Balakarthik Venkataramanan
August 05, 2016

Customer Experience Lessons Straight from the Toilets of Singapore Airport


I am a frequent visitor to Singapore but for this time around, it was just a 45 minutes transit at the Singapore Changi airport and I was NOT looking forward to it. Especially after missing my flight from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur (my final destination) because of the flight delays at Detroit (my origin) and then staying at the Seoul transit hotel for 9 hours. 

The only way, Delta could route me from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur was through Singapore, with a 45 minute transit at the Changi airport. After all the delays, those 45 minutes transit at Singapore sounded like a bad idea, until I met Sundaresan. He was the janitor responsible for the toilet near the gate I was going to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur.

With only 45 mins to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t want to go to the lounge or shop at the airport. Found a seat closer to my boarding gate, went to the nearest rest room to freshen up. Nothing surprising, a well maintained Singapore style airport restroom. One that I would expect at a minimum in any international airport. While heading out, I saw a gamified screen asking for my experience. (like the one in the pic below)

I hit the ‘EXCELLENT‘ rating, didn’t realize that the janitor was standing right behind me. When I noticed him, “Thank you for keeping the toilet so clean”, I said. “It’s my job, sir”, he replied. A quick 5 minute conversation followed in Tamil (Tamil, is a south Indian language). When I walked out of the restroom, I was amazed at the passion Sundaresan as well as Changi Airport management exhibited in making my restroom experience easy and comfortable. Below are some key points I captured from my conversation with Sudaresan.

3 Rules for Customer Service Excellence at Singapore Airport

  1. Every 3 toilets have an owner like Sundaresan. That person is like the chief customer officer for those 3 toilets and are accountable for the overall cleanliness of the toilet as well as user experience
  2. If any users rate ‘POOR’ or below rating in the survey then users will be asked to select from one of the following 7 reasons for their ‘POOR’ rating (No toilet paper, foul smell, Litter bin full, Wet floor, Dirty floor, Dirty basin, faulty equipment). Once the user selects the reason, turn around time to fix the issue is 5 minutes. The back end also gathers their POOR rating reasons and draws a Pareto on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. This is also tied to the performance of the Janitor and the respective team lead.
  3. For those janitors who receive 100% rating for the entire week are rewarded for their performance (He didn’t tell me what the reward was)

I found the video below after a couple of days which supported everything that Sundaresan shared with me.

I was amazed at the 360 degree user focus of the toilet management of Changi airport. Every single aspect of customer service management was carefully planned and executed. Below are the 5 key pillars on how Changi airport has built an end to end user experience roadmap. I assume that this is beyond toilets and is factored in to every single touch point of a passenger that arrives at Singapore airport.

During my previous visits to Singapore, I have seen the customer feedback survey screens across multiple other areas in the airport including information desk, immigration etc. But my conversation with Sundaresan gave me insights in to the customer centricity and the actions that happen behind it and above all the passion to enhance every touchpoint of the customer’s journey is what we need to learn from.

The world of customer service/experience talks about some 4-5  leading multi national organizations as benchmark for Customer centricity. After my experience and research on how Changi airport manages user experience, I would expect them to be a new benchmark for user experience management.

The next time you are at the Singapore airport, don’t miss the chance to pay more attention to how every single aspect of a user journey is mapped and designed. Especially the restroom experience. There are tons of practices you can leverage back in to your customer service organziation.

Whitepaper: Transforming Your Customer Experience

About the Author

An early entrepreneur in social media, Bala is a strategic customer service leader with a track record of customer experience transformations globally. Bala has 2 decades of experience in customer experience strategy & operations for leading brands like Google, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Prior to Intuit, Bala was leading global process & business excellence for Google’s trust & safety vendor operations. You can connect with Bala via Linkedin, view his personal blog here, or follow him on Twitter @vbkarthik123

View Bala's Contributor Profile

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