2C2P | Payments Powerhouses: Taking Customer Experience Strategies to…
Podcast Lau Yin May 600x654

Payments Powerhouses: Taking Customer Experience Strategies to New Heights with Lau Yin May

In this instalment of Payments Powerhouses, Yin May shares stories from the side of aviation that most passengers don't get to see, from the ingredients of seamless customer experience journeys to the exciting innovations that are driving Malaysia Airlines' sustainability goals.

Payments Powerhouses Ep 10 Lau Yin May

Lau Yin May is Group Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer (GCMCEO) of Malaysia Airlines.

During her 20-year career, she has gained extensive experience across various sectors, including aviation, healthcare, education, hospitality management, media and advertising.Yin May has deep leadership and management expertise in business strategy, management consulting, sales & marketing, marketing communications and operations.

Payments Powerhouses podcast

Welcome to Payments Powerhouses, Yin May! You’ve had an interesting career journey. Tell us, what drew you to Malaysia Airlines?

Yin May: Fun fact, I graduated with a degree in accounting. My first job was as a consultant at Accenture, followed by a brief spell in advertising with GroupM. I joined Malaysia Airlines for the first time in 2004, helping to implement major projects and initiatives across different departments. I was part of the pioneer team that set up its subsidiary Firefly Airlines, and I went on to start the travel agency arm, Firefly Holidays.

I left the airline industry in 2011 to explore other sectors. But as they say, you will never forget the experience once you’ve worked in an airline. There's never a dull day in an airline company - what you experience as a passenger is no more than just about 5% of what happens in the background!

In the last decade, a great customer journey has been a vital component of businesses, and Malaysia Airlines is very focused on this area. That is why in 2018, I re-joined the airline to set up the customer experience department.

There's so much interesting work in the airline industry, which keeps me excited about it.

How do you balance leading both the marketing and customer experience departments?

Well, it is actually very interconnected. To create a successful customer experience, we strive to set up the ideal blueprint of our passengers’ journey with us. From knowing if they like fresh juice, their preferred method of booking a flight, to whether they prefer the aisle seat or the window seat, little things like this are the anchor of customer experience. After establishing the ideal journey, marketing plays a very important role ensuring that this is clearly communicated to our potential customers, so they are keen to fly with Malaysia Airlines.

I also look after our loyalty program, Enrich, which is a continuation of the entire journey. It addresses our customers’ personal needs and delivers a seamless experience. We want to ensure that we deliver what we promise, and the end goal is to grow our loyalty base of passengers who will continue to fly with us.

How do you segment the airline’s passengers or audiences?

At Malaysia Aviation Group, customers are our centre of gravity. We have 12 customer segments: four segments are corporate, including government, while the remaining eight segments are leisure travellers. In the leisure segment, we have premium passengers, value pairs, solo travellers, and ‘indulgent groupies’ (groups of up to five travelling to gastronomy, hiking or camping destinations). We also have big groups, the likes of 10 or more people. On top of that, in 2019, we launched Amal (by Malaysia Airlines), our pilgrimage airline, and these passengers clearly go through a very different journey.

When you travel for business, your journey is very different from travelling with your family or friends. You have so many touch points with our team, starting from the website and contact centre, when you go to the airport lounge, or check in at the boarding gate. We recognise every passenger as an individual and tailor the customer journey to each person.

It’s a complex process but that’s what draws me to the airline industry.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for the travel and aviation sectors. Can you walk us through its impact on Malaysia Airlines? Have you seen any shift in terms of customer behaviour?

The impact is multi-fold. The effect of the pandemic is unprecedented. We have had crises before, but none have impacted the global aviation industry as much. In March 2020, we came to a complete halt overnight, and all our aircraft were grounded.

With the guidance of our CEO, we realised that there are opportunities in every crisis. We all got together and said, “Now is the time to prepare ourselves for recovery. What are the things we need to shift to bring ourselves out of the pandemic?”

We knew immediately that our customers would need the assurance that airline companies would uphold their safety and hygiene protocols. We were one of the first airlines to fully vaccinate our active crew as early as August 2021. That was even before Malaysia opened up its interstate borders! It gave us an advantage because customers felt reassured knowing the crew they interacted with were fully vaccinated.

The airlines also enforced very strict SOPs in hygiene and cleaning. In July 2020, we were awarded a 7-star rating by AirlineRatings.com for our COVID-19 health and safety measures. We are also certified by Bureau Veritas, an international organisation specialising in testing, inspection and certification of health and safety standards.

We also recognised that in a time of great uncertainty, airline companies needed to have flexible policies. One of the ways we addressed that was to introduce the Horizontal Fare Family plan, which offered unlimited flight changes and extensions to all customers who booked flights during the pandemic. This flexibility allowed passengers to change destinations or dates up to December 2022 at no additional change fee. With our Enrich loyalty program, we extended the validity of all our Enrich points until December 2022.

Payments acceptance in the airline industry is complex, especially with managing different components. What are some of the challenges you have experienced?

One significant change we experienced during COVID-19 was the massive push for digital transformation. We realised we had to accelerate our digital roadmap. Payments was a clear example - we needed to ensure that we could provide various seamless options for our customers.

Cross-border transactions are a challenge because different points of sale have their own limitations based on local regulations and the respective market profile. We also understand the requirements of our global customers and recognise that their preferred payment method differs between locations.

