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Malaysia Airlines’ Corporate Vision

and Service Quality Strategy
Abdullah Mat Zaid

Malaysia Airlines’ vision is to become “An Airline Malaysia Airlines to become “An Airline of
of Excellence”, offering the very best to its Excellence”.
passengers in terms of safety, comfort, service and Tan Sri Zain stressed that in any organization
punctuality. This vision was amplified by our there are four areas within that paradigm of Total
chairman in the company’s 20th anniversary Quality which emphasize continuous improvement
commemorations in October 1992. which need to be addressed:
The mission has been stated in three main thrusts (1) The individual in an organization: it has been
as follows: said that the key to creating a Total Quality
(1) To make Malaysia Airlines one of the leading organization is first to create a Total Quality
standard bearers for the airline industry in person who uses a true-north compass that is
terms of safety, efficiency and quality of objective. This compass is used to find and
service. focus on the organization’s future direction.
(2) To develop Kuala Lumpur as the preferred (2) Managerial effectiveness: which is basically to
gateway into Malaysia and the South-East Asia nurture a win-win partnership between the
region. individual and the organization, and between
the organization and its customers.
(3) To make Kuala Lumpur a major cargo
transhipment area for the Asia-Pacific rim. (3) Organizational productivity: for which quality
should be seen to start from the top. The
Among the key initiatives taken to meet our leadership of the organization must be
mission for the future are a fleet modernization and intimately involved to see that the quality
network expansion programme, an upgrading of paradigm is planted into the minds and hearts
our in-house maintenance and engineering of all staff.
facilities, development of modern infrastructure
and computer systems and training and developing (4) The non-human side of the organization: in
of personnel to meet the needs of the future. In terms of equipment, facilities, processes and
addition, top management has refocused its goal on systems; these also contribute to the
creating a customer-driven and quality-oriented customers’ impression about the type of
culture in the launching of the company-wide quality to expect of the company.
Destination Service Excellence (DSE) programme In the concluding part of his address, Tan Sri Zain
in July 1991. (The DSE programme is an extension said that the DSE programme is a philosophy, a
of Total Quality Management to provide a clear paradigm of continuous improvement which is not
focus on customer requirements at the heart of the programme of the company but the philosophy
business processes in Malaysia Airlines and to and value of everyone in the company. He summed
create a quality service culture through internal up: “It has been said that Quality will give an
communications and human relations management individual or organization a long-term competitive
practices which can firmly reflect the importance advantage. And if it is in the character of the
the company places on good customer service.) individual and in the culture of the organization, it
At the second DSE Convention held by cannot be duplicated by anyone.”
Malaysia Airlines in October last year, which Our managing director, Dato’ Kamaruddin
carried the theme “Enhancing World Class Quality Ahmad also offered some pertinent directions to
through Competitiveness”, our chairman Tan Sri the participants at the convention with his
Zain Azraai inspired the employees by reiterating statement of the challenges facing the company
top management’s commitment to the vision for and the service quality strategy which has been
developed. The Malaysia Airlines service quality
strategy which he articulated is briefly as follows.
Managing Service Quality, Vol. 4 No. 6, 1994, pp. 11-15
The first step Malaysia Airlines took in
© MCB University Press, 0960-4529 developing a service strategy was the embarkation


on a company-wide thrust towards service etiquette and handling customer complaints.

excellence, when the DSE programme took off in Employees have also passed through the Quality
July 1991 to position the airline as “An Airline of Improvement Team (QIT) training programmes
Excellence” in the Asia-Pacific region. This under the DSE project, and employees have taken
strategy has lately been reinforced by a the initiative to form cross-functional action teams
comprehensive review of the company’s business to identify specific problems in quality or service
processes so as to align the people and systems in their working environment and to propose
components of the business process with the solutions to management. These action teams help
customer-driven strategy. to promote a quality culture in the company by
The service quality strategy addresses two main inculcating cross-functional improvement
thrusts. processes which make quality customer service an
(1) To reinforce the Total Quality philosophy in ongoing agenda in the company.
the Malaysia Airlines service culture through We believe that the more that service quality is
the springboard of TQM. The philosophy discussed within the company, the greater the
embraces the concept of “quality in everything understanding will be of what it means in the day-
we do”, including decision-making, work to-day working environment of the employees and
processes, work environment, teamwork and the better the company will be in achieving it. We
so on. are still a long way from saying that the DSE
quality customer service approach has been
(2) To improve customers’ perceived quality of completely integrated into the company, but what
Malaysia Airlines. This covers both the
we are clearly seeing is a significant transformation
technical and functional aspects of our service
of the corporate culture that is becoming more
customer driven and quality oriented.

