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Why wouldn’t we make customer experiences easy?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event about how to nurture a customer-centric culture. One of the key issues I referenced is that too often we have a gap between the sky-high corporate ambition (such as “to be the world’s best customer experience company”) and the lower-altitude commitment to making that a reality.

We see the consequences of that misalignment regularly. Just in the last couple of days alone I’ve experienced a tale of two cultures. Two very simple questions put to two organisations with two very different results.

I’m sharing them in the hope that one inspires and the other prompts us to ask ourselves, “Could that happen in our business?”.

Firstly, my bank. I had a general enquiry about one of their processes. A client bounced a cheque on me so the bank had automatically represented it. When it was returned the second time I was charged for the pleasure. So, I wanted to know what the bank’s policy was on how many times they would represent the cheque (and therefore how much I’d be charged too).

Their brand proposition proudly talks about wanting “to help businesses thrive…to help people realise their ambitions”. But they’re one of the world’s biggest players anyway and as I had a simple question my expectations of a quick response were high.

My problem though was not that I didn’t get an answer. More, it was ridiculously difficult to ask it in the first place.

My first attempt started after 10pm and the helpline was closed. Fair enough, though people managing their own businesses necessarily tend do the admin at either end of the day. I resorted to the FAQs on the website but after much trawling there was nothing relevant . The LiveChat was not live either.

So next morning I called back. The IVR route made me enter my branch sort code number. Then I needed to type in my account number followed by my date of birth and two digits from my security PIN. For some reason I then had my balance read out automatically. Twice. Topped off with a declaration about the difference between the balance and cleared funds.

I then had to navigate three further levels of IVR options before listening to the on-hold music for five minutes. Then someone picked up the call.

At that point they very helpful. The question was answered inside a minute. Added to the time I’d spent the night before though, the effort to get that point was disproportionate. I only hope they measure customer effort rather than, or aswell as, overall advocacy otherwise things won’t change.

Compare that with my second experience the same day. Next week I’m chairing sessions on passenger experience at the Rail Festival in Amsterdam. I was wondering how I get from Schiphol airport to the city centre by train. So, when a reminder about my flight popped up on my KLM app with a very clear ‘Contact Us’ button I sent them a quick question via Twitter (I could choose which messaging platform to use).

I sat back and carried on with my evening. Twelve minutes later, I had a response from the airline pointing me to where the rail ticket office is inside the airport. Sorted, with very little input from me.

But more than that, after only nine minutes, a delightful lady who runs a company helping law firms in Holland intervened and forwarded my request directly to the rail company, NS. They too then quickly confirmed what I needed to do.

Not only were the airline and rail company right on top of things, one of their own customers was willing to help another. I was very grateful but also intrigued about why she’d done that. She told me the motivation was that she is very proud of the Netherlands and wanted to help anyone who was visiting her country. Her intent was not so much to help the airline or rail company directly but subconsciously had confidence the issue would be resolved quickly.

And indeed, I’d had a swift response. But beyond her wider motive I thought about rail passengers in this country. If we happened to see a message from someone coming to the UK and they’d asked the airline about rail travel here, would we put our own reputation on the line by trying to help out? Would we be so confident that the rail operator would pick up the baton so quickly and easily? Hmmm.

 

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture on the inside. If it feels like wading through treacle to get answers to simple questions then that business is more than likely carrying excess costs. If it’s easy for customers there’s less processing and support needed from the business. Unnecessary complexity also does nothing to support the wider brand promise; quite the opposite. If the reality of the experience is working against the expectation so much of the Marketing budget is wasted.

It’s easy to set sky-high ambitions but as CX professionals we need ensure there are no gaps between them and what it’s really like to be a customer. As KLM and NS have shown, if it can be easy, why wouldn’t it be? We already know that better experiences mean customers will come back more often, spend more and tell others to do the same. And if that then makes customers feel willing and able to help others customers too, that’s got to be a win for everyone, surely.

