Engaged employees are the foundation of delivering the best customer experience

Dimitri Coll by Dimitri Coll | Jan 20, 2021

Over the last decade, in an increasingly competitive market, airports have prioritized providing an exceptional experience to their customers.

Customer experience management is the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations. Increasing customer satisfaction leads to brand loyalty and advocacy, which in turn enhances revenues.

More specifically, “airport customer experience” can be defined as the sum of all the interactions that a passenger has with the airport community. It refers to how the customer perceives its interaction with an airport throughout their journey through it.

Customer experience management in the age of COVID-19

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, this focus on listening to customers has stood airports in good stead in adapting their offering to suit changing needs and expectations.

Experience is about emotion.

A customer that travels through an airport from ‘kerb to gate’ with a positive emotional response has had their needs and expectations met and will feel their journey has been effortless.

So, airports will try to build and deliver on a brand promise by constantly delivering a good experience over time that meets customer expectations. This has become ever more important as airports have sought to adapt their offering in response to COVID-19.

Passengers want a safe, hygienic experience and those airports that have heeded that message to adopt health and safety measures that provide reassurance will help to reduce the stress of travel during the pandemic.

Airport customer experience management is a complex and structured concept

Airports are sophisticated, multi-layered, complex operations, and are like mini-cities. In this context, a customer’s experience will be the outcome of the work of a lot of different stakeholders within the airport complex.

Moreover, each passenger has a specific set of needs and expectations based on past experience with airports and other industries and their own background. Added to this the current context of COVID-19 and it is clear that meeting the needs of customers is not a simple process.

Experiences must be built around emotions by prioritizing key moments in the passenger journey.

In order to do this and deliver an experience exceeding customer expectations, it is very important for all involved parties across the airport to have a common view of the overall objective delivering the experience for passengers and work together hand-to-hand according to a plan.

Customer experience planning 2021 and beyond

As airports begin to navigate a potential recovery from COVID-19 and prepare for sustained operations, there are a number of questions that they can ask to ensure they adapt their customer experience to the changing needs of passengers:

  • Are customers satisfied with their current experience?
  • How do you see the importance of the customer experience in the airport post-COVID recovery?
  • What is a company’s appetite for customer experience transformation in the near term ?
  • Is the goal to change the customer experience fundamentally or simply to improve it in various key points?
  • What is the gap between the needs and wants of customers and what they experience?
  • How do the overall capabilities of the staff support the customer experience the airport wants to provide?

To guide airports in answering these questions, ACI’s Airport Customer Experience Model includes eight key domains including collaboration, culture, innovation, and understanding.

The Airport Customer Experience Model framework allows to structure Airport Experience Management in a better way and can be implemented by using Airport Customer Experience Accreditation.

Employees are the foundation of delivering excellent customer experiences

Engaged airport employees – and those of airport partners and stakeholders – are one of the most valuable assets in delivering the best customer experience and must be central to any management plan.

Investing in employees, breaking the operational silos, and implementing a more structured approach to this work – lays the foundation for a better airport experience.

The key for management is to help employees become advocates and great leaders who engage colleagues to improve the end-to-end customer journey.

An airport customer experience leader is like a maestro within an orchestra which means they need some basic knowledge about the following disciplines:

  • Customer research and data analysis
  • Voice of customer analysis
  • Customer experience strategy
  • Service improvement and design
  • Customer experience indicators and dashboards
  • Employee experience and engagement
  • Customer culture and governance

ACI can help airports to invest in their employees through the ACES (Airport Customer Experience Specialist) Professional Designation by providing the foundational knowledge of how to design, build, and implement a customer experience strategy for airports.

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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