Another challenge to consider is fraud risk, which is more rampant due to increasing transactions on digital platforms. Safety and security are high priorities for us as an aviation player.

We believe that our payments platform must be seamless. It has to be fast, and it has to offer many options that suit our different profiles of customers. We need a solution that can address all of these challenges in one go to reduce the worry for ourselves and the customer.

Malaysia Airlines was the first in the Amadeus global network to launch an instalment payment plan in Malaysia, Australia, and the UK in 2020. Tell us about the new payment initiatives introduced in response to the revival of tourism.

We rolled out the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) zero-interest instalment payment plan in collaboration with 2C2P and Shopback Pay Later across our key markets. Although it was launched pre-pandemic, throughout the pandemic is where we continued to improve as we wanted to be aligned with our objective to offer variety and flexibility to our customers.

The other initiative we recently started is MHPay, which adds to our vast array of payment methods. It is done in collaboration with the IATA through IATA Pay and powered by 2C2P. It offers Malaysia Airlines customers another seamless and secure method of payment online. Typically with a very quick transaction processing time, it has proven to have a much lower fraud risk attached to it. This reinforces our commitment to ensure that our customers are fully secured when they make a payment for their tickets on Malaysia Airlines.

We also have our Enrich Shop, which we launched last year. It provides our Enrich members with a very easy online shopping platform to get items from well-established brands, such as Tumi, Sephora or Watsons. It allows immediate payment, which is a seamless payment option, and on top of that, they get to earn their Enrich points whenever they shop via Enrich Shop.

Enrich is Malaysia Airlines’ travel and lifestyle loyalty program. Members can earn Enrich points by flying on Malaysia Airlines or other partner airlines. The program now includes lifestyle products and services, allowing members to earn Enrich points when they have a meal at one of our partner restaurants or redeem points for a spa session at the Grand Hyatt or a meal voucher at one of our hotel partners.

We also started our Enrich partnership with charity organisations throughout the pandemic because many local communities suffered. Our Enrich members can use their points to donate to these charity organisations. We’ve partnered with other loyalty programs, such as Sunway Pals, where they can merge their points with ours and vice versa, to ensure that our members get full benefits and flexibility to use their points.

I read that the sustainable blueprint initiative by Malaysia Airlines is quite innovative in the airline industry. Can you share more about it?

Delivering socially responsible and environmentally focused initiatives is one of our priorities. We launched the MAG Sustainability Blueprint in April 2021, which sets the course for the entire group to contribute to a net zero carbon future by 2050.

With this sustainability blueprint, we have five key elements: environment, economics, safety and security, social and also governance. We started sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as a lever to achieve our long-term net-zero ambition. But as you know, the SAF requires further R&D. It is also a huge investment! We believe that for this to work, we need more organisations to band together and encourage a deeper adoption of SAF within the industry. We started flying our first SAF flight a few months ago between KL and Singapore, and we intend to roll out more SAF-powered flights in stages.

Our sustainable initiatives also support social causes like gender diversity. We've committed to the “25 by 2025” policy to ensure that 25% of hires are women within the aviation industry by 2025. That's one of IATA’s commitments to strengthen and improve female representation within the broader aviation industry.

We also have other related projects in the pipeline that are our key priorities. The first one is to achieve net zero emissions. The second is aircraft efficiency and the new technologies that we want to improve or utilise in our aircraft. We also want to reduce carbon offsets, so we started our carbon accounting project to track the entire group's greenhouse gas emissions.

We also plan to launch a waste management program and rainwater harvesting system within our building. These may sound very little to start with, but the goal is not only to protect the environment but also to drive awareness among our community. For example, we also encourage our passengers to support our conservation efforts with WWF Malaysia by offering donation options. They can donate when they buy an air ticket, with the amount already included in the ticket price.

What do you think about the future of aviation and travel?

We always have to plan ahead with the help of data and trend forecasts. With borders now open, we are seeing a massive travel surge. However, the aviation industry now faces headwinds in terms of fuel prices. Costs have risen by more than 60% due to the ongoing geopolitical crisis, impacting our logistic business. Raw materials already take up about 40% of our cost.

The other challenge that aviation is facing is labour-related, which is more evident in airports across Europe and Australia. Many employees in the industry were retrenched during the pandemic, and re-hiring staff has not been easy. Fortunately, Malaysia Aviation Group did not retrench anyone, apart from natural attrition or contracts that have expired. Our pilots took pay cuts by up to 65%, which helped us to sustain the organisation and retain employees. We were ready to go as soon as recovery picked up - there were no flight cancellations due to unavailable resources. So that's one good thing that came out of the pandemic; we are now closer than ever within the group.

Speaking of coming together to create something positive, let's wrap up with a fun question: Tell us more about Malaysia Airlines’ new safety video, “Satu Dua Tiga, Jom!” – it is not only fun but holds a more profound message.

I think it’s a very important video because it reflects our airline’s ethos. You might think that aviation was one of the worst hit industries during the pandemic, but in reality, the performing arts suffered a huge loss. No one could go and watch anything - all production was halted for two years.

We wanted to take this chance to reunite Malaysians, bring hope and celebrate the goodness of life. There was already so much gloom and doom, and we felt we needed to inject some liveliness and excitement back into the community. As the national carrier, we wanted to wave our flag proudly at the world. So many iconic Malaysian creatives and athletes make us proud, and we wanted to feature them. I am also pleased to say that the safety video was entirely produced by Malaysians.

. . .

Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.