(Oh, if you’re interested, in the UK a bank will usually represent a cheque four times. Some though apparently will keep representing many more times, conveniently charging you each time. Be warned!).

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. 

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

 

Disabilities teach us how to improve everyone’s experiences

It can be hard enough doing business with a company sometimes, let alone if we have some kind of physical or mental disability.  However, people who interact with the world in different ways can teach organisations a lot about creating the right customer experiences for them, other customers and – ultimately therefore – the balance sheet.

Having travelled a lot recently and spoken at aviation conferences I’m look at it here from an airport’s perspective.  The principles though apply to any sector.

The World Health Organisation says: “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment.”  Airports control the environment passengers are in and therefore it’s within their gift to minimise the impact of being disabled.

After all, whether we’re a hard-working employee always on the go, someone of restricted mobility or a carer with an adult who has a learning difficulty,  we all want pretty much the same thing.  Last year I researched what passengers said to each other about going through an airport.  The 800 comments I reviewed on Skytrax showed they simply wanted it to be quick, easy, calm, clean and friendly.  Any ‘Wow!’ factors can wait until the basics are in place and happening consistently.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform efficiently and focusing on customer experiences is key to the game plan.  However, we also know that rising consumer expectations are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are being delivered.

By understanding what it’s really like to travel with a disability, not only does it make the experience better for the people who need it most but it also stretches the thinking to improve things for all passengers.  And, if doing the right thing needed justifying, it’s great for an airport’s revenue and cost lines too.

It is, of course, about doing what’s right, but there is a real-world commercial context that this sits in.  Inevitably there will be some who remain to be convinced, worried about the impact on their processes, operational efficiencies, costs, metrics and compliance scorecards.

Sceptical stakeholders can draw comfort from a number of studies that show how better customer experiences lead to better performance.  For example, Temkin Group’s study of 10,000 consumers showed that 81% of advocates are very likely to buy again; only 16% of unhappy customers share the same intent.   At AeroMexico, a one-point change either way in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.  And in the UK, Papworth Trust says two-thirds of disabled travellers would travel by rail more often if it were easier.

Designing experiences and employee training for the right customer outcomes can take many forms.  One tool that’s often used is customer journey mapping.  The key is not to simply document processes but to create a springboard from which commercially successful and empathetic experiences can be made and measured.  We should think about passengers as being real people rather than fitting the generic segmentation stereotypes of “business travellers”, “families” or even “PRM”s.  The maps will then help share internally what it’s really like to be a passenger and what it should be like, through keen observations and a rich understanding of travellers’ motivations, expectations, fears and hopes at each stage of the journey.

 

I’ve a 13-year-old son with Fragile X, a learning disability on the autistic spectrum.  We’ve had awful and wonderful experiences at airports.  At Birmingham International for example, we found employees at the gate who took everything in their stride.  They were not perplexed at all by Charlie’s flapping, his strange vocal sounds or his lack of social understanding about how a queue works.

There are other airports we will avoid purely because of the noise from hand-dryers in the toilets.  To Charlie, they burst into life as a monstrous 90dB howl.  It scares him and makes him highly anxious in the days leading up to the flight and while we’re at the airport.  So those airports are now off the list of choices, for us at least.

The way he deals with sudden noise is to make his own commotion.  It will trigger a meltdown that will see him go through a cycle of angst, anger and distress.  It’s a sequence that we can rarely break into, hence why it’s to be avoided if at all possible.  He won’t process instructions to “calm down” but he will eventually come out the other side very upset and very apologetic and will want to know people are there for him when he does.

It can be an uneasy time for everyone. At Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport however, if a passenger has an episode in the security lanes the queue management tapes are quietly moved to redirect other passengers away. They leave nature to take its course rather than make things worse by ushering the person out of the way in the hope that no-one noticed.

