A real time example of what’s wrong with the Malaysia Airlines brand

This is the biggest weekend of the year in Malaysia as families across the country go home for the end of Ramadhan Eid holidays. As Monday and Tuesday are public holidays, many people will have a nine day break.

For me personally I’m looking forward to some quality time with my family in Sarawak, one of the best kept secrets in Asia. I’m flying business class to Kuching about an hour and forty minutes flying time from Kuala Lumpur.

When I get to the airport they tell me my flight is delayed. Now I’m a little bit annoyed by this because I’ve been a member of their FFP since it began and they have my email address and mobile number so they could have let me know the flight was delayed. But hey, that’s a minor issue and besides, if it’s a technical problem I’d prefer them to discover it on the ground and not in the air. Incidentally when I checked in, there was no apology from the girl at the desk.

MAS is carrying out renovations to its lounge at KLIA so I am directed to a temporary lounge. When I get to the lounge I show my boarding card to the person at the counter who looks at it and hands it back. There is no mention of flight announcements. The greeting isn’t rude but it’s hardly enthusiastic.

I sit down and get online. The lounge is quiet, I’m in a good mood, and considering I’m at an airport and about to get on an MAS flight I’m relaxed and excited at the prospect of spending some quality time with my family in a beautiful place.

30 minutes later I get to that point in an airport where you feel like you need reassurance that everything is alright. So I go to the counter and ask about my flight. I’m told it is delayed (like I didn’t know that) and the staff member points to a time on the boarding card and mumbles something incoherent.

I don’t know about you but when I’m at an airport there are so many distractions, so many unusual assaults on the senses that I rarely pay attention to announcements however, a little later, I suddenly look up and realize I haven’t heard an announcement about my flight or for that matter any others. I ask one of the MAS staff in the lounge what is happening with my flight. She goes to the desk and comes back and tells me my flight has left!

I’m stunned and ask someone to explain what just happened. The explanation revolves around the fact that it is a temporary lounge and they don’t make announcements and anyway, there is a sign on the desk stating that there won’t be any announcements.

Now bearing in mind getting passengers to the plane is a fairly important part of an airline’s responsibility, the sign below can hardly be described as adequate, especially with all the other messages on the desk.

The pathetic sign stating there will be no flight announcements
The pathetic sign stating there will be no flight announcements

Understandably I’m not impressed. This is business class, there aren’t many people waiting and it wouldn’t take much effort on the part of the staff to inform the few passengers in the lounge that their flight was boarding. Furthermore, if one business class passenger is late arriving at the departure gate, how much effort does it take for the staff at the gate to call the business class lounge and ask if the passenger is there? Aren’t these the little things that help passengers justify paying more for a ticket?

For some reason I’m then sent to the flight transfer counter where I listen to a staff member explain my situation to other staff members who all look like the last thing they want to be doing right now is deal with this issue. No one tells me anything. Eventually after interrupting the conversation I learn that my luggage has been sent to lost and found and I have to go and get it and not to worry, I will be put on the next flight.

I then go back to the lounge and 10 minutes later another member of staff tells me that I have to go and get my luggage because he doesn’t have the authority put it on the next flight which is odd because someone had the authority to take it off the previous aircraft and send it to lost and found but most galling of all, he tries to nickel and dime me for RM150 penalty to change to the 5.55pm flight!

He’s not very happy with the fact that I’m not very happy but obviously is just following a procedure and not interpreting the situation as it is. I realise he doesn’t have any authority so ask him to send a supervisor to talk to me. He walks off to the desk and sits down. 30 minutes later he is still there and making no effort to update me so I have to go and find out what is happening. He tells me the supervisor will be here in 10 minutes.

25 minutes later I get up again and go and ask him what is going on. He says the supervisor will be there soon. As we’re talking the supervisor arrives. She manages to talk to another supervisor who agrees not to charge me the RM150 penalty. It has taken me a lot of effort to get to this stage.

