carried out regarding a project. Another aspect involves measuring outcomes. The output is the result of integrated communication [brand messages], while outcomes refer to the impacts of these brand messages.

Therefore, an effective evaluation of the success of communication must focus on the quality and nature of the relation between the organization and stakeholders. Customer feedback must also be taken into account at this stage since it helps to keep up with their [customers] expectations, as well as changing market trends.

Areas for Improvement to a Strategic Quality Change That Align with Organizational Objectives

The introduction of Gourmet food will enhance customer satisfaction. Flight passengers often express dissatisfaction with meals on flights. SIA could enhance its meal quality as a way of differentiating its flight strategy even further. Also, including a more comfortable interior such as chairs that can turn 180 degrees will enhance may help achieve further customer satisfaction. Thirdly, the company should dedicate efforts toward competing on a global scale through building formidable alliances with other established airlines. Lastly, top-of-the-line technology should be adopted to further promote high-quality flight experience.

Conclusion

SIA, which is a successful airline company, relies on the differentiation technique to set apart its services from those of competitors. This practice, coupled with an effective human resource strategy, has enabled the company to continue to deliver high-quality services in an unpredictable environment. Besides, changing trends have necessitated the implementation of a strategic quality change for the company. Areas that require improvement include human resources and technology. Improving these areas will result in enhanced customer satisfaction and hence an increase in revenues.

References

Agarwal, M 2010, Krishna’s Professional Communication, Krishna Prakashan Media, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Antony, J, Kumar, M & Madu, C 2005, ‘Six sigma in small and medium-sized UK manufacturing enterprises: Some empirical observations’, International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, vol. 22, no. 8, pp. 860-874.

Beckford, J 2003, Quality: A Critical Introduction, Routledge, London.

Chan, D 2000, ‘Beyond Singapore Girl – Grand and product/service differentiation strategies in the new millennium’, Journal of Mgmt Development, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 515-542.

Deming Cycle: The Wheel of Continuous Improvement 2009.

Larson, A 2003, Demystifying Six Sigma: a company-wide approach to continuous improvement, AMACOM, California, CA.

Ramaswamy, K 2002, ‘Singapore international airlines: Strategy with a smile’, Thunderbird International Business Review, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 533-555.

Slack, N 2015, Operations Strategy, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.