Reinforcing the Corporate Culture to Foster Communicating Externally with Customers

Change While setting the right corporate culture is crucial
Conscious efforts are being made to reinforce the to achieving good service quality through internal
customer-driven focus and quality-orientation communication processes to motivate employees
conveyed in top management’s vision for and to ensure that the company’s aspirations are
excellence to all employees. The DSE programme well understood by everyone, we have also to
forms the main vehicle for company-wide communicate externally to ensure that customers
definition and understanding of the shared values understand what the company is offering in terms
through top-down communication as exemplified of service, to manage their expectations and to
in the management speeches at DSE conventions, persuade them to buy our service. This external
as well as bottom-up communication of communication process forms an important part of
departmental missions and quality improvement managing the evidence by providing tangible clues
projects to the DSE Council chaired by the to help customers, as well as employees, form the
managing director from time to time. Values right mental picture of the intangible service
are also shared through other internal
offered by Malaysia Airlines. An example is in
communications processes such as the in-house
advertisements which feature employees to show to
newsletter (Berita MAS), by way of reports on the
customers the importance of service through
progress of service initiatives and to publicize the
people, but advertising is only one of the ways in
achievements of employees who have provided
which external communications can help to
excellent service to customers. The in-house
newsletter also features a column called “From the improve the customer’s perception of quality
MD’s Desk” which serves as a regular reminder to service.
all employees on examples regarding the right way
to satisfy customers and to provide top-quality
service. External speakers have also been invited Malaysia Airlines’ Advertisements
from top-quality organizations such as IBM and The advertising medium plays a major role in
Shell to share their experiences on service quality Malaysia Airlines’ communication strategy but
with our employees at Saturday Encounters held other media are also used such as press releases,
from time to time. the in-flight magazine Wings of Gold,
To help employees understand better what is familiarization tours of Malaysia Airlines’ facilities
expected of them in terms of serving customers, for travel agents, journalists and the general public,
training programmes have been conducted for and so on.
employees at all levels to educate them on what Malaysia Airlines launched two major
quality customer service is at Malaysia Airlines advertising campaigns in October last year for both
and on basic service standards such as telephone the domestic and international markets.


The “Care” commercial was aimed at the local enhance the recall value of the commercial as well
Malaysian market reinforcing a promise Malaysia as to create an airline advertisement that is clearly
Airlines has always nurtured since the company differentiated from others. The 90-second
was incepted in 1971. The “Care” positioning commercial has received overwhelming praise from
theme promised the level of caring that goes into both industry sources as well as the public at large
every aspect of handling the diverse needs and since it was launched last September. It is said to be
expectations of our passengers. A woman is seen the most ambitious television commercial ever
anguishing over her pet budgerigars that are being undertaken by an advertiser in Asia, using state-of-
carted into cargo, a pregnant woman needs help the-art visual effects developed by a company
with her luggage, an old woman is rather owned by George Lucas and Lucas Film Ltd, which
bewildered and a child is separated from her parents won 12 Oscar awards for block-buster films such as
in the mad rush to catch the flight. As usual, with Star Wars and ET and is also responsible for the
ease and sincerity, the calm and caring staff from box-office success Jurassic Park.
Malaysia Airlines sort and iron out all the problems
captured at the moments of truth. Staff involvement
is crucial towards underlining the credibility of the New Uniforms for Front-line Employees
advertising message – which is why, for the first
time, more than 60 staff participated in the first of By managing the tangibles associated with the
the series titled “Care”. service experience, marketers have the opportunity
In addition to the “Care” commercial, three other to reinforce other service quality dimensions with a
commercials have been developed on the themes of quality look – not necessarily by looking expensive
“Reunion”, “Mulu” and “Special Fares”. or elegant but by paying attention to basics such as
cleanliness, orderliness and customer-friendly
● The “Reunion” commercial shares happy systems to the extent that such tangible evidence is
moments of family reunions among Malaysians. appropriate to the target market and overall service
● The “Mulu” commercial demonstrates the strategy. This means attention to the smallest detail
extensive network served by Malaysia Airlines that competitors might consider trivial and
domestically. unworthy of investment. Yet, it is the visible details
● The “Special Fares” features some 40 different that can add up for customers and signal a strong
choices available for Malaysians to fly around message of caring and competence.
the country on economical value-added fares. Malaysia Airlines’ experience in presenting a
quality look as a component of its service quality
The underlying promise conveyed in these strategy extends through many areas in the physical
commercials is to show that Malaysia Airlines environment of the airline, including the decor of its
cares, and that the new advertisements are not front-office ticketing counters, its Golden Lounges
cosmetic, in line with the company’s “Destination at the airports, the cabin interior of its aircraft, the
Service Excellence” strategy. uniforms of its cabin crew and other frontline staff,
The main thrust of the international advertising the presentation of in-flight meals, the appearance
campaign titled “Vision” was to project the size and of our check-in counters, and so on.
stature of Malaysia Airlines in a futuristic sense Besides modernizing the aircraft fleet with the
which reflects a modern, global and futuristic latest new generation B747-400, A330 and B737-
mental picture of the airline in the minds of the 400/500 aircraft, Malaysia Airlines has
target consumers. implemented a new quality appearance for all
The futuristic strataport is in the aerodynamic frontliners since last year by introducing a
shape of Malaysia Airlines’ kite logo to symbolize collection of new uniforms for cabin crew and
the modernity and expansion of the airline and this
counter staff designed by Gherardini of Italy. While
vision is used as the springboard to convey a
the timeless sarung kebaya with batik motifs has
thousand dream flights. The “Vision” commercial
been retained for female staff, uniforms for the male
also conveys the message that Malaysia Airlines
has made great leaps forward from its previous staff have for the first time in 17 years seen a visible
stature as a relatively young airline, in that it now change to a style that is more in vogue.
carries more passengers than any other airline from
South-East Asia on some of today’s most advanced
aircraft, and spans a truly international network of Quality Meals
90 destinations across five continents. In the many other little things that we do that
Also, to reflect the Malaysian character of the present a quality look to our passengers, I can draw
“Vision” commercial, a large number of Malaysia from the example of the award Malaysia Airlines
Airlines in-flight crew and Malaysian actors were received from Inflight Research Services of London
involved in the lead roles for the advertisement. last year ranking Malaysia Airlines top in First
The computer-generated visual presentation of Class service from a survey of 31 international
Malaysia Airlines as a futuristic airline helps to airlines.


