Was lunching with a couple of friends in Singapore last week when they inquired about my flight. I had the previous morning flown Emirates from Brisbane, my first experience with this airline. I found it a very positive experience – the planes appeared new, the inflight entertainment the best I’ve encountered for a 747 and the cabin service was courteous and efficient.

I then mused about my favourite airline – Singapore – and wondered what it was that made that such a standout for me. Was it the inflight entertainment? No. Unless you were on the A380, that was good, not great. The food? Yea, pretty good but again, not the thing that stood out for me. The seats? Again, pretty standard.

It was all about the service. You get on board and when you’re looking to put your bag up into a compartment, there’s always a friendly, helpful hand. With some of the others, they stand and watch you struggle. A drink soon follows and here’s my favourite – a hot towel. With some of the other airlines, the austerity drive has meant you get a moist paper towelette with your meal. Not quite the same experience.

I find the cabin crew on Singapore airlines generally top notch – friendly, helpful service always with a ready smile. I think the thing that makes the real difference for me is their level of proactivity. During what I remember to be my favourite experience, the flight attendant in my section of the cabin would walk up and down the aisle taking a few seconds to stop to check that everyone was comfortable and securely belted in place.

I remember our first exchange.

Flight Attendant (with a big warm smile): “Hi sir, how are you today? Going home?”

ME: “No, I live in Sydney. Visiting Singapore.”

FA: “Really? Lucky you. I love Sydney. Amazing city.”

ME: “Yea, I feel pretty blessed. Singapore ain’t too bad either. I love visiting.”

FA: “Well, thank you for coming on board. If there’s anything I can do to help to make your flight comfortable, please don’t hesitate to call on me”.

He’d go out of his way to get passengers blankets, pillows even toiletry kits. We were offered a drink or fruit with good regularity throughout the flight. As we approached our destination, he again walked up the aisle thanking everyone personally and checking if we’d had a good time.

When he came to me, I looked him in the eye and said, “Thanks for an EXCEPTIONAL experience. I fly often and not having flown Singapore Airlines would you mind filling in an evaluation form for me?” I said I’d be delighted to. He asked if I’d mind writing the names of all his crew members on top of the evaluation form. Of course I didn’t. I wrote them a sincere, heartfelt testimonial. He walked off with an added spring in his step. Moments later, another crew member in a suit comes up to me and says, “Mr Siow, I heard what you did for my staff – he is so happy. You taking time out to write that for him was a big deal. Thank you.”

Now, how do you think I felt about that???

One of my friends shared an experience flying on another airline to Scotland recently. About a half-hour after take-off, he heard the “ping” which he thought signalled that it was ok to unbuckle. As he left his seat for the restroom, he met with the glare of a flight attendant who said in an irritated tone “Sir, please take your seat. The sign is not on yet”. Now how about that for an experience? That airline may have had the best food, equipment, etc. but I doubt if my friend would remember that very much. Instead, what stays burned in his memory? That experience.

People never remember what you do, they remember how you make them feel”.

So contrast now the customer experience with three different airlines. Each will take me to my destination safely. Inflight equipment, the seat and food quality would range from decent to very good. And yet, the thing that I think most people remember best is always the service, the attitude and proactivity of the cabin crew.

One made me a raving fan, telling others voluntarily about my positive experience. The average one I wouldn’t talk about unless asked. The poor one I’d also talk about voluntarily, except for all the wrong reasons.

And what in my opinion is a key contributor to the different levels of service? Whilst it ultimately boils down to the attitudes, the personal pride and emotional intelligence of each individual flight attendant, I think it also has very much to do with the leadership style of the particular crew manager and his or her ability to lead and creates a world-class team “culture”. A leader that keeps her team on the ball with the goal of creating an exceptional experience, one who supports and acknowledges them and fosters pride sets the culture of the team.

Remember that the level of your customer’s experience in your business rarely exceeds that of your staff. Treat your staff right, inspire them about your team’s mission, create a sense of pride in being part of an exceptional team and your customers will feel it, and love you for it. And in turn become the best raving ambassadors for your business.

To your ongoing success!