Physical disabilities are easier to recognise, yet this can still trigger inappropriate responses from airport staff.  US daytime-TV host Meredith Vieira, whose husband has multiple sclerosis, talks about the times when he uses a wheelchair at an airport rather than a cane.  Suddenly people talk to her, not him.  “It’s like he becomes invisible,” she says.calming-dog

Recognising the potential for unpredictable behaviour is not easy.  It’s great therefore to see initiatives such as a downloadable butterfly image for carers’ smartphones at Liverpool airport and wristbands at Manchester.  They send subtle signals to trained employees that there may be untypical behaviour ahead.

Likewise, the unobtrusive lapel badges at Los Angeles and the dementia champions walking the floor at London Gatwick.  Calming therapy dogs are another great example where everyone, not just those with a disability, benefits.

Emotionally and physically, many will be running on empty.  They may not remember when they last had a good night’s sleep.  They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost loved ones who had undiagnosed conditions.  They may spend their days helping others go to the toilet or prevent them from self-harming.  They may see the world in very different ways to us.  They may feel they are always being judged and continually need to apologise.

Their best experiences are therefore ones that simply work and have no friction in them.

Such circumstances put everyday niggles and frustrations at the airport into perspective.  Inflexible policies that prevent common sense prevailing, unhelpful attitudes and rushed environments that are not respectful make it one more challenge to endure.

Get it right and they become valuable advocates.  Get it wrong and they are unlikely to have the time or inclination to let you know.  They might tell their friends if they have the energy but they will almost certainly choose an alternative airport next time or simply stay at home.

 

Speaking at the Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne earlier this year, Craig Leiner, transportation co-ordinator with Natick Community Services Department, said: “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder.”  The message is clear: don’t be the straw that breaks their back.

The stakes are high for all concerned.  But if airports and the partners they outsource their experiences to have a deeper understanding of people with a disability, everyone profits.  Even Ryanair, once thought of as being very ‘anti customers’, acknowledges that its Always Getting Better programme is turning better experiences into higher revenue, load factors and forward bookings.

Creating the right environment where interactions are easy and calm suits pretty much everyone.  People with a disability of some kind help expand our thinking about what those experiences should be like.  In the UK, a fifth of the population has a disability and estimates put their spending power at over £200bn.    It’s therefore an opportunity not an obligation.

Lord Blunkett, chair of easyJet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, summed it up neatly in Cologne when he said: “Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating people with decency is a commercial win for everyone”.

It really is.

 

 

The future of airline passenger experience

The last two years have seen big steps forward in the airline passenger experience.  Some airlines doing great things in the name of creating a sustainable business. Others appear to be wedded to a get-rich-quick strategy.  So it’s not surprising that some have customers who help spread the good word while others feel they are been treated with contempt.  

 

But both make money, so which is more important – long-term survival or short-term P&L?  Different strategies for different airlines, but there is one common thread that is treated very differently: people. Or as they are known in some circles,“revenue generators”.

Last week I had the pleasure of once again being part of Terrapinn’s World Low Cost Airline Congress.  That the name of the event evolved this year into the Aviation Festival is testament to huge shifts within the industry even in the very recent past.Airline passenger experience

Only two years ago the mood in the airline sector appeared dark. It was distracted by existential challenges of economic pressures, merger activity and geopolitical forces.  Few were talking about customers let alone measuring what is was like to be one.  The focus remained on process efficiency, cost and short-term survival.

Forward a year and 2014 felt more positive.  It seemed that every conversation and presentation now contained reference to people, passengers or customers.  Yet while something customery needed to be done, it wasn’t entirely clear exactly what or how.

This year though, things moved on again with airlines and suppliers embracing the concept of passenger experience.  Maybe a more stable economy and lower fuel prices have helped move the spotlight.  But, so the theory goes, by aligning the business strategy, operations and partners with what customers value most, passengers will come back next time, spend more and tell their friends to do the same.

