Article 50 – The article that never made it to Starbiz – 5.1.2013

by Tan Thiam Hock

I would like to start off 2013 with a nice, warm and funny article. Hopefully, it will create a chuckle or two and bring a smile to your face. So no discussions about business and politics since there is nothing nice to write about.

I will try to be nice for a change but I just can’t. Not with an empty stomach at 4 pm and being stuck onboard a old rickety Boeing 747 on MH 89 from Narita to Kuala Lumpur. As I sat in my seat staring at the funny looking ice cold tortilla sandwich, my hunger turned to anger. This was the final act of a series of unfortunate events that took place on 31st Dec 2012.

Having left the hotel early for the airport, I had hoped to grab a bite or two at the Lounge but unfortunately the Qantas lounge ( shared by MAS passengers ) served only pumpkin soup and rolls. Cost cutting measures by MAS procurement team seems to be working. Definitely a 50% savings here.

When on board, being asked last, my choice of Japanese fish dish was not available as only a few portions were ordered from the caterer. Smart savings here as the crew had to push the cheaper chicken and lamb dishes but unfortunately, they looked so unappetizing, I decline. The garlic bread tasted fine though.

To forget my hunger, I tried to catch the movie Die Hard 4 but the old darn TV screen died on me and despite frantic efforts by the crew, the poor screen had outlived its analogue life. No spare parts since the procurement freeze by the Managing Director.

To drown my sorrow, I asked for the French red but it has been out of stock on board since Dec 22nd. Cool way to save since French wine is more expensive than Australian. Either that or the supplier stopped supplies due to non payment. Another effective method to conserve cash flow.

On a brighter note, the cabin crew was kind and sympathetic to my predicament but they were unable to whip up a bowl of Maggie noodle for me as there were none on board. All I had were two minutes of apologetic smiles from the world’s most awarded cabin crew.

To calm me down, I was served a glass of cold Oolong tea which was unable to neutralize my highly acidic stomach. Sensing something amiss (besides the food), the Pursar, Encik Zaidi quickly offered me some vouchers to exchange for gifts on board. But my first two preferred choice of perfumes was coincidentally out of stock and I was eventually given a lonely bottle which must have been on board for eternity.

It had been 11 hours since I was politely awakened by the hotel receptionist but I could not sleep for fear that I would miss out on the last meal of the flight. The sandwich. But it was not a sandwich. It did not look like a sandwich. It looked like a white colour Japanese popiah which the chief stewardess explained tastes more like a tortilla. A very cold tortilla.

And I hate cold sandwiches which look like a white Japanese popiah that tasted like a damp tortilla. All I wanted was a simple warm plate of nasi lemak. An authentic Malaysian meal sorely missed when you have been away from home.

In exasperation but inspired, I took out my iPad and wrote furiously like what a hungry writer would normally do. Write about nothing. The empty feeling and the sense of glory days gone by.

What was once a promising enterprise, the pride of the nation, seems lost without a purpose. Disjointed and dispirited, it needs more than a dose of capital. An inspired leadership to rally the troops. A commitment to discard complacent and negative loafers. Pick team players who are willing to spill blood to regain past glories. Recapture a sense of pride.

Whether you are on your own or you are a leader of an organization, never underestimate the power of inspired teamwork. Well worded corporate missions counts for nothing if your team do not collectively put words into action. Tweaking financial numbers are short term measures to please the analyst and the shareholders.

The General must get out of the boardroom and go to the ground to rally the troops as if this battle is the mother of all battles. To win the war, you have to start winning small battles, gain ground and confidence and when the tide turns, charge ahead and be glorious.

If you are a 5 star service airline, you have to provide your customers with a seamless 5 star consumer experience. From an efficient and smiling reservation front to a warm and genuine cabin crew. From understanding customer preferences to efficiently fulfilling their needs and taste buds. From being on time to having a well maintained aircraft where any breakdown, however small, induces shame and a loss of face. From the Managing Director to the technicians to the cleaners.

Despite the markets moving rapidly towards commoditization of products and services, you can still differentiate by creating a competitive edge around a 5 star service platform. Whether you are running an airline or a restaurant, you can build a loyal customer base if you and your team can genuinely offer a consistent positive consumer experience.

After reaching home and feeling completely famished, I dropped my bags and drove straight to my favourite Fatty Hokkien mee stall in Section 17. For 30 years, I have had to endure the most sour faced service by the boss lady. Unfortunately I am addicted to the charcoal fried noodles. Fortunately, I have grown accustomed to her face.

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