Scoot CEO's apology for service disruption wins praise from PR fraternity

Scoot's CEO Lee Lik Hsin has apologised for the airline clocking at least 12 major flight disruptions caused by technical issues since November 2018. In an interview with The Straits Times, the CEO said that the brand has "heard the feedback [of the people] loudly and clearly" and noted that customer confidence in the brand has dropped. He also added that he was aware this might lead to customer purchasing decisions being affected.

In the interview, Lee also shared steps taken by the airline to intensify its aircraft maintenance and inspections, as well as to address engineering issues and service gaps.

His interview with the national paper, said Hilary Davies, managing director for W Communications Singapore, spoke volumes to help with public perception. It also shows the brand as an agile one, ready to act on issues. "Having [the CEO] front the communications around these updates speaks volumes, showing this isn’t just hot air. However having taken a step into the spotlight, Lee will need to remain visible to truly build and maintain public trust,” added Davies.

Right Hook Communications PR Director Wesley Gunter also supported the move, stating that the statement from a CEO nips a crisis right in the bud. He said, "When a statement comes directly from the horse’s mouth, it prevents naysayers from distorting facts and spreading rumours."

Gunter said that by approaching Singapore’s national paper, The Straits Times, for a first interview on the matter, the brand came across honest in not wanting to sweep things under the carpet. He added, "Many organisations seem to feel saying sorry is an admission of guilt but on the contrary if the evidence is staring at everyone in the face that it was the organisation’s fault, the best thing to do is to come clean without making excuses, which Scoot’s CEO did very well."

The influence of a leader's voice

On when a CEO be called upon, Golin's Southeast Asia managing director Tarun Deo said it is when brand trust is in question, and consumers require a commitment to action from the top management. He added that the move made sense for Scoot because the repetitive and frequent disruptions have caused stakeholders to attribute the matter to a "systemic issue with the company".

More important than damage control, however, is inspiring confidence in the next course of action, said Prospr Communications CEO Jeremy Foo. "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour. The CEO represents the brand’s leadership and stewardship. The first job of a leader is to inspire trust all around him," added Foo.

Overall, Foo felt that it is a bold move in the right direction on Scoot's part  and “the message was conveyed and the impact was felt”. However, he cautioned that there is no hard-and-fast rule and the choice of a spokesperson has to be made based on evaluation of the environment.

In December, one of Scoot's flights departing Taipei on 30 December 2018 was unfortunately extensively delayed for two days to 1 January 2019 morning, causing 356 passengers to alter their New Year’s plans. Customers, who were told to source for their own hotels, were further aggravated by the lack of updates by the airline.