Malaysia Airlines scored highest in three service Kuala Lumpur and London since last October. This
dimensions of cabin crew courtesy, meal is basically a standard tray set-up service which is
presentation and quality of meals served. In the area available to those passengers who do not wish to
of meal presentation, Malaysia Airlines excelled go through the standard full-course supper service
mainly because of the great attention given to the for First Class, which is otherwise delivered on a
finer details of the meal presentation, e.g.: service trolley.
● Presentation of the bar service, with a good The quick meal option is timed especially for
selection of internationally known liqueurs, flights departing around midnight to cater to those
wines and champagnes served by experienced passengers who wish to have a quick supper and go
and capable cabin staff. to sleep. This meal service alternative was
introduced based on feedback obtained from
● Branded quality glasses, plates, bowls and
Malaysia Airlines Esteemed Travellers (MET) who
cutlery which carried a good and consistent attend special MET luncheons and food-tasting
corporate image, presenting a pleasing and sessions organized by the airline.
exclusive feel to the First-class cabin. In
In view of the favourable response from
particular, Malaysia Airlines uses cut glass for
passengers, this quick meal option was extended to
its First-class drink service, and it was revealed
other flights in our menu change for the summer
that less than 25 per cent of the airlines surveyed
1994 season.
offer this extra touch of exclusivity.
● Presentation of salt, pepper and butter is of a
very good standard and appearance – unlike Prompt Meal Service for Golden Club Class
several airlines which make use of plastic
cartons for butter and paper sachets for salt and Passengers
pepper. We have also made improvements to service
procedures for those passengers travelling in
In the case of the quality of meals served, this Golden Club Class. This has resulted in a reduction
pertained mainly to the condition and appearance of the service delivery time by more than 25 per
of the food at the point of service rather than the cent to about 1.5 hours, without affecting the
type of food served on board. Malaysia Airlines quality of service.
was ranked top on quality of meals served in terms
of the meals being served in the best condition, that
is the food served was fresh and appealing and
retained a good flavour and appearance. Beverage Service on Cart for Economy
Class Passengers
This is another improvement we have made for the
Flexible Menu Policy Economy Class passengers which was
Continuous improvements are being made to the implemented in the summer 1994 season.
in-flight menu, in keeping with the new menu Previously, our cabin crew offered juice and beer
policy (started last year) to increase the cycle of as standard choices for after-take-off beverages in
change to meet the changing needs and the Economy Class while passenger requests for
expectations of customers, based on feedback from other drinks were entertained separately. The new
voyage reports and passengers. This new policy service for beverages to be delivered on the cart
creates better flexibility in customizing to the will offer passengers the drink of their choice on
different tastes and preferences of the passengers the cart without their having to wait for a separate
by offering a greater variety of meal combinations, service.
a more extensive range of appetizers, and creative
food preparations with the aim of being on par with
the cuisine served in excellent hotels. Cabin Crew Proficiency in Foreign
The new menus for international flights feature a Languages
variety of tastes and flavours of Malay, Chinese, Cabin crew proficiency in a variety of foreign
Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisines. The health languages is another aspect of customization
aspect of travellers has also not been ignored, due strategy employed by Malaysia Airlines. We
attention being given to low-fat content, calorie already hire cabin crew from other nationalities
count and cholesterol levels in the menu preparation. such as Mexican, Korean, Japanese and South
African. We are also fortunate to have a multi-
racial composition in our Malaysian crew, who are
Quick Meal Option for First-class proficient in foreign languages besides English,
Passengers such as Indian and Mandarin, but they are
We have also introduced a quick meal option for encouraged to master more foreign languages by
First-class supper services on the flights between way of bonus and cash incentive schemes.


