A Candid Conversation about Customer Experience in Airports

ACI World by ACI World | Aug 9, 2021

Today, we chat with Vimal Rai, managing director of TRACE Consulting, whose firm enables businesses within the travel retail and aviation space to scale with strategic advice and operational execution.

We spoke with Rai about the impacts of COVID on the aviation industry, the importance of building community, his popular Keynote at ACI’s Customer Experience Global Summit, how airports can boost customer satisfaction, and more.

Here is a sneak peek into the discussion:

Please tell me a bit about your background and experience in the airline industry?

I’ve been in the industry about 21 years. I started out with Singapore Airlines and eventually moved over to the other side of the table to work with suppliers. Along the way, I’ve worked in retail, duty free, digital solutions…so I’ve done a little bit of everything. People who have heard me before know that I like to say I’ve done just about everything except fix and fly the plane. I’m back in Singapore now and still within the travel and aviation space.

How do you think the airports have been weathering the COVID storm?

They’ve been in a very tough position. But, if there’s one thing that COVID has made them realize is that they can’t rely on being asset businesses — monetizing just the building and its services. They have to move beyond that and build, dare I say, community and so on. And there are some airports that are beginning to do this quite well. A second thing they are learning is that they don’t really know the customer well. So, they are realizing they need to find ways to connect with passengers in meaningful ways.

You spoke at the last ACI Customer Experience Global Summit. Can you tell me a bit about what makes that event so special to you?

I think it was the last huge event I attended prior to COVID and it was an opportunity for me to bring to the fore something I’m really passionate about, which is behavioural psychology. It may seem like nobody talks about this in operations and customer experience, but actually a lot of people do look at it, and we don’t talk about it enough.

ACI was super open and welcoming. I talked about customer behaviour and the whole idea that passengers and travellers are no longer behaving in a way we assume they are. The key question is how do we retain our humanity amidst all the technology happening in the industry? Those questions and more will be discussed at this event.

Any advice you could give to airports coming out of the pandemic?

I would say the biggest thing is something they should not do, rather than something they should do. They should not imagine that everything touchless is necessary and going to solve every problem. Don’t forget it’s not about the technology but about how your customer interacts with that technology and how do you fill in the gaps, particularly for customer who are not using that technology. So you have to sit down and consciously design the experience that you want to deliver. Also, I can’t stress this enough: airports need to become sort of brands for themselves.

Watch the full interview below:

Join us in Montreal (or virtually) to continue this important conversation around customer experience and how airports can emerge from this pandemic stronger.

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