When an airport calls passengers its ‘guests’ and boldly states that its aim is to make your trip “a wonderful experience”, you can tell that it takes customer service very seriously.
Indeed, the message on Frankfurt’s website is clear, the airport revealing: “Our goal is for every one of our guests to feel well taken care of. Often, little things can make the difference. A smile, good signage or a helping hand can turn time spent at Germany’s largest airport into a fondly remembered experience.”
Talk is cheap, of course, but in Frankfurt’s case, operator Fraport genuinely appears committed to improving customer satisfaction levels through doing a better job at delivering its existing services, and introducing a host of pioneering new ones to impress passengers.
Annegret Reinhardt-Lehmann, Fraport’s now former senior vice-president for customer relations (she retired from the role at the end of August), has always believed that people make a good airport special, and this mentality has clearly been passed down to her customer relations team and other frontline staff at Frankfurt in recent times.
This new way of looking at things has even led to the management of Frankfurt Airport (FRA) claiming that the quality of the overall airport experience is crucial to the gateway, both in bringing back repeat custom and in creating a positive ‘word of mouth’ network of recommendations.
“Our philosophy has basically been to bring back the joy of flying,” says Annegret Reinhardt-Lehmann. “The main thrust is that airlines and airports are increasingly exposed to competition, and we are aiming to counter this with our programme.”
For her part, Reinhardt-Lehmann has spent the best part of the past three years devising and implementing a comprehensive review and revamp of the airport’s whole approach to customer service.
“Nowadays, passengers often consider airports to be a hassle. All the aggravations of queues at check-in and security procedures and so forth, tended to create negative reactions among what are, after all, our guests. We wanted to change that.”
She adds that in the 1950s and 1960s, flying used to be a positive and enthusing aspect of the overall travel experience.
“So, we decided we’d try and make the whole airport experience more ‘joyful’ again, from the moment the passenger arrives at the car park or the railway station right through to the moment they actually board their aircraft,” explains Reinhardt-Lehmann.
Market research shows, she says, that waiting in line is the biggest bugbear for the passenger. “We decided that no passenger should be asked to wait for more than 10 minutes in any queue. So we did several things to try and ensure this. We laid down criteria, re-structured our security lines, and negotiated with our airlines to ensure that check-in staff are at their desks earlier than ever before.
“We looked at all the other main areas of the process – immigration, customs, emigration and so on, as well, in a bid to make all key procedures quicker, easier and less stressful.”
For example, she adds, regarding the security checking process, if staff feel the lines are getting too long, they will act quickly to re-route passengers through additional gates.
And it’s not just the queuing that Frankfurt has addressed. Indeed, Reinhardt-Lehmann’s department has tackled virtually every aspect of the customer interface in what is a huge operation, employing a total of 17,000 staff, and handling upwards of 480,000 aircraft movements and 57 million passengers yearly.
“We have created a ‘service university’ on the airport site, and 5,000 staff have already graduated,” smiles Reinhardt-Lehmann. “It’s vital that everyone works towards this new culture of customer focus.”
While the personal touch on the ground is a fundamental part of FRA’s new approach, everything is backed up in the form of information available to the passenger. From on-site airport signage to downloadable guide brochures, it’s all there.
“Language has become even more important to us as we aim to help our passengers find their way through the terminals. We have three guide brochures available for advance download from our website, in nine languages, as an example,” she notes.
Passengers intending to travel to, from or through FRA can currently do their online homework about the airport in German, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, with guides available, including a general airport facilities brochure, a transfer guide, and a shopping and dining summary.
For those using German, English and Mandarin Chinese, there are even mobile phone apps, available from Apple or Google.
In a further attempt to attract the Chinese traveller (around a million of whom pass through FRA each year), and no doubt also to help maximise retail sales, the gateway even supplies Mandarin-speaking ‘personal shopping assistants’, whose services can be requested at the information desk, and who will assist with the passengers’ shopping, reclaiming of VAT and other details.
The scheme was recently extended to include traditionally big-spending Russian travellers, which Fraport knows are particularly interested in perfumes, French red wine, and various international brand-name products.
Arriving at the airport, passengers are informed by multi-lingual staff at information desks, not to mention the fact that prior to travelling, they can avail themselves of 24-hour telephone help in as many as 18 languages.
Terminal announcements are made in 15 languages as relevant to the flights concerned, and for arriving passengers there is a new Welcome Centre aiming to assist with any queries.
Comprehensive signage throughout the airport complex details walking times to all points, providing enough information that the passenger feels he or she is in control, says Reinhardt-Lehmann.
“Making sure the passenger is fully informed about how much time he or she has is very important to this sense of control,” admits Reinhardt-Lehmann. “Little things like knowing whether there is time for a coffee, for example, make all the difference.”
Frankfurt has also innovated in some ‘unique’ ways, she claims. “These include our ‘happy moments’. As an example on July 4, we greeted arriving American passengers with bags of jellybeans to help them feel at home on their Independence Day. We also issue free bottles of drinking water for passengers waiting at the baggage carousels. Things like this create a pleasant surprise for the travel-weary.”
And little touches like this are not expensive to provide, an easy and economical way to put a smile on the face of the frazzled and jet-lagged traveller.
Of course, careful planning of the physical improvements to an airport’s terminals plays a large part in the overall passenger impression as well. Frankfurt, like many other major airports, is investing heavily in expansions and enhancements to its facilities.
Recent additions include provision of 250 new parking spaces exclusively for the use of women, along with several ‘quiet’ areas where passengers can relax in relative peace while waiting to board their flights.
Nine new children’s play areas are being opened in Terminals 1 and 2 in the coming year, to keep the little ones content, and a number of prayer rooms for several faiths are now available.
Although not the only airport to do so, Frankfurt is even offering a weddings service through which the happy couple can actually get hitched on-site before jetting off on their honeymoon.
“Frankfurt Airport has changed a lot in the last few years and I am very proud of what we’ve achieved from both a customer service and infrastructure development perspective. The new Frankfurt Airport is exciting and enriching. Come see for yourself,” Reinhardt-Lehmann concludes.