For airlines passenger experience is a sound business philosophy, neatly illustrated by two of the industry’s heavy-hitters.

 

Forward thinking for forward bookings

Ryanair has won awards for its “Always Getting Better” programme.  In a move unthinkable until very recently, Michael O’Leary put passenger experience at the top of his agenda when delivering the latest financial results to the markets. And CMO Kenny Jacobs talked last week about the focus on passengers going beyond an initiative to become a lasting cultural ethos.  It will move Ryanair from, in his words, being the baddest to the biggest and best.  Letting others make mistakes gives the airline what Jacobs, with a mischievous smile, calls its 4th-mover advantage.

It’s fair to say that over at Virgin Atlantic, they have enjoyed a longer history of benefiting from doing what customers appreciate.  That’s not to say they are taking their foot off the gas. Moving on from using Google Glass to enhance its experience for Upper Class passengers, the airline’s dispatch team are using smart-watches to improve efficiency of turn-around times and communication with customers.

They embody the test-learn-refine approach, happy to see where a new piece of technology might lead them.  If it’s down a dead-end route, so be it but without that culture they will have no foundation upon which to differentiate their experience or operations.

So in contrast to those who are doing some great things with culture and experiences, it was still a surprise to hear one airline doggedly beating the ‘grab every penny’ drum. To name them will serve little purpose but you will know them. I admire any organisation who has a clarity of proposition, though the explanation of their strategy sits less comfortably. To quote one of their senior executives: “We don’t look at what customers want. We look at what they are prepared to pay for”.

Least-cost processes and inflexible policies are then built rather than experiences. Meals (when paid-for) appear to meet approval but passenger feedback suggests that is a superficial and money-making priority compared with the things that should be a priority:  long queues at check-in, dirty aircraft and unfriendly staff.

This airline and many suppliers talk of passenger experience because it seems to be the fashionable thing to do rather than be a way of thinking.  The reality is that they already give their passengers an experience but because the driving forces remain revenue per passenger, operational efficiency and spreadsheets full of metrics, those experiences – whether deliberate or unintended – are not the ones that win favour.

Are they getting in their own way? Maybe it’s a deliberate, successful short-term strategy of survival and they will worry about next year, next year. Or will they see the balance that Ryanair are working towards as something to emulate?

Only they know the strategy, but passengers know what they’ll do next time.

 

What do passengers say to each other?

I’ve recently conducted some research into what passengers say to each other about airlines.  Increasingly, whatever we are buying, we look to see – and are influenced by – what the experience of other customers has been.  It’s no different when we choose which airline to fly with.too much effort

For this sector though, one factor shone through as being the biggest single reason why passengers rave about a particular airline or warn others to give them a wide berth; people.

Whether a positive or negative experience, a third of passengers cited the attitude and helpfulness of people as the reason for the good or poor experience.  In the positive camp, it was all about the cabin crew, attentive and friendly. When things went wrong however, it was people outside the aircraft who were at the root of the problems – ground crew, contact centres and service desks.  As passengers, we do not know nor do we care whether those roles are in-house or sub-contracted out. Whatever the clever strapline says, it’s the airline’s brand in their hands.

 

The future is already here

David Rowan, Editor of Wired magazine, proved at this year’s event that the future is not something that we can wait until tomorrow to get ready for.  Flying cars exist today.  Astronauts in the International Space Station are emailed instructions to make tools they didn’t know they’d need by using an onboard 3D printer. And tetraplegics can use brainwaves to guide a robot to help them drink.

Yet in 2015 we still have airlines with grumpy employees, slow and inflexible processes and scruffy aircraft.  Other markets outside aviation are moving fast and they are the ones who set our expectations as passengers about what a good experience should be like.  It doesn’t have to be “wow” or expensive;  if it’s empathetic it will be profitable.

There is clearly of a sense of optimism about the future for the industry and there are many airlines doing great things.  It’s a future that will be no less challenging but one where a genuine focus on passenger experiences will help secure a stronger future for load factors, revenue and forward bookings.

