By Julie McManus
Over the last ten years, Engine has worked with some of the world's best-known air travel brands.
We've learnt that the air industry continues to be highly competitive, necessitating a shift of focus from one based predominantly on B2B relationships and infrastructure management, to more passenger-centred activity to grow brand advocacy, redefine relationships and develop new, sustainable business lines.
We've worked with a number of airport operators, helping them to respond to passengers and to design and deliver great services - critical steps to ensure profitable and sustainable growth. Here are nine significant factors in this process:
1. The Commercial Model
Airports' commercial models impact directly on the design and delivery of passenger services and experiences
Each airport has its own particular business model; shaped by its location, history, market and the airlines that use it. To make improvements to passenger experiences, the various business models and partnerships that define an airport will also have to change. Service Level Agreements must be agile enough to reflect changes in the model and the needs of passengers.
The physical architecture of an airport has a direct impact on the passenger experience.
The layout of many airport buildings often primarily reflects the core function and processes of an airport rather than the needs of passengers or the broad range of services provided. The physicality, decor, maintenance and upkeep all impact on passenger perception and experience - with the ability to influence their confidence, comfort and navigation. Older airports are highly constrained by architecture and, as a result, these airports can benefit through investment in services when investment in build infrastructure is not viable.
3. Brand expression
The shift from behind-the-scenes operator to service provider requires having 'a face' and something to say to passengers. The brand needs to mean more than just a logo.
The shift from an organisation that manages infrastructure to a service organisation that manages experiences and relationships requires a different understanding of the qualities and role of an airport brand. Gaining this perspective can help make the shift from a B2B operator, to an organisation that appeals and speaks directly to consumers; supporting and guiding in practical ways across all touchpoints. Users who are able to associate great service experiences with the brand at the airport will return as customers and advocate the brand to others.
4. Services marketing
To be recognised and valued by passengers, the services that an airport provides should be based on deep understanding of the expectations, attitudes and behaviour of passengers, beyond the typical categorisations of 'business' and 'leisure'.
It is important to ensure that services created are usable, useful and desirable to the business and customers alike. Service products need to be owned, developed and responsive to changing needs and opportunities as their evolution is managed. Well-designed and quality services contribute to differentiation in the eyes of users and generate 'service envy'– an explicit desire in others to enjoy the benefits of services.
5. Passenger performance and process design
An efficient operation must be supported by a core passenger journey that works extremely well.
Airports are highly complex systems for passengers to negotiate, involving a number of interdependent, legislated and time-critical processes. In order for these processes to run smoothly, airports rely on passengers to play their part; being at the right place at the right time and conforming to legal obligations. It is up to the airport to support and inform passengers well enough to ensure passenger performance. This will provide the benefit of freeing up frontline staff from low-level information provision, enabling more detailed and personal support where required.
6. The Emotional Dimension
Airports are emotional places. Service organisations need to recognise and respond to the emotional journeys that passengers take.
Airports fulfil a much richer set of needs than simply getting people on and off aeroplanes. There is an opportunity for airports to create a positive relationship with passengers and other visitors by connecting with and responding to the emotional dimensions of the experience.
The needs of people using airports are very diverse, from business travel and flight transfers to travelling in a group or with young children. Airports recognise that they have to support and facilitate journeys to enable better feedback, brand loyalty and expand service marketing.
7. The Human Touchpoint
What you remember is the people; especially when things go wrong.
The role of staff and the importance of interpersonal interactions cannot be underestimated. Passengers increasingly see these moments with frontline staff as key in defining the quality of the service experience. They are the ‘face’ of the airport. In order to perform this role, staff need to be responsive to passenger needs, meaning that skills must be constantly adapted to meet those needs: culture and incentives are critical to support this. Frontline staff need to be supported by systems that enable them to help passengers and share their insights and experiences into the needs of passengers, for the benefit of all.
8. Responsibility and Accountability
Being a great service brand means taking responsibility for what people experience.
It is critical to passengers’ sense of being in control that they understand who is responsible for delivery, and whom their relationship is with, for each transaction. Although outsourcing is inevitable in this industry, where accountability can be unclear, it is important to give passengers a clear means to express their thoughts about the services that they did or did not receive, to inform future improvement.
The most important step taken in the shift to managing services and relationships is to put in place the means to understand and react to your passengers and their needs.
The right skills and processes need to be in place to ensure that insight can quickly be translated into action. Motivating and rewarding staff for their ideas and generating the capacity to prototype and create a culture of innovation all help to create a responsive organisation that succeeds in the design, provision and recovery of services. Collaborating and sharing good ideas internally and with other airports helps the whole group. An airport that is comfortable with continuous reassessment and change is one that will respond best to the dynamic conditions of the industry. With leadership and support, the idea of continuous reflection and adaptation can become embedded in practice.