Air travel was once considered a lavish experience. Today, with far more commuters, it's increasingly more likely to be an unpleasant ordeal for passengers who have to contend with long check-in lines, crowded spaces, lost luggage and service delays. Turning this around and ensuring a positive experience for in- and out-bound travellers is every airports biggest challenge and based on the enormity of the task, is one that requires the assistance of professional partners geared up for the challenge.
For most travellers, the airport experience is in no way separate to their overall trip. In fact, many passengers believe their journey begins from the moment they arrive at the airport - and for some from the minute they book their tickets. Additionally, airports have the power to create a traveller's first and last impression of a city or country. If an airport experience is a pleasant one, travellers are likely to spend more money and return for repeat future visits. Excellent customer service is therefore without doubt one of the greatest assets an airport can have in its marketing arsenal.
With technology at the heart of most airport operations, a critical factor in the future successes of an airport is how emerging technologies are harnessed to enhance the customer experience, improve customer loyalty and empower employees to achieve even greater operational achievements. As the owner and operator of South Africa's nine principle airports, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), has embraced the opportunity to grow and integrate technological systems into its operations, so that customer centric airports can be established. To fulfil its vision of creating the airport of tomorrow, ACSA joined forces with award winning digital convergence agency - NXT\ Digital Innovation.
The almost four year journey began in 2007 when ACSA commissioned NXT\ to develop and implement a state-of-the-art digital strategy. One that would enable the company to view all customer feedback via a central web console, thus facilitating prompt decision making and corrective action. This needed to be in line with international measurement standards for customer care - as stipulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
A two-fold approach to the development of this system was undertaken by the NXT\ team appointed to work on the project. The first level witnessed the implementation of a mobile service that provides passengers with real-time flight and parking information. This information is not just a generic update either. By providing passengers with personalised communication about their specific needs, travellers are kept abreast of all important information pertaining to timely airport arrivals, to avoid unpleasant delays that could result in tiresome waiting periods.
The second tier of the project involved the implementation of a central web reporting system, which would collate various customer feedback channels into a single hub. Whether searching for information or wishing to deliver a compliment, complaint or make a suggestion, with this system, ACSA is able to observe customer feedback data in a single view, from all kinds of platforms. These include direct channels: websites, email, sms, mobisites, social media; and indirect channels such as: comment cards, call centres, help desks and self-service kiosks. Data is also incorporated from sites such as Hello Peter. This multiplatform approach makes it immediate, simple and so easy for customers to communicate with ACSA regardless of the device they choose to use.
Called Viewing Deck, this centralised digital system logs all customer comments and feedback (or data) in the time order in which they were made. Within 20 seconds of the data being logged, customers receive a confirmation of receipt notice and a reference number. The notice also updates customers on the status of their comment or query and how long it will take for an ACSA customer care agent to make further contact. Data received from customers is automatically distributed to the very next available agent via the system. The agent then becomes wholly responsible for addressing the comment or query. Kept updated on the status of their submission throughout the resolution process, customers receive regular communication via their preferred platform of communication. Therefore, if a customer submits a query via sms, they will receive communication from the centre via sms. The same holds true for other online services and social media platforms.
The most important benefit of the system is that it eliminates unnecessary levels of contact within the customer care centre. Because one agent is managing a query from start to finish, the resolution process is sped up significantly. With all communication and information logged into a single digital platform, there are no more excuses for queries getting lost in the system.
This approach to customer care has also had a very positive effect on agent accountability and responsibility. Agents can not longer avoid managing challenging queries and customer feedback. With the entire care centre able to view the status of queries at any point of the day and via remote access from anywhere in the world, managers are able to monitor how quickly customers are being responded to and how quickly issues are being resolved. Should an issue
take longer than usual to be addressed, customer care managers can easily follow-up with the responsible agent and ensure that customers are contacted accordingly. The system therefore also presents as an important performance management tool - monitoring and measuring staff activity on a daily basis.
Not only does the system improve turnaround times for the resolution of customer queries, while also improving employee performance, it also gives ACSA the power to create important customer profiles - which are used evaluate how improvements to an airport should be made. By trending customer queries, ACSA is able to identify what the problem areas are in the airport. Is there a general issue with parking? Are visitors to the airport unhappy with the service received at restaurants and shops? Are the bathrooms a problem area? Is theft at the airport on the increase and where is it happening? Using this valuable information, the airport is able to upgrade facilities where necessary and realign service delivery accordingly.
The system also allows the airport to monitor the management of problems within the various operational structures. Therefore, if security on the ground level needs to be addressed, the system will show who on the security team was spoken to, at what date and time they were spoken to, how long it has taken for the issue to be addressed, and whether or not the desired result has been achieved. Acting as a media monitoring service, the system also allows the airport to track all mentions of the brand within the realm of print, online and electronic media. Using this information, marketing teams are able to better manage perceptions of the brand amongst the public, while also addressing major concerns which the general public might have.
Constantly evolving, the Viewing Deck technology is being expanded into other departments of ACSA. Recently rolled-out to the Human Resource department, the system allows for the tracking of many staff activities, including the process of leave applications and approvals. It also supports the distribution of surveys amongst staff in order to source relevant information that will lead to further improvements for airport staff and operations.
For ACSA, understanding the impact of technology is an essential part of future growth and success. With the advent of social media, one customer's complaint is now amplified across the entire traveller's online social interaction, impacting the brand and influencing the attitudes of other customers. With instant feedback, ACSA can now identify influential unhappy customers and implement immediate action to better manage passenger frustration and improve customer satisfaction. With digital systems like Viewing Deck, ACSA airports are providing new platforms that can help transform the travel experience into something to look forward to rather than dread.