So for those who still don’t get it, beware the economic upturn because that will simply prise open the gap even further between the airlines that keep passengers, partners and investors coming back and those who simply run out of options. And passengers.

 


Thank you for your interest in this post about PaxEx.   I share these thoughts simply in the hope it will stimulate some thought about the consequences (intended and unintended) of how your business treats its own customers or helps others with their customers.

I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional, independent consultant and authorised trainer for the CCXP accreditation.  As founder and managing director of Empathyce, I’ve worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries across Europe and in New Zealand.

If you’ve any question on the post or on customer experience in general, please feel free to get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

Passenger experiences and what they say to each other

Airports and the people who use them want different versions of the same thing from the passenger experience.  Whether we’re transiting through one or managing one, the common need is for it to be efficient.  But this research report into what passengers tell each other about good and bad experiences shows that the way customers define efficiency is not always the same as how airports measure it.

  • The ideal passenger experience is in airport that simply does what it’s supposed to and in a pleasant environment
  • The consequences of long queues, inadequate facilities and the wrong staff attitude are what make people use a different airport next time
  • An airport’s obsessive focus on processing efficiency risks doing the wrong things well and needing to spend resource on fixing self-inflicted problems

 

The gap between what airports think and what passengers think is a crucial one.  All the while that metrics are being collated and analysed, if they are the wrong ones, airports will be oblivious to why passengers are exercising their choices and voices.  In Barcelona last year, Andy Lester of Christchurch airport summed it up well when he talked of rebuilding after the 2011 New Zealand earthquake and observed

“If you think like an airport you’ll never understand your customers”.

We’ve seen recently a flurry of airports celebrating bigger passenger numbers and new routes with new airlines.  Yet their customers react with a sigh because many of those airports are already at or beyond passenger numbers that make going through the airport a tolerable experience.

At the risk of generalising, airports aim to get as many people through the airport as possible, as efficiently as possible.  It needs to be done in a way that means they can spend as much money as possible, come back as often as possible and tell everyone they know to do the same.  If it moves (that is either people or bags) they can barcoded, processed and measured.  How many get from A to B in as little time or at least cost becomes the primary, sometimes, sole focus.  All of which makes good operational sense, given the complexity and challenges of running an airport in a way that airlines will be confident is using.

But what are passengers concerned with and what is their version of what efficiency means?   Kiosks with red, orange and green buttons greet us everywhere to ask how the service was.  While that allows an AQS metric to be reported and tracked, there is no qualitative, actionable insight let alone allowances for mischievous kids or cleaners tapping away as they pass.  However, the travel industry is blessed with no shortage of customers willing and able to give their feedback – and that in turn creates a vast reservoir of insight not only for customers choosing an airport but for the airports to tap into themselves.

From that readily available information I’ve researched to see what customers said to each other about what makes an airport good or bad.  Using feedback on airports left at the Airline Quality / Skytrax review site I organised over 750 descriptions behind why passengers gave an airport a score of 9 or 10 (out of 10) and then 0 or 1.

Passenger experience key findings:

Where there were positive experiences, 98% of the comments can be summarised into one of two areas; either that it worked or that it was in a nice environment.  That might seem obvious, and to a large degree it is.  However, if it is so obvious then why are passengers still telling each other about cases where it’s anything but efficient?

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What is it that customers tell each other when they write about the passenger experience?

The negative experiences were more fragmented in their causes, being about the function of the airport building, how good the processes in it are, staff attitude and information.  What is clear is that a bad experience is significantly more negatively emotive than good experiences are positive. The core expectation is that everything will work as it’s meant to.  If it does, great.  But where it falls short, the consequences are commercially harmful, as typified by this message:

“I intend to avoid any lengthy stay in this airport again even if it means having to pay more to fly direct – it’s worth the price to keep your sanity”

 

In summary:

One:  55% of the reasons for a good score were simply about it being “efficient”

Airport experiences do not all have to have a Wow! factor.  First and foremost, passengers just want everything to work.  It’s a truism that without the basics in place being done well and consistently, a Wow! becomes a Waste of Work.

