While flight attendants on board a plane correctly emphasize that their first priority is safety of passengers, from a service quality perspective how well flight attendants serve their customers inflight is an important source of competitive advantage. The famous “Singapore Girl” concept from Singapore Airlines is part of this value proposition. Air Asia and the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines would routinely trade punches on which airline had the friendliest flight attendants.
Can service culture be taught? Can airlines take employees unfamiliar with empathy and service quality and turn them into superstars? Recent research suggests that airlines who come from national cultures where empathy is part of the national culture are more likely to perform better when rated by customers. Monrudee Tungtakanpuong and Mark Wyatt recently conducted research on Thai Airways flight attendants. Published in the Journal of Air Transport Management, their findings show that the traditional Thai cultural values underpinned by Buddhist spirituality influence the way they think about their service tasks. This aids them in serving their customers in genuine way, so that the emotional labour they provide in line with company policy relates more closely to ‘deep’ than ‘surface’ acting. In other words, being good at service is instinctive to Thai workers.