Taking Advantage of Technology A specially designed training scheme was also

Information technology (IT) has long been a tool introduced last year to enhance the skills of our
used in product development to gain a competitive trainers, called the Training and Development
advantage, and it is now being used even more Qualification Programme (TDQP). The first batch
effectively in service conception and delivery. of 25 trainers started the programme in July 1994
Airlines generally invest substantially in under Dr Chris Saville, a training consultant from
technology such as computer systems, modern the United Kingdom. The programme adopts a
aircraft and other high-tech equipment for training methodology which enables trainers to
reservations, scheduling, engineering maintenance understand the competencies of a good trainer and
and in-flight entertainment. Malaysia Airlines has to become more effective in conducting training.
invested heavily in these areas which is necessary On successful completion of the programme, the
to keep up with the competition, or to improve the participants are awarded a Certificate in Training
speed and efficiency of operations, and I shall not and Development (CITD) jointly awarded by the
go into all these. UK Institute of Training and Development and
There are two particular examples I can Malaysia Airlines.
highlight from Malaysia Airlines’ experience with There are many other programmes we have set
leveraging technology to add-value for the out to improve the training skills of our staff and I
customer as follows. cannot possibly complete the list.
I should also mention that Malaysia Airlines has
invested RM140 million on a new high-tech
training centre which began operation in May
Computerization of Catering Operations 1994. The new training centre will house the
While this can be viewed as a measure to improve Learning Centre, Computer Centre and a hostel
efficiency, Malaysia Airlines will be able to within an area of 3.3 hectares with facilities for
provide even better service to its customers with conferences and lectures, banquet facilities and a
more effective and efficient systems in place. swimming pool. Malaysia Airlines intends to
The main areas of computerization earmarked develop the training centre into an intelligent, high-
for catering operations which serve the customer tech development centre benchmarking world-class
directly are the Menu Planning system and the management institutions. The concept is to build
CUISINE (Catering Update Information System Malaysia Airlines into a learning organization
Introducing Necessary Effectiveness) production through the training centre, where staff can
system. Both systems will be in place before the continually expand their capacity to create results
end of this year. The Menu Planning System will they truly desire, where new patterns of thinking
greatly enhance the Cabin Services employees’ are nurtured, where collective aspirations are set
ability to plan the food menu with the aid of free and where people are continually learning how
software tools, while the CUISINE will help the to learn together. This concept is based on
catering production people to produce meals with management’s belief that organizations that will
up-to-date information on passenger volume and truly excel in the future will be the organizations
recipes. that discover how to tap the employees’
commitment and capacity to learn, at all levels in
the organization.
Investment in Training Technology
Training of Malaysia Airlines’ staff at all levels
continues to receive top emphasis in the company’s Conclusion
quest to provide quality customer service. The In a future issue of Managing Service Quality we
company’s commitment to training and shall complete this look at Malaysia Airlines’ quest
development is reflected in the fact that it has spent towards becoming “An Airline of Excellence” by
RM20 million last year in this area. reviewing some of the means for measuring and
A Training and Development Symposium was monitoring service quality within the organization,
organized recently to update trainers in the and then conclude with a view of where the
company on the latest trends, methods and company is now in relation to that goal and what
opportunities in the improvement of in-house remains to be done.
training. The symposium carried the theme “How
to Link Our Training Programmes to the Malaysia
Airlines Strategy” and it brought together some of
the country’s best minds in the field of training and
development practices. The symposium was also
designed to inform participants on training Abdullah Mat Zaid is Director of Customer
prospects and to enable them to conduct in-depth Services, Malaysia Airlines.
analysis through discussion and networking.