Customer satisfaction is the name of the game in today’s marketplace. According to a PwC survey, 73% say a positive experience is one of the key drivers when it comes to brand loyalty. And customers are happy to put their money where their mouths are too – they’re willing to pay as much as 16% more for a better experience.
Consumers are connected through more devices and channels than ever before. For this reason, a customer-centric approach often focuses on touchpoints – those vital moments in the path to purchase when the customer interacts directly with a brand and where the brand can influence important factors such as buying decision, brand loyalty and customer retention.
It makes sense to focus on these areas where a direct brand-to-customer connection can be identified – it’s what keeps businesses accountable and focuses operational strategies. However, increasingly this black-and-white approach is missing the point. For airports, as passenger numbers soar, so much focus is on technology, ecommerce revenue and digital engagement that people are getting forgotten. Very few of the innovations sweeping the airport industry actually focus on customer experience (CX). The positive image presented across digital channels is not always reflected in real life.
It’s important to understand that customers experience a brand in a long-term way that far exceeds the limits of the purchase funnel. Only by examining your customer’s experience in the humanising, holistic context of their entire customer journey, can you really begin to improve performance in a meaningful way.
CX at the airport
“Excellent customer service is the heart of the sustainability and survival of every airports worldwide. Excellent customer service is defined as the synergy created when an airport’s ability to exceed its customers’ needs and expectations consistently matches the customers’ perception that their needs and expectations are well met.”
Despite the fact that airports would not exist without passengers, long queues, stress and delays are common experiences. Passengers can feel powerless amid heightened security and confusing baggage rules. A miserable time in the terminal means a knock-on drop in non-aeronautical revenue, as people feel less excited and enthused about spending money at retail and food and beverage concessions. Conversely, when customers report the highest level of satisfaction with their airport experience, their spending increases by 45%.
The customer journey involves so much that happens before, during and after the purchase or booking. In recent decades, airport business models have undergone unprecedented disruption and this comes with challenges as well as opportunities. If you fail to understand the context of a situation - why a passenger is flying with you, what they most need and what their expectations are - you can expect negative consequences in terms of the customer’s view of your airport brand.
In many ways, the explosion in potential touchpoints actually calls for a more personal approach. Without this insight it’s almost impossible to present a seamless, consistent experience between digital channels, and to fulfil or exceed promises made online in real life. To some extent, while more touchpoints can make your airport more accessible, the diversity also adds complications - it is important not only to meet your passenger’s expectations but to manage those expectations too. As companies focus on individual interactions, it is easily possible to overlook the one or two poor customer experiences over time that lead to disillusionment with a brand. This cumulative CX across channels is vital. If your customer experience of the airport is that the airport is unresponsive to complaints or queries, it is irrelevant whether your operational reports show you to be unresponsive or not – your airport is unresponsive. The bottom line is, customer satisfaction IRL is driven by customer perceptions, not by service providers.
Imagine a scenario in which a significant number of your customers or prospects call up your helpline to ask for clarification about products or services, or to fix a problem with their booking. Your customer service reps answer these calls and help each customer to find a solution, but customer satisfaction is still dropping. Why? Because you haven’t addressed the root cause. If customers are regularly phoning for more information, would it not be a great idea to include FAQs or more clarity on the pages that are confusing them? And if the same problems keep flagging up during bookings, can you streamline your bookings page and checkout process to make things easier?
How to identify your customer pain points
Customer experience can be hard to define, but it’s certainly obvious when it’s missing or inadequate. In order to pinpoint what needs changing, it’s worth taking time to really look at your customer journey in depth:
- Take a step back from your focus on the booking funnel and identify the nature of the journeys your customers take from a customer point of view. You can do this by user-testing your website, asking for feedback, building personas and imagining what they want, or even by remembering and applying your own good and bad experiences as a customer and identifying sticking points from that perspective.
- Anticipate your passenger’s needs, wants and expectations at each part of the journey. Take nothing for granted.
- Identify what is working and what is not. You can use website testing, analytics and customer feedback to find out where customers may be having a different experience than the one you intend.
- Once you have found these pain points, prioritise them in order of how badly they impact on the customer journey.
- Fix the root causes of these problems and redesign your customer interface as necessary for a positive end-to-end experience. Remember, an excellent customer experience must last the entire journey.
Keeping it real
While many of your passengers’ ‘real life’ interactions with your airport do take place online, the experience in the airport terminal is lagging behind. Let’s take a look at some strategies airports are using to redress the balance:
Baggage handling is one of the core aspects of airport CX. If every other part of the journey is perfect, but the customer arrives and the bag doesn’t, the end result is a negative experience.
Things are getting better. While passenger numbers increased to more than 4 billion in 2017, the number of lost bags fell to 5.57 per 1,000 passengers, which is the lowest level ever recorded. However, according to SITA, damaged, delayed and lost luggage still racked up a bill of around $2.3 billion for airlines in 2017.
In June 2018, the IATA Resolution 753 came into effect, requiring member airlines to track bags at four points – check-in, loading, transfer and arrival. The next step, according to SITA’s baggage portfolio director, Peter Drummond, is for airlines and airports to integrate that tracking data into their mobile apps, so that passengers can trace their bags in real time – an idea that 71% percent of airlines were expected to action by 2020. This technology will go some way to avoiding negative social media posts if a bag does go missing.
The next step will be the adoption of RFID tags for tracking - an idea already implemented by Hong Kong International Airport and Delta Airlines. It is expected that AI and machine learning will enhance the processing of bags by providing real-time insights into tracking and operations data. This will allow more proactive responses, so that mishandled bags can be relocated and returned to the passenger much more quickly, even potentially arriving at the end destination before the passenger.
Los Angeles International Airport is looking to understand CX by learning about the day-to-day problems its passengers face in the terminal. The airport has a footfall of around 7 million each month, so gathering feedback is a big task. However, a couple of years ago, LAX implemented an AI intelligence-backed data analytics system designed to analyse customer comments and the emotions behind them. The software uses data from open-ended survey questions and public posts on social media pages, giving a rounded overview of opinions and experiences. Elements from each comment or post are pulled out, assigned to categories including food and beverage, logistics and security, and classified as positive, negative or neutral. Initially the categorisation process is done manually, but machine learning enables scalability. In order that customer experience is not viewed in isolation, LAX also uses the system to analyse data from airports it has identified as its competitors.
One of the most stressful and unpleasant things about travelling through an airport is time spent in a long security line. Rezcomm’s predictive analytics can help your passengers by predicting peak times, so you can open more lanes and have more staff on hand to help. The real-time reporting in the Rezcomm dashboard is really valuable when it comes to managing resources like this, and the business intelligence capabilities learn the unique running of your airport inside out.
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