But it doesn’t get better just yet. It transpires that I wasn’t put on the 5.55pm flight, I was put on the waiting list because the flight was full. No one told me this. I asked what time is the next flight, answer 6.30pm but it is also full. The next flight after that with seats is 7.30pm. By the time I board that flight I will have been at the airport for six hours.

So how is related to the problems at MAS?

Throughout this horrendous experience I felt that on the whole, with the exception of a couple of members the staff were sympathetic to my predicament and wanted to help. But the problem is they just didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to deal with the situation effectively.

Being told repeatedly that the lounge is temporary and therefore there won’t be any announcements is not good enough but it isn’t the fault of the staff. It suggests the company doesn’t understand the importance of the customer. Especially highly profitable business class passengers.

It’s great that you are renovating the lounge but it doesn’t mean you lower your standards in a temporary lounge. It might be temporary to you but to every passenger, it is still the lounge. It’s not like I’m paying less for my ticket because I am using a temporary lounge. Does it mean that when you lease an aircraft from another airline you lower your engineering or safety standards?

And besides we’re talking about the worst time in the airlines history. Shouldn’t every customer willing to spend money with the airline at this difficult stage be appreciated more?

The attitude of the lounge staff was at best adequate. I got the feeling they were doing the job but nothing more. And having flown Malaysian Airlines for over 20 years I have to say I’ve felt this way for the last 12 – 15 years.

If the MAS brand is to survive, those that make the decisions on training have got to understand that the airline is not doing passengers a favour. Numerous reports released over the last 5 years point to service as being the main factor influencing consumer brand choices.

In every report I have read recently, the averages percentage of people who switch brands because of poor service is around 70% and goes as as high as 80%. It is universally accepted that customer service is critical to the success of a brand. That service comes from effective and timely training based on the changing needs of customers.

The issue is that what may have been considered acceptable customer service yesterday is no longer acceptable today. Moreover, as more and more companies raise the bar in terms of the quality of service they deliver, consumers expect more. Training needs to be updated and reinforced.

Nowadays, for an Asian carrier to thrive let alone survive, it has to have a culture not of customer service but of exceptional customer service. The ability to deliver exceptional customer service is the only way brands can build the loyalty that will differentiate themselves from other competitor brands.

Armed with the skills and tools needed to deliver exceptional customer service, staff will have the ability, confidence and enthusiasm to go the ‘extra mile’ when dealing with their customers.

Malaysia Airlines is a service product in a very competitive space. Despite the two very tragic incidents in the last 5 months numerous customers such as my family and I have stuck by them.

Right now it is tough being loyal to MAS and it isn’t made easier when they can’t even get the basics right. I, like many loyal customers don’t want any special treatment but I do expect a decent level of service.

As I write this, there is talk in the UK newspapers of a strategic review of MAS that may include renaming and rebranding the airline. I don’t know what they define as a rebrand but it’ll take more than a change of name to save MAS.


3 thoughts on “A real time example of what’s wrong with the Malaysia Airlines brand

  1. Speaking as an outside observer, unfairly as it seems, the customer will now see the airline as cursed. The brand is now doomed.


  2. Though i don’t like to kick someone/thing (MAS) when it’s down, I understand your frustration and have found that this poor handling of customers sadly is not just exclusive to MAS, try the government departments and you will see even worse…..sorry I love Malaysia…..so I know how you feel.


  3. What a horrid travel experience. Perhaps you should have tried economy class…. 😉 But doesn’t this also show how powerful brands can be in creating images and expectations!

    I never had a chance to experience Malaysian airlines but traveled a lot with Emirates on a recent return trip to/from New Zealand/Europe. Staff came across as way less friendly and authentic than Singapore airlines or Air New Zealand, for example – not what we would have expected from the Emirates brand.

    Brand credibility and authenticity: key topics for the Place Brand Observer (http://placebrandobserver.com)


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