Customer experience (CX) has become a buzz word in today’s service industries from telecommunications, financial institutions and travel organisations to infrastructure providers.
Consumers have become more connected and well informed about prices and offers from competitors. They tend to share their experiences on social media and have more choices than ever before. These are just a few reasons why airports need to understand and invest in creating a ‘perfect’ customer journey and enhance the customer experience.
All airports are, fundamentally, intermodal pieces of infrastructure, allowing passengers to transfer from one mode of transport to another. However, advanced airports not only provide safe and secure environments in line with this ethos but also connect people, offering them unique customer experiences as they transit the facility.
Many large airports in Asia-Pacific invest in innovative technologies such as biometrics and new security scanners to ensure seamless arrival and departure processes, but what does it take to really provide a superior CX offering to passengers and what are airports doing to ensure they stay ahead of the curve?
To discover more, I asked managers from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra airports in Australia to find out exactly what the customer experience means to them.
Speaking generally, customer experience is the holistic objective and subjective satisfaction levels experienced before, during and after a transaction between seller and purchaser. It is the way the seller of the product made the purchaser feel.
From the retail perspective, customer experience is measured by the relevance of the commercial offering. “It is about creating a retail portfolio of stores that improves the customer journey,” says Andrew Gardiner, chief of retail at Melbourne Airport.
John Pearce, head of retail at Adelaide International Airport, understands CX as the creation of the desire to purchase and repeat the experience at a later point. A loyal retail customer repeats purchases more often. It is far easier to sell more to an existing customer and maximise retail spend that way.
If the overall retail environment is right, the purchaser is willing and pleased to spend more than they otherwise would. Pearce is convinced that in retail, it is all about personalisation and loyalty.
Retailers must continuously invent and present new ideas, techniques and methods to surprise and delight customers during their journey to make sure passengers are engaged and informed.
Michael Thomson, head of aviation at Canberra Airport, says: “Customer experience is a seamless, comfortable, easy and smooth transition from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure.” Airports should focus on providing services to assist this experience.
While Georgina Dorsett, head of customer and stakeholder engagement at Sydney Airport, highlighted that CX is all about how customers feel about the quality and consistency of all interactions during their journey.
Dorsett adds: “We see customer experience as a connected experience across all touchpoints of a customer’s journey through our airport. It’s something that needs to be continually improved.”
My company, the Redwater Consulting Group, see CX as a continually optimised business process of all interactions of the customer journey. It is a primary differentiator for the final decision-making regarding airport, product and service choice, when all other aspects, such as price, connection time, etc, are equal.
One of the key prerequisites to a successful CX strategy is to understand the most critical components of delivering exceptional customer experience. For instance, Dorsett, says: “Our customers tell us that the most crucial thing is to get the basics right.
“Once you have that great foundation, you can develop those additional services and offers that really delight customers”.
Several other key elements have been identified during the interviews with airport managers, and have been summarised below:
- Listen to customers, understand and implement their feedback
- Create authentic environments and make customers feel safe, informed and comfortable
- Develop right tenancy and brand mix relevant to the target audience
- Have sufficient seating options for customers to observe, relax, recharge and get inspired
- Intercorrelation between customer service, design and passenger facilitation perspective
- Deliver a world class service and exceptional experience beyond the customer’s expectations
There are many examples of CX strategies that have been developed along these guidelines. Canberra Airport, for example, hosts a community-wide Airport Open Day (pictured above), where they close a portion of the airfield and allow customers to explore the airport, take guided aircraft tours and see live aeronautical displays.
Sydney Airport implemented a quiet terminal initiative to improve the overall ambience for passengers and, more recently, in partnership with AIRA, launched a free of charge app that assists the visually impaired to navigate their way through its terminals.
Melbourne Airport has developed a VIP strategy for customers to process them differently and Adelaide Airport has created playgrounds with adjacent table service so parents can easily order food and drinks without moving away from their children.
Speaking with the airports, it became apparent that an effective and strong governance model is also critical to the success of any CX strategy. However, there is no one rule fits all for airports, as a governance model highly depends on the size, ownership structure and culture of the business.
For example, at Adelaide Airport, there is a head of customer experience who oversees the marketing and branding at the airport. Contrarily, at Melbourne Airport a CX manager role as such does not exist but instead there is a multi-disciplinary traveller experience committee chaired by the CEO where executives from retail, security, car parking and aviation meet monthly and discuss all issues and gaps of the customer journey.
A similar governance model is practiced at Sydney Airport where the executive committee reviews customer satisfaction scores on a monthly basis and makes recommendations for actions to respond to any concerns. The head of customer and stakeholder engagement is also involved in these meetings and contributes with insights on customer feedback.
CX is also a pillar of the investment prioritisation framework in place at Sydney Airport, equal with capacity, efficiency and other commercial considerations.
Canberra Airport, known as a company with a flat hierarchy and collaborative approach, does not have a CX manager role in their structure either. CX strategy and related topics is part of the executive meetings led by managing director of the airport.
Along with the governance model, it is crucial to develop tools and programmes that enable CX strategy to be successful. Melbourne Airport, for instance, provides the same level of training to all retail staff in order to ensure the consistency of service at all shops and F&B outlets.
An important aspect not to overlook when developing a CX strategy is the impact of addressing terminal capacity constraints and associated construction works at airports. Continuously updating the retail and F&B outlets and redeveloping terminals, for instance, has a direct impact on the customer experience.
To mitigate these effects, several solutions were identified that include branded pop-up stores, mobile food carts and simply carrying out extensive communication through various media to inform customers and stakeholders at an early stage.
It is apparent how exposed the customer journey is to small, seemingly negligible, changes in the environment.
Successful implementation of CX strategies depends on numerous factors. During research, it became clear that several key factors can underpin this development.
- Extensive and continuous customer and B2B research, benchmarking, and mystery shopping
- Adapt governance models with integrated CX roles across all airport departments and functions
- Redevelop retail offerings and provide acceptable alternatives during construction works
- Invest in technology and staff training to meet CX KPIs
- Increase loyalty via personalisation of the customer service
Ultimately, bringing the customer experience to the forefront of decision making is what will make these strategies successful over the long-term.