Nobody Asked for Butterflies: Changi Airport

By: Ron Kaufman


This article on Changi Airport was first published on Bloomberg Businessweek. (Copyright, Ron Kaufman)

There you are, wandering through life, when suddenly someone does something unexpected for you. Instantly your heart thumps. Your face becomes flush. And your reality changes forever. I’m talking about the moment you experience butterflies.

Human interactions fill our days. Some are negative. Most are easily forgotten. But then there are those rare occasions when we fall, absolutely, in love.

Do you know how to make someone fall in love with you? Your business? Your culture?

Changi Airport in Singapore knows. It’s actually the most applauded and awarded airport in the world. And it gives millions of travelers butterflies every year, literally.

The facility combines the thrill of an amusement park, the comfort of a luxury resort, and the intrigue of a massive shopping mall. And it contains a real butterfly garden with a profusion of flowering plants, lush greenery, and an indoor waterfall. Visitors can witness the beauty and majesty of the butterfly at close range. And not just a few butterflies. Hundreds.

Add to that all the amazing shopping and dining experiences, a swimming pool, napping rooms, spa treatments, movie theaters, video gaming stations, and a slide that zooms travelers (if they dare) from the third story of an enormous terminal down to the first. Suddenly you’re no longer in a place of transit, but rather a destination. How can you resist falling in love? That is, of course, the intention of Changi Airport.

Cultural Vision

“Our vision is to connect lives,” says Foo Sek Min, executive vice-president of airport management. “Airports are typically stressful places. Our goal is to remove stress. And it doesn’t just happen with people. It must envelop the entire culture. It must uplift the entire organization—the people, the equipment, and the process.”

Obviously this methodology worked for Changi Airport. Since the airport’s humble beginnings in 1981, Changi has turned into the global standard for functionality, aesthetics, and service. It ranks as the world’s sixth busiest airport, surprising and delighting more than 42 million travelers a year. That’s seven times more people than Singapore’s entire population.

Travelers fall in love with Changi because the airport has built an uplifting service culture. What is that? Here’s my definition: An uplifting service culture is a shared purpose within every aspect of your business—from the boardroom to the front line—where everyone focuses on creating value for other people both internally and externally.

Uplifting service cultures create customer loyalty, unite and engage employees, accelerate teamwork, add value to a product, and create a sustainable competitive advantage. Yet the impact of creating an uplifting service culture is much bigger. Changi Airport, for example, serves as the gateway to Singapore. And due to its geographical location, the island country is also one of the busiest layover airports in the world. Consider that effect. Even if you never leave the airport terminal, what will be your perception of Singapore as a country?

How to Up Your Service

How do you build an uplifting service culture to make people love your organization?
“Share a vision,” says Foo. “Twenty-eight thousand people come to work at the airport every day. Only 1,300 are airport employees. The rest work for more than 200 companies who do business in the airport. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of mission statements. But there’s only one Changi.”

“Teach a vision,” advises Foo. “I can’t train an immigration agent how to perform their job. But I can teach them how a smile can impact the entire organization. And when they are taught, not trained, they are inspired by the bigger picture and choose to perform. Realize your vision. Almost every Singaporean travels each year. They understand they have a stake in the success of this airport. It’s the gateway to their home, Singapore’s front door to the world. That’s important for everyone who works here to understand. And when this is realized, we make it real.”

Uplift the service where you work and see how quickly people fall in love with you. And if you need an inspiration or a new idea to get started, consider this: Nobody asked for butterflies.

Read the original article at Bloomberg Businessweek