A noticeable number of passengers used the word “efficient” in their reviews, by which they were referring to things such as (in order of how often these were mentioned)

  • there was almost no experience, in that everything worked as it should
  • when they needed to interact with staff, the response was courteous and helpful
  • getting around the airport was easy because of good signage and easily accessible information
  • they didn’t have to wait long on arrival to collect bags and head on the next leg of their journey
  • getting to and from the airport was easy, with good connections and acceptable parking charges

 

Two:  43% of the reasons for a good score were about a nice airport environment

The most efficient, effective, high-tech and innovative processes will all have their business-case ROI ruined if the environment in which they operate makes people feel like they are being treated with contempt.  Often that happens unintentionally but if the value-exchange is one-sided, there is only so long a customer will put up with it.  Chances are they have spent a lot of time and money on this trip, they are by definition not yet where they want to be and anything that is perceived as not making their journey any easier will count against the airport.  It puts into context why people value a pleasant environment, the most common specific examples of which included:

  • shops were relevant, toilets were sufficient in number and the general facilities laid on were good
  • everywhere was kept clean and tidy
  • the layout was spacious with plenty of comfortable seating
  • the atmosphere throughout was one of calm, bright and quiet
  • good wi-fi connections were cited but this is increasingly sliding down the food-chain to be a basic expectation; its absence being more of an issue than its presence.

What do they say when the experience is a good one?  Here are some examples:

 “It’s clean. It makes you believe they are aware of their customers’ health and wellbeing”

“If you have the option to use this airport, it is a great choice”

“It never lets me down”

 

Three:  48% of the negative reasons were about the facilities

Where customers were giving airports a score of 0 or 1, the biggest gripe was that the airport couldn’t cope with the volume of passengers.  The resulting slow and uncomfortable journey through the airport creates frustration and anxiety.  It’s made worse by the fact that as passengers we not unreasonably expect airports to know exactly who is going to be in the airport each day and to be prepared.  Other consequences of the over-crowding included poor seating, a dirty and gloomy atmosphere and poor choices of food and drink.

It’s for these reasons that an airport celebrating a rise in new passenger numbers might want to acknowledge and address the concerns of existing customers at the same time.

 

Four:  28% of the negative reasons were about processes

For passengers, security, immigration and baggage handling fall into the category of processes that should just work every time. Where they do, it’s fine, but where they fall short, they can have a significant impact on influencing whether a passenger will choose that airport again.

Slow moving queues, duty free goods being confiscated in transit, poorly translated instructions and slow baggage reclaims were among the specific processes that riled customers. Again, it becomes emotive because these are all seen as avoidable inconveniences when we experience other airports who can and do get it right.

 

Five:  13% of the negative reasons were about staff

As a generally compliant travelling public (and I accept there are exceptions, such as when peanuts are served in bags), going through an airport can be a daunting experience even in the best of terminals.  The one thing we hope we can rely on is that when we need to interact with another human being there will be a mutual respect, a helping hand or at least clear instructions so we can indeed be compliant. Airports go out of their way to train staff and yet the evidence is that many are still failing.

Rude, unempathetic, incompetent, unhelpful, deliberately slow and uncaring are just some of the ways staff were described.  Any organisation is dependent on having good relationships but where one side feels they are being treated with contempt, it becomes a very deep scar to heal.

A customer wrote about their disappointing and surprising experience at one of the largest US airports where there were

“Miserable, nasty employees, barking and screaming at customers as if they were dogs”.

