Written by Mei Mei Song, Brand Director, Plaza Premium Group
The commitment to prioritize the customer experience isn’t a new initiative, however with technological advancements and the rapid pace of change, expectations are on the rise and there is more pressure to accelerate the commitment. What is clear and in my opinion, the greatest challenge actually lies in ‘people’, to get everyone in line, internal and external, come together with a customer-first goal – that is the mammoth task.
Speaking of giants, have you seen the colossal show of customer experience commitment by Changi in the form of Jewel? Now that is an airport that has shown time and again, that if you make customers happy, your bottom line will also be jumping for joy.
And they are not the only ones on that winning trajectory, recently, I was honoured the opportunity to moderate a panel of like-minded airport specialists at the ACI WAGA event in our hometown of Hong Kong to discuss the “Customer Experience Revolution”, it turns out a change is taking flight and we’re all onboard.
Technology is driving the strategy of customer experience enhancement. While fingerprint and facial recognition are technologies behind a faster immigration process, the use of mobile devices mold travellers’ behavior not only on how they access and share information, but also how they experience customer service. Airport facilities and services have become part of the planned travel itinerary and there is an increasing number of passengers accessing the airport app to do the research, Muna Al-Ghanim of Abu Dhabi Airports mentioned. This also extends to customer service – when travellers encounter any issues, they expect a person to help solve their problems instantly on and offline.
Having said that, the foundations must be firmly set before laying the innovation bricks. Today, ‘basics’ may also mean something different. As Claire Donnellan of Sydney Airport said basics like a washroom configuration is also something that can use a redesign to enhance the customer experience. Social media has dominated marketing strategy and customer experience journey for over a decade and will continue to play a significant role, especially with a growing number of passengers throughout globally and social media’s growing e-commerce capabilities. While the medium is great for amplifying happy moments, it does the same for bad experiences, so it must be constantly monitored and managed. Also, given the speed the platforms have evolved, it’s crucial to have the discipline to review the strategy quarterly, if not bi-annually.
Airports must listen and observe the ever-changing travellers’ expectations – the different types of travellers with varying purpose of travel, the onslaught of millennials who will be the driving force to shape future airports or even the generation Z who we are only coming to understand – are all part of the panel discussion understanding. Chapman Fong of Hong Kong International Airport shared, to drive their areas of focus they schedule regular exercises to gather passenger insight and their ‘happiness factor’, take for example the down times such as the moment of uncertainty and impatience felt at baggage reclaim. In addition, taking third party audits to create a customer journey mapping while benchmarking with other industries as travellers are no longer comparing experiences just among airports but airport to other brands.
We must also nurture a company culture so that customer experience is in the employees’ DNA – from top to bottom – Carlos Criado of Corporacion Quiport would certainly agree. In addition, the airport alone cannot succeed without the support of the entire airport community. Karen Ellis of San Antonio International Airport emphasized both internal and external collaborations are key, and together, all partners can grow their businesses based on a transparent process to make a collective impact.
We know that customer behavioral study, company culture, collaborations with partners and digitalization are important but the last ingredient is a leap of faith. Innovation is a long-term commitment, you win some, you lose some, there will be ideas that may not work but without trying, you will never find that ‘Jewel’ in the crown.
Mei Mei Song oversees the brand development and the customer experience. In addition to spearheading the repositioning of Plaza Premium Lounge, leading the launch of airport transit hotel, Aerotel, and developing the refined and elevated lounge concept Plaza Premium First, she is instrumental in developing the dining brands in the Airport Dining portfolio and airport meet-and-greet services Allways. Mei Mei is also a member of the group’s Steering Committee that drives the commercial and development strategy of Plaza Premium Group.