At the end of any industry conference I always feel exhilarated: my mind spinning with the new things learned; happy from catching up with friends and colleagues from around the world; and (a good) exhaustion from going nonstop for 16 hours a day! These sorts of events remind me just how dynamic our industry is and how far we have come integrating technology into travel processes to enhance customer service. But they also show how much further we can go to make the journey truly smooth, effortless, and enjoyable.
Passenger Terminal Expo (PTE) just concluded, it was the perfect mix of informative sessions, networking and seeing the latest technologies and solutions exhibits firsthand. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a Co-Chair for and presenter in the Customer Service and Passenger Experience track over two days and wanted to share some of my thoughts about the sessions.
The good news is that airports and airlines reconfirmed their absolute priority (along with safety and security of course) to continue to put the passenger first, focusing on customer service. The even better news is that all agree using technology to support the “human touch” and improve the airport physical space is the way we will succeed in delivering the best experience.
Some of the shared themes throughout the two days:
- Aviation stakeholders must focus on providing hospitality and not just giving a service: we should be sharing memories, experiences, and occasions with customers, instead of delivering services, food and goods. Technology can help to facilitate the journey but nothing can replace the human touch - a smile, eye contact and empathy.
- There was little discussion about the Internet of Things or the amount of data that is available, airports and airlines are leveraging the information that they have through more traditional systems (reservation and departure control systems, opt in mobile apps, loyalty programs) so staff can acknowledge and surprise customers on special occasions such as birthdays or first time flyers.
- Airports and airlines understand the importance of digital and are focused on finding the best way to use social media and mobile applications. They want to deliver personalized information to customers’ smart devices at the right time in their journey to help relieve stress and anxiety, and ease the passenger flow through the travel process. It was acknowledged that it is important that any application developed, information shared, pushed or sent to the customer should be of real value and not just promotional.
- Airports are making their customers’ experience unique and memorable by embracing a “sense of place,” including technology enhancements: 3D images, videos, robots, location sensing and context aware applications. In fact, several airports are extending this “sense of place” to their websites and digital apps, enabling the virtual community to also experience the airport.
- Some airports are developing staff applications with access to real-time information about flights, work assignments, resource management, etc., on their smart devices. By providing the data, including dashboards to all stakeholders at the airport (airlines, concessions, caterers, etc.), they are helping to build trust and facilitate communication.
- Digital applications and providing personalized customer service evoked discussions around developing one specific airport app or using a generic app that is populated with specific data when the user is at a specific airport. Who should develop and pay for an app for staff, as described above was discussed. While many airports have their own reasons for doing things one way or the other, all agreed it will ultimately be the customer who drives the long term outcome by whose app they use!
Everyone agreed that delivering the unexpected and providing customers a “wow” experience is what will make them remember their journey and share their positive feelings with others. Gaining customer loyalty and confidence through consistent, good, friendly service is what we should all strive for; technology can help make this a reality.