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Good news – plenty of seats. Bad news – information boards positioned too far away beyond the moving walkway

 

Six:  11% of the negative reasons were about information

It’s an area airports have focused on and with a good deal of success.  Making passengers more self-sufficient and having employees being better at handling questions has benefits for all sides.  But there are still airports where having the right information at the right time in the right place is still elusive;  more specifically, passengers concerns around information was that either there was none, it was inadequate, it was wrong or it was confusing – all frustrating when we live in a world dominated by technology and information.

 

So what?  Why is it important and what does it tell us?

  1. Poor experiences make people choose other airports next time.  Passengers’ expectations are not only set by what it was like last time, but by how other airports do it and by their interactions with other companies they deal with in their day-to-day lives.  So where things don’t meet the basic expectations, not only does that impact on revenue for the airport there is also a commercial consequence for airline partners.  For example, some passengers said

“I usually fly Delta but will now try to avoid them – to avoid Atlanta”, and

“Because of this airport I will never fly Etihad again”

 

  1. Depending on which piece of research you read, anything between 75% and 95% of customers are influenced by what others say.  Any robust customer strategy will have at its core a clear vision of what the experiences need to be in order that passengers will think, feel, do and share as intended.  Many organisations now build into their customer journey mapping a stage specifically to address the “I’m sharing what it was like” issues.

 

  1. An obsession with metric-driven efficiency and processes that work for the airport’s operations team but not for passengers creates blind-spots as to what will help drive non-aeronautical revenue.  Customers themselves recognised this by saying

“All of time put aside to shop was spent queueing”, and

“They have allowed way too many people to use this place. Cannot be good for business as nobody has time to spend any money in the shops or bars”

 

Declan Collier of London City Airport reinforces the point about the dangers of process focus, task orientation and metric myopia when he talks about being “in the people business” and that the fortunes of LCY will “rise or fall on the ability of its people”.

For example, last year I questioned the fanfare for an app that tells passengers where their lost bags are.  I accept that bags go missing but as a passenger, whether I’ve a smart-phone and free hands or not, I’d prefer to have seen the investment directed to not leaving me feeling awkward and helpless standing by an empty baggage carousel.  However, I was told by a large airport hub that the rationale was that it would mean transiting passengers could run for their connection without having to worry about collecting bags that weren’t there.  I was told that yes, running is part of the expected experience and my concerns about what that is like for my confused mother or my autistic son fell on deaf ears.  I was told I don’t understand airport operations and they’re right, I don’t.  But I do understand what it’s like to be a passenger.

 

  1. The best airport experiences don’t need to be expensive, complex or high-tech.  Think what a difference just having engaged, helpful and friendly staff makes – and that doesn’t take a huge piece of capex to justify, just a degree of collaboration with employees and third parties who have the airport’s brand reputation in their hands.

 

  1. One observation in the course of the research was that the high and low scores often applied to the same airports. That has to be a concern and worthy of investigating;  why can it be done so well at times but not at others?  How come all the effort and pride can create advocates some of the time but at other times is just handing passengers to competitors?

 

Final thoughts on the airport passenger experience

These days, people do not expect a poor passenger experience.  The bar is climbing higher and in simple terms that just means doing the right things well.  Earlier this year, writer Alastair Campbell travelled through Terminal 2 and sent this tweet to his 285,000 followers:

LHR tweet

Unsurprisngly, Heathrow’s social media team proudly retweeted it to a similar number of their followers.  Within 15 minutes, this positive message was shared with well over half a million people.  And all because the experience was simply – and “amazingly” – smooth and quick.  Nothing more complicated than that.

It’s not just about giving customers the right experiences every time.  To make an airport efficient for passengers as well as managers it also needs to avoid giving the wrong experiences, ever. The commercial consequences are riding on it.

Passengers know that as well as anyone.  So if there’s one message, then it is that the airport and its brand is only as good as people tell each other it is.

 

I hope you find this report useful and interesting but email [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 if you’ve any questions or comments – I’d love to hear your views.

Thank you,

Jerry Angrave