COVID-19: Leveraging airport employee experience in period of health crisis

Dimitri Coll by Dimitri Coll | Apr 20, 2020

Customer experience has taken on a new dimension in the overwhelming challenge of Coronavirus.

Adapting the airport experience in turbulent times also means focusing on employee experience.

In many ways, employees create the customer experience, so without a good employee experience, providing an exceptional experience for customers is impossible. You cannot achieve one without the other.

An airport is the sum of its people, including airport employees and all stakeholders’ employees.

Great customer experience starts with the employee experience

Employee experience is essentially a framework for creating engaged employees. Engaged employees have been linked to multiple desirable business outcomes, such as smoother employee recruitment, improved employee retention, increased efficiency, and higher profitability.

Employee experience can be defined as the sum of perception employees have about their interactions with the organization, and how this aligns with their expectations. People do business with people. People create experiences. There is an intimate relationship between client satisfaction and employee engagement as illustrated by the diagram below.

Symmetry of attention

Source: Adapted from Cap Client (La mobilisation au service du client. Livre blanc de l’indice MC2. André Coupet) ECE
Index: Employee Customer experience engagement index ASQ score: ACI Airport Service Quality score

Customer experience and employee experience must be managed concurrently and with a similar approach in order to generate efficiency for the airports and to delight passengers.

Source: ACI World

Employee experience and COVID-19

During these challenging times, caring for customers starts with thinking first about employees and stakeholders.

Since the customer experience is mainly about encounters between humans, they all need to be in the right state of mind to get the most of these interactions. Unfortunately, passengers and staff are worried by the situation with the coronavirus.

Airport employees worry about their own health and that of their families and they might be concerned about their job and income.

ACI Employee experience pyramid

The employee experience (EX) pyramid designed by ACI World shows the importance of strong foundations (or basic requirement) in implementing an employee experience program.

The tactic dimension is all about fundamental employee needs. An airport cannot develop a strong employee experience program without these basic requirements. Indeed, employees have basic needs. For instance, they need to feel safe and secure, to take pride in what they do.

The strategic level is all about how to engage the employee. It is composed of three items:

The airport employee experience dimension is all about creating the right culture within the airport. It must be authentic and unique.

The current impact of the virus is creating a lot of uncertainty for employees, who more than ever need the support of the airport in order to their job. Currently, even the basic requirements are at risk and that surely undermines their employee experience.

In order to act to satisfy the customer, airport employees need to have the right tools and guidance to perform their job safely during the crisis. For those still on the job, employers (airports or stakeholders) can provide new tools, remote training, and support to enable employees to deliver superior customer experience in a new environment.

Employee health and well-being must be top-of-mind

To be clear, organizations should always be concerned with employee health and well-being, but it is especially important in times like these.

Due to the current situation, in addition to being stressed over their own health and health of their families, many employees are outside of their comfort zone, have lost the possibility of meeting socially with friends and family in many cases, which could have an impact on mental health and physical well-being.

For staff temporarily sent home, the airport should give frequent news and updates and the direct manager must have regular communications with his employees in order to keep them engaged with the airport.

For staff working remotely, it is important to have regular remote meetings and discussions, asking them how they feel, if they are isolated, or feel anxious and check if they are well installed and safe at home.

Short regular meetings could be a good way to keep them focused of the team’s priorities and involved with airport recovery. When available through an airport employee assistance program, it is important to offer psychological support and counselling.

Employee experience after COVID-19

A big risk for airports would be to focus on recovery and customer experience strategies while taking employees for granted.

As part of the recovery plan, airports need to design their customer experience plan around their employees and stakeholder employees. Their plan must be designed around all employees, whether they are customer-facing or not.

During the coronavirus and the recovery phase, airports must focus on essentials such as employee and stakeholder safety and security, employees’ pride, pleasure at work, workspace, and so on.

Communication will be key in order to keep airport and stakeholder employees engaged. Transparency in the messages in order to gain trust and enhance relationship is important. The communication must also start to answer employees’ basic needs such as security and health. Then employees must be reassured of the stability of the airport and their jobs.

Finally, employees should be made to feel like they are part of something bigger than them by showing how they can contribute during the crisis and the recovery phase. Once an airport initiates communication on a regular basis during the COVID-19, it will have to continue to do so in order to keep the momentum and to stay consistent.

Airports should also look to adapt their workspaces by trying to convert to contactless operations. Some grocery chains have added touchless measures, including new installations of plexiglass “sneeze guards” at every cash register to protect customers and employees. Furthermore, make sure that staff has the right tools to deliver the best experience as possible in a context of COVID-19 recovery.

The virus will change a lot of processes and standards at the airports, so an airport must provide training and information about new processes. A refresher about customer experience might be very useful. It is also an effective way to communicate airport customer experience and recovery strategies.

New standards should be defined, and certainly new some equipment and processes will be implemented. They should be teaching to the employees. Furthermore, the airports should change some old habits and manage the change.

Airports should involve employees in the recovery plan and listen to their opinion. Frontline employees are a company’s eyes and ears on the ground. Soliciting and collecting employee feedback about how customers are feeling and how daily interactions are changing is a good way to help airports listen to the voice of employees and help them to innovate. Employees should be asked how they are, how they feel, if they have all what they need to do their work and monitor their level of engagement.

If not done yet, airports should implement the Voice of Employees. This will help measure employee engagement and experience and to plan various initiatives for them.

Airports should also empower employees by giving them the power to help someone, to solve a problem, to make people’s lives easier, to reassure a passenger and then celebrate devotion and reward employees to reinforce customer-centric behaviors.

Continuous adaptation to business as unusual

Maintaining the customer experience during the COVID-19 crisis and preparing for recovery requires adaptation capabilities for fast-changing environment based on an authentic customer centric culture.

After COVID-19, passengers might change their habits of travelling and might have new expectations toward airports.

To be responsive to this new reality and successful during the recovery, airports will need the engagement of all the airport and stakeholders’ employees and a strong people leadership.

Dimitri Coll

Dimitri Coll

Vice President, Airport Customer Experience, ACI World
Dimitri Coll's main responsibility is to manage the ACI ASQ programme, which guides airports toward improving their customer experience excellence across numerous touchpoints of a passenger’s journey. With nearly 20 years of experience in marketing across a variety of industries, he is an expert in product management, customer experience and marketing research.In addition to his work at ACI World, Dimitri teaches marketing research and market analysis at HEC Montreal.
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