Beyond meeting travellers’ expectations on social media, success is derived from a sophisticated ecosystem that can create an airport experience that travellers find worthwhile talking about on their networks.
In this executive exchange, David McMullen, VP, SimpliFlying speaks with Ivan Tan, senior vice president for corporate and marketing communications, Changi Airport Group.
Get the brand right first, with airport partnerships
McMullen: Passengers often consider airports to be a hassle. Aggravations of queues at check-in and security procedures tend to create negative reactions. How does Changi generate the positive and enthusing aspect of travel?
Tan: Passenger or customer experience applies across the business spectrum, not just aviation. You need a good product – something that works, is of a good standard and that customers enjoy. Thereafter, word of mouth follows and a strong brand becomes stronger.
Conversely, people will talk if things don’t work. Mistakes can be amplified on social media. So it’s a tricky balance. We work closely with security agents to strike a good balance between ensuring safety while not at the total expense of passengers’ convenience.
McMullen: Indeed, it is extremely important to have the bases covered and show that efforts are being made. While some airports recognise they have a strong brand and big budget to harness social media to their advantage, there are also many others that entered social media half-heartedly and struggle to see the value.
Tan: It is difficult, especially for airports, to have a successful social media programme on your own. Partnerships are absolutely crucial.
A lot of our business we cannot do on our own. Without good airline partners, a strong concessions and retail mix, passengers won’t want to spend time or money at the airport. For example, with carriers launching flights to Singapore, we help promote them on our social networks, and vice versa. The relationship is a symbiotic one.
Building an airport community of connected travellers
McMullen: Since a few years ago, travellers have become more connected as they work and socialise on mobile devices while on the move. Changi Airport was one of the first few airports in the world to establish a social media presence.
Tan: I’m sometimes asked why is Changi on social media? The honest truth is if we are not on it, someone will be on it for us. It is far better for us to be on social media to engage and manage these conversations.
It has been quite amazing. We have discovered very strong advocates for Changi and we’ve built very good relationships with them.
McMullen: And what do you pay attention to when you reach out to these connected travellers?
Tan: People in general like the personal touch. To help extend a personal touch on social media, we have our staff sign off any tweet or post with their initials. We avoid template answers.
McMullen: Changi has certainly done an exceptional job building a community that shares common values. When you manage to build trust with the audience over time, they are far more likely to respond as and when you introduce a new idea or retail offer.
When planning content, airports need to relate it back to their business objectives and values. If you are Ryanair, it’s fine to be putting up promotions. But if you are not, don’t bombard with messages that are not representative of your brand values or objectives.
Social media challenges of a 24/7 airport
McMullen: What implications do social media and the connected traveller have for Changi Airport?
Tan: We see passengers becoming a lot closer to us even though the level of their expectations has gone up a lot as well. In this part of the world, Twitter is not as commonly used as compared to in Europe and America. Even then, we easily get 10- 20 tweets that require attention each day. This certainly puts pressure on us to meet expectations.
McMullen: Social media has definitely got many airports thinking whether or not their services need to be 24/7.
Tan: In the case of Changi, we are a 24/7 airport. If an urgent tweet comes at 3am, it can’t be the case that we only respond at 10am. This has been one of the challenges we have to manage.
McMullen: Given Changi is a 24/7 airport, how does Changi allocate resources for social media?
Tan: The communications and responses on all our social media channels are managed in-house. These channels are monitored actively during waking hours. Due to the dynamic nature of Twitter, the Changi Contact Centre provides assistance to handle queries and complaints round-the-clock.
Social media shows insights into airport service quality, retail and operations
McMullen: Sentiments within the travelling public can have an impact on ASQ. Do you feel social media has a significant input to how you improve the overall services at Changi?
Tan: It certainly keeps us on our toes. We easily get 100,000 pieces of feedback a month from various channels. It’s a good gauge of how we are faring. We pay attention to trends and see what may be underlying causes for certain dissatisfactions.
McMullen: Aside from engaging the connected traveller, what insights have you managed to tap into from social media that have implications for retail or operations?
Tan: Our passengers are not homogenous. They come from diverse interest groups. For example, we have a huge plane-spotter community but we have others as well who are more interested in new F&B options at the airport.
One of the challenges we face now is the customisation of content as much as we can to cater to these diverse groups. After posting something on Twitter or Facebook, we look at the reactions and gather which offers or brand types generate the most interest. Social media is an interactive process, and kind of like a test bed. This helps us organise our promotions.
Facebook, Twitter – what else is necessary and when?
Tan: Among airports, Twitter and Facebook are certainly most popular. What about other platforms like Pinterest and Google+?
McMullen: Many airports tend to open accounts very quickly on several platforms without understanding the value of them. Pinterest for example, is effective in capturing imagination and inspiring people to travel. But first and foremost, airports should aim to cover the bases of customer service. There is no point inspiring people to travel if you can’t respond to important enquiries or deal with a crisis scenario.
Tan: How about trends that you foresee may affect the way airlines and airports do marketing?
McMullen: As a matter of fact, we are putting together our annual State of Airport Marketing trends report. One key trend that has developed significantly over the last year is crowdsourcing – i.e. ideas that are being developed by the passengers for the airport.
Another trend is location-based customer service. While the idea itself is not new, we are finally seeing airports slowly developing better communications with passengers in the terminal. They are learning to pick up on negative situations and turning them around into positive sentiments. Such trends are particularly exciting and I hope to share more in our upcoming report.