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SIA to 'invest heavily' in digital: Can it retain the human to tech ratio?

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Singapore Airlines has revealed plans to invest heavily in digital over the next five years as it embarks on its “next stage of transformation”.This follows the creation of its “transformation office” created in June to review what the organisation is doing and better position itself for growth. According to a recent memo sent to SIA employees from CEO Goh Choon Phong, seen by Marketing, some initiatives that are current in the pipeline include the increase in the company’s investment in digital enablers.“We are not able to provide a specific figure but suffice to say we are investing heavily in digital initiatives over the next five years,” an SIA spokesperson said in a statement to Marketing. Other initiatives also involve carrying out a group-wide network review, revamping key commercial processes, and introducing more self-service options to benefit customers, easing call centre volumes in the process.Our transformation encompasses initiatives to grow revenue, re-base our cost structure and enhance organisational effectiveness."While it is early days in the three-year programme, I am pleased to report that it has been going very well, and I am confident that we are on track to meet our objectives,” Goh said in the memo.In a conversation with Marketing, Lawrence Chong, CEO of Consulus, said that AI could be potentially an area for the brand to embrace in terms of enhancing customer experience. However, AI capabilities in this space are still nascent.“Artificial intelligence (AI) in this space is still not as great, no matter how well the tech vendors are pitching it," Chong said.“I fear that a number of measures SIA is embarking on are exactly what US flight carriers are doing. They are using technology to achieve productivity but losing the human touch in the process,” Chong said. While the measures can increase productivity for the airline, it risks the SIA looking the same as other airlines in the space. He added that having the soft human touch is what gives SIA a differentiated advantage.“People will start to question the premium value of SIA more and more,” Chong explained. As such, SIA needs to take a look at how companies such as Apple are able to balance technology and trumpet personal service at the same time.Purely jumping on the digital-enabling bandwagon without deeper thought about its existential value and role is usually a kill-value approach towards creativity.When asked about potential avenues SIA can focus on moving forward, Chong said that the airline should further monetise its brand assets and consider going beyond the airline business. This can extend to retail experiences such as food and beverage, just like how Apple leverages on its brand to foray into other lifestyle verticals.“An SIA restaurant or hotel experience would be audacious because there is so much you can do in the cutthroat airline business model. You need to have other elements supporting you. If SIA is audacious and daring in considering the improbable, they can build a stronger base for the future,” he added.When it comes to balancing the human to tech ratio, Graham Hitchmough, APAC CEO of Brand Union, said that there always needs to be an appropriate balance. It’s not about the basic automated systems but also seeing how digital platforms have a role in conveying warmth and emotion.Don’t just focus on the functionality of tech, but rather understand how the brand conveys that personal touch be it via digital or physical touch points.At the end of the day, it is about being able to deliver to customers what they need and when they need it. As such, SIA needs to be able to leverage on digital in a simple way that fits the lifestyle and needs of the brand. According to Hitchmough, this can be done through brilliantly designed digital interaction.“Even without the physical touch, the digital interactions can still be designed empathetically to reflect the brand values through great design, intuitive services and  interfaces and personalisation.  This actually has the potential to add to rather than detract from the human element of the brand.  And we are talking about Singapore Airlines here, so that human component will never disappear,” Hitchmough added.While digital and tech cannot replace the human touch, the basic premise and use of tech should be used to extend the warmth and emotion of a brand, rather than diminish it, just in different ways that meet the changing needs of consumers.Most recently, Singapore Airlines and Grab struck a partnership which will see the integration of their mobile apps to provide more convenience and seamless travel experiences for travellers in Southeast Asia.  On top of mobile app integrations, members of SIA’s KrisFlyer and Grab’s GrabRewards programmes will also enjoy additional benefits under the partnership. GrabRewards members will be given the flexibility to convert their GrabRewards points into KrisFlyer miles, according to a press statement.

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