THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
Kyung Wook Kim, president and CEO of long-time ASQ champion, Incheon International Airport, tells Joe Bates more about his gateway’s customer service focus and ambitions.
WHY DO YOU TAKE GOOD CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE SO SERIOUSLY?
Because customer feedback touches on many different areas and sheds light on what we have to do to do even better.
Good customer service isn’t just about the helpfulness of frontline staff. It’s also about everything from the facility itself, Wi-Fi speeds and retail and dining offerings to the driving habits of airport shuttle buses. We typically do well when it comes to operations, so knowing about things we can improve upon gives us the tools to raise the customer experience bar even higher.
The fact that we are striving to become a destination in our own right through projects such as the planned 380,000 square metre Landmark Complex commercial area that will connect the airport with the larger Airport City – with tourist and business attractions – only serves to strengthen our customer service focus.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE PHILOSOPHY AND ITS MAIN GOALS?
Perhaps the best way to summarise our customer philosophy is to say that we believe in constantly and consistently making improvements so that we effectively pioneer change and walk to the next level of customer service instead of playing catch up.
I believe that this relentless effort to do things better since the day the airport opened means that we have now matured in terms of our customer service offerings and performance, and as a result our service basics by standard are known and recognised by the airport industry.
Now, we would like our guests to think of the airport as a stress and hassle-free destination, and in this respect, new technology will definitely play a part. I am specifically thinking of document less, baggage-less, hands-free travel. Ultimately, we want our guests to be able to just simply enjoy being here. That is the experience we wish to deliver.
GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE IS, OF COURSE, OPEN TO INTERPRETATION. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
I think it is about building an Incheon International Airport that brings a smile to the face of every guest – from frequent flyers to those arriving here for the first time after the longest of flights. In my opinion, it is about the combination of everything – the smooth surfaces, friendly smiles, and the unexpected music that catches your ear – as together they all add up to an experience that will linger long in the memory and make you want to visit again.
HAVE YOU MANAGED TO RESUME YOUR POPULAR LIVE PERFORMANCES YET SUCH AS THE WALK OF THE JOSEON ROYAL FAMILY?
We ran the daily Walk of the Royal Family procession throughout the pandemic as it’s an important programme for the airport as its showcases a Korean Sense of Place with a carefully reconstructed royal walk jointly run with the Korea Culture Heritage Foundation [the public institution working for preserving valuable cultural heritage]. The usual music performances will be rolled back step-by-step with the passenger recovery.
Meanwhile, we opened the Museum of Korean Culture in 2021. The pandemic did little to stifle our art-airport dreams. Since 2020 we have a team devoted to Culture & Art with art experts on board. Now at the centre of T1, we are having an exhibition called ‘Transformations – Experiments in Hangeul Design’, which shows how the Korean letters (Hangeul) can be applied to fashion and craft.
We are also looking into opportunities to accommodate a museum storage and satellite site for a globally renowned museum.
CAN YOU GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES OF CUSTOMER SERVICE EXCELLENCE THAT MIGHT HAVE HELPED INCHEON DO SO WELL IN THE ASQ SURVEY LAST YEAR?
We believe that with basic facilities and processes for passenger convenience in place, the thing that customers respond to most is caring service providers. In particular, when a passenger is lost, in a hurry, or in an uncomfortable state, the experience is greatly improved when a member of staff provides service that goes beyond expectation.
Here at Incheon, such behaviour is consistently displayed. Two recent examples that spring to mind include the member of the Lost & Found team that went all the way to the boarding gate to reunite a passenger with his lost mobile phone, and the worker who offered a helping hand, and directions, to an expectant mother overloaded with luggage and heading to the wrong train!
We believe that these real examples from 2021, and instigated by the employees’ own initiative, demonstrate how staff have bought in to our prolonged efforts to create a culture of hospitality.
SO, IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT INCHEON HASN’T FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE KEY ROLE PEOPLE PLAY IN DELIVERING CUSTOMER SERVICE EXCELLENCE?
People are our most valuable asset. In our case, we could not run the airport without co-working with many different entities and their staff. We, of course, require them to meet our high service standards and encourage a sense of belonging.
I also think that it is important to recognise, and in some cases reward, the effort of those that perhaps excel at what they do or go out of their way to help others. One such programme that does this is our ‘King of Hospitality’ initiative, which l have run since the airport’s 2001 opening. Under this programme, the friendliest staff from all airport sectors are selected by directors experienced in customer service and awarded a trophy by the CEO of the company. To instil a sense of pride, their photos and interview videos are displayed prominently in the staff passageways of all terminals.
WITH TRAVEL HABITS CHANGING, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR INCHEON TO EMBRACE NEW TOUCHLESS TECHNOLOGIES TO HELP ENSURE HIGH CUSTOMER SATISFACTION LEVELS?
As already mentioned, new technology will inevitably play a key role in the future development and transformation of air travel at Incheon and across the world.
Imagine this future scenario. You are planning a holiday on a beach far away and your luggage will be picked up from your doorstep. You go to the airport, and the usual processes are done with facial recognition technology ensuring that your hands are free from bags and travel documents until you board. This touchless, hassle-free experience ensures that you feel lighter to relax and enjoy the unique dining or taking in the shade of red of the royal robe of the Walk of the Royal Family procession at Incheon International Airport. This is the technology implementation we are working on now, and it is closely linked to our plan to make our airport a destination in its own right.
CAN YOU TELL US WHY YOU CONSIDER ACI’S ASQ AND AIRPORT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE ACCREDITATION PROGRAMMES SO HIGHLY?
ASQ is a comprehensive customer satisfaction survey that breaks down the components of satisfaction very well and allows for objective comparisons with similar-sized airports.
We have participated in ACI’s service evaluation programmes since 2006, and were fortunate enough to be named the world’s best airport for 12 years straight, and became one of the first airports to be inducted into the ASQ Hall of Fame. I, and everyone at Incheon International Airport Corporation, are very proud of our achievements.
We are currently striving to achieve the next level of Airport Customer Experience Accreditation (Level 5, the highest level). We are doing this because we have also found it to be a good source for methodically assessing what we are doing, and in some cases, learning about areas in need of more attention. It is important that nothing is left out when it comes to enhancing the airport experience for passengers.