OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on November 2, 2017

Feels good!

Butterfly Consulting’s Joanne Paternoster argues that making emotional connections with passengers can enhance an airport’s customer service levels and boost retail revenues.

More and more airports today are focused on enhancing customers’ experiences at their airports. Indeed, airport strategic plans typically include customer experience as a key pillar.

Strategic airport brands, which are a blueprint for how customers are to be treated, are also being crafted. They provide a sense of purpose and a shared vision for the entire airport community so it can “act as one” to the delight of its airport’s customers.

Customer feedback is dutifully analysed to understand the drivers of customer satisfaction in hopes of achieving more highly satisfied customers. Service standards, programmes and initiatives are being implemented to enhance customer satisfaction.

In many cases, customer service key performance indicators are displayed on airport executive dashboards and addressed as a priority, and collaboration with the airport community to assure innovation and service excellence are all becoming part of the fabric of how business is done at today’s progressive airports.

However, although airport customer experiences are improving, consistent service excellence is still often lacklustre at many airports.

So, even more needs to be done to create consistently positive, ‘wow’ experiences that differentiate one airport’s experiences from others and assure loyalty when their customers have choices.

All about emotions

The vey nature of a ‘wow’ experience involves emotion, and arguably this is an area that airports need to improve on as making positive emotional connections with visitors can significantly boost positive word-of-mouth marketing and non-aeronautical revenues.

Customers are emotionally connected with an experience when the experience resonates with their motivations and helps them fulfil deep, often unconscious, desires.

I know many readers may be shaking their heads at this point saying: “This is an airport after all! It’s not a spa or Disney!” That is true, but the importance of emotional connectedness with one’s customers transcends all industries and services, and none are more problematic then an airport.

An airport is a continuum of experiences provided by many, who work interdependently and diligently, to serve their customers. However, in the end, without a shared vision, a unifying brand promise, and a focus on making emotional connections with customers, the end result of all that hard work and significant investment is no real experience at all.

But if the airport community ‘acting as one’ can get in touch with their customers’ emotional motivators then the potential to create an emotional connection with them is strengthened and the results are even greater.

Identifying and measuring emotional motivators is not simple. Most customers may not even be aware of them. For example, what customers say are the sentiments that will move them to feel emotionally connected to a particular experience or a
specific brand are often very different from the words they use to describe their emotional responses to the same experience or brand after the fact.

Indeed, although people say they would prefer a certain experience, at the moment of truth, they often choose the opposite. Moreover, customers’ emotional motivators vary by customer demographic, industry, brand, touchpoint and stage of their journey.

Emotions typically precede thoughts and subsequent actions. Therefore, new tools and strategies are needed beyond traditional ones to engineer airport experiences that ‘move’ customers from being highly satisfied to being fully connected emotionally. And the payback for doing so is significant.

Most airports today are focused on turning dissatisfied customers into highly satisfied customers. However, studies conducted by Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon have shown that moving customers from highly satisfied to fully connected emotionally can have three times the return of moving them from emotionally unconnected to highly satisfied.


Moving towards emotionally connected airports

Following are some suggestions regarding where to begin to transition from the pursuit of highly satisfied airport customers to fully connected airport customers:

  • Pursue with a passion truly understanding the different customer segments that use your airport and their emotional motivators at different touchpoints across the entire customer journey. Many airports are exploring the use of personas, a semi-fictional way to synthesise research data to humanise (‘put a face on’), and thereby better empathise with, their significant customer segments.
  • This is an encouraging trend, but more innovative analytics are needed to dissect complex airport experiences into the components that drive emotional connection. But once equipped with this more robust information, more creative strategies should be identified to engineer customer journeys holistically (even door-to-door) with an eye towards connecting emotionally. Gone are the days of continually improving processes and procedures in a siloed manner without focusing with empathy on how the resulting holistic experience makes customers feel.
  • Tap into rich media insights that help airports focus on emotional motivators. These insights are readily available for the mining. Many customers, especially millennials, are more than willing to air their feelings on social media. Blend these insights with more traditional feedback mechanisms to create a truer picture of what drives emotional connections.
  • Encourage airport leaders to speak and act in a manner that is more emotionally intelligent. For example, rather than asking “How can we satisfy our customers?” ask “How can we delight them?” Change the question and a different answer is discovered. Broadening the focus to include emotional connection may prevent an airport from focusing on the wrong solution.
  • Introduce emotional intelligence awareness and techniques to elevate emotional intelligence in management development programmes, as well as in customer experience training, for frontline and supervisory airport staff.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognise and understand emotions in oneself and others, and the ability to use this awareness to manage behaviour and relationships.

Increasing ‘airport’ EQ across the board will lead to better relationships within the airport community and more emotionally connected airport customers, because airport partners, their staff, and the experiences they holistically and strategically deliver are more empathetic and emotionally aware.

These steps will begin to change an airport’s culture to be more emotionally intelligent and to make handling emotion one of its strongest links.

Airport communities get re-engaged, re-energised, and emotionally connected themselves as EQ awareness goes up and emotional connectedness “goes viral”.

Try it yourself – after reading this article focus on your EQ. Start to change the way you speak. Instead of asking “What do you think about it?” ask “How do you feel about it?”

You will get a different, and often insightful, answer. Opt to regularly use emotionally-charged words that connote a positive emotion when speaking to airport colleagues as well as customers – interject words such as to delight, thrill, surprise, wow, de-stress, relax, calm, and welcome customers in your everyday language.

Also, perhaps try calling your airport’s customers your guests. We think of guests differently than customers and that can lead to hosting them better as well. If we change the way we speak, we will change the way we think and the way we act, and ultimately that will influence how we genuinely connect emotionally with others.

Soon how we speak will touch those with whom we interact and they will find themselves using emotionally intelligent words as they too become more emotionally aware.

It’s time airports look differently at the importance of the emotional components of their customers’ (and their employees’) journey. Change is in the air – can’t you feel it?

The results will be invaluable, rewarding, and self-sustaining. As Maya Angelou has been credited as saying: “People will often forget exactly what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

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