SINGAPORE: Low-cost carrier Scoot is aware of its shortcomings and is working to improve its customer service and recovery standards in light of recent flight delays and disruptions that have affected passengers, said its CEO Lee Lik Hsin.
Speaking to CNA on Monday (Jun 17), he admitted that the flight disruptions had hit the airline's key On-Time Performance (OTP) metric.
“Admittedly, our OTP was not good from end-2018 to beginning of 2019. In December and January, we had occasions or months where OTP was in the 70s (in percentage terms) to low 80s. But we have bounced back up to mid-to-high 80s. In terms of delivering our promise to the customer of punctuality, we have improved since then,” added Mr Lee.
He added that prior to the dip in 2018, Scoot's average OTP was also around 80 per cent.
Scoot suffered six flight disruptions between November 2018 and January this year that resulted in significant delays of between several hours and up to more than two days.
The worst incident happened on Dec 18 to flight TR713 from Athens to Singapore. A total of 321 passengers were made to board and disembark at least three times due to technical and operational issues. The flight eventually landed in Singapore about 56 hours behind schedule.
Mr Lee explained that one major reason for Scoot’s improved OTP was tweaks made to reduce the utilisation rate for its fleet. The airline’s fleet of Boeing 787s now spend 13 hours in the air daily instead of 14 previously.
This increases the chances of having a spare aircraft when one is required to resolve a major delay, he said.
But time and approvals are still required before any relief flights can be mounted.
“It takes half a day (or) a day to get approval to fly up and bring the passengers back. But at least we have the resources available, as opposed to having no resources and waiting (for available aircraft). It is not so easy to use an Airbus A320 to recover a Boeing 787 flight. There (are) a lot of complications in terms of regulatory approvals. But in general, we will try to use the same aircraft type to bring the people back.”
BETTER, MORE CONSISTENT DELIVERY NEEDED
Mr Lee noted that one of the criticisms from passengers that Scoot faced during some of the flight disruptions was about the airline’s ability to provide “comfort items” such as food, drinks and accommodation. To that end, he added that the airline is working towards delivering them on a more consistent basis.
“As a principle, we always want to provide refreshments, provide hotels, despite being a low-cost carrier. Because this (is) actually, something that the customers want, whether they take low-cost or full service (airlines). We will provide (them at) a basic level. You will have a basic lunch box and nothing gourmet, and the hotels that we are able to put you up in may not be five-star hotels.
“But it is really (about) trying to improve the execution, (with) better communications with our partners in those locations, when these things happen to make sure that we deliver more consistently.”
THE ROAD TO WINNING BACK CUSTOMERS' TRUST
Mr Lee said that Scoot has some way to go to fully win back customers' trust and satisfaction.
He also cited that the airline uses two methodologies to gauge customer satisfaction in its post-flight survey. These are the "Net Promoter Score" and the "Customer Satisfaction Score".
Mr Lee said that Scoot is “not doing as well as (it) would like” on the Net Promoter Score, which gauges customer loyalty, including the likelihood of them booking another flight on the airline or recommending the organisation to their social circle.
On a scale of between -100 and 100, he admitted that the airline “is positive but in very small digits”.
“Good companies tend to be above 50, but we are nowhere near that. We know we have a long road ahead of us,” said Mr Lee.
On the Customer Satisfaction Score, which rates the experience that customers most recently had with a company, Mr Lee said that about 70 per cent of Scoot’s passengers currently rate the airline as "good" or "very good".
“It was very clear to us that we had a hit and we have a lot of work to do. But in recently two, three months, we’ve also seen improvements on both fronts. We know that we are heading in the right direction.”
LEVERAGING DIGITAL SPACE, PAYING ATTENTION TO SOCIAL MEDIA
Mr Lee said that another major issue that passengers had with Scoot during flight disruptions, was the lack of information provided by the airline.
“Customers were feeling uncomfortable because they didn't know what was going on. Sometimes the news is not always good news. But they at least want to know what's going on, what to expect,” he added.
“We understood that people want the information, (and) it's only fair for us to be as transparent with our customers as possible, especially during times of disruption.”
To that end, Scoot has leveraged the digital space and launched what it described as a “delay information system”, in the first quarter of this year.
Mr Lee explained that passengers can sign in with their flight information on this online platform and get real-time information from Scoot’s operations centre on their delayed flight, such as the new expected departure time.
“It was like a light bulb suddenly coming on. Somehow the original communication medium to the customer, (through) our partners on the ground is not working. Maybe because there's 10 of them and 400 customers. It’s very difficult. And they are dispersed all over the place – they may be in the terminal, they may be told to go have their meal, and you can't get all of them in the same place to make an announcement. So digital was the best way to go.”
Mr Lee also said that in the last quarter, Scoot has equipped all its cabin crew teams with iPads so that feedback from passengers can be recorded immediately after their flight. This allows its customer service department to address concerns more quickly, as compared to processing feedback via physical forms.
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In addition, Scoot is paying more attention to social media platforms as a means of getting customer feedback.
“We realised that social media channels were something we needed to pay much close attention to. We also needed a good source of early information about any problems. We actually had to increase our coverage, our team size, and media monitoring has increased from eight to 14 hours daily,” added Mr Lee.
He said that the social media monitoring team has grown from five employees to eight.
"Customers have a voice and they are keen to share their feedback, not just with us, but with others as well, and social media provides that channel," Mr Lee added.
He also reiterated Scoot’s commitment to safety and operational reliability.
“Being a part of the Singapore Airlines Group, it doesn’t matter that we are the budget airline. We will spare no expense in that area. But technical issues can still happen. That’s what happened to us.
“We’re not perfect. There’s always work to be done. But we hope that people understand that we are sincere in wanting to make that effort.”