A small-town in the Nordics may not seem like the most obvious inspiration point for a burgeoning technology start-up, but it certainly helped shape ours.
My co-founder, Heikki, was a computer-obsessed 15-year-old in early-1990s Finland, where the local computer shop was a mecca of floppy disks, hardware, and social cache, so you can only imagine the disappointment when the clerk of this store took a disliking to him from the start, and would actively avoid serving him.
The adolescent Heikki felt picked on. When you are young, there is no easy way to fight back against someone making you feeling small in public. As he got older and started telling me about his experience, he joked that what was needed was a ‘bad service button’ which would activate an alarm and falling confetti, to call out this rude sales assistant.
Within that joke was the germ of the HappyOrNot idea. A selection of four buttons, from a cheerful green to a fiery red, which would help create an instant feedback system for customers to have their voices heard.
With the system created, the move from retail outlets to the world of international airports seemed to make perfect sense to us, and eventually to the airports themselves.
In the airport sector you have millions of people channelled through a space designed to be a gateway to their ‘happy holiday’, so it seems crucial to have something faster and more efficient than a form to monitor their experience – almost like taking a pulse.
With over 250 airports now taking their pulse with us worldwide, from the Nordics to the UK, US and beyond we have become attuned to this extremely interesting wave of data worldwide asking, ‘How was your experience?’
For instance, throughout 2018, 79% of airport visitors expressed a ‘happy’ experience – showing that the industry, as a whole, is working for the majority. November was the happiest month of the year, while the opposite is true for travelling in the height of summer holiday season: July.
Wednesdays produce far more positive responses than the unhappiest travellers on Saturdays, while 7am is the golden hour for travel, a happy peak compared with the biggest drop-off at 11pm at night.
Essentially, it pays not to be starting your travel experience on a hot summer Saturday night.
The influence of data for improving any organisation takes time, perseverance, and commitment for those looking to make concrete changes.
An airport is like a small city, offering a hopefully seamless service which relies on consistency of different stakeholders (security, cleaning, retailers, restaurants, check-in staff, airline lounges, and more). It is essential to have a full viewpoint, to make sure all the makers of the airport experience are in the loop.
In the best cases, good data builds bridges between different operations, so not only do they improve their own efficiency, but realise that when the whole chain of experiences are consistently great, the entire ecosystem benefits.
When everyone has access to the insight, it allows teams to set new kinds of targets on improving passenger experience, how to optimise it, how to react, and how to predict. This is no instant fix, but some things really can change faster than others.
One of our first international airport clients shared an anecdote about installing our terminals, finding their usually gruff security team had suddenly developed a set of bright smiles and found the manners of finishing school graduates.
It’s funny how service levels change when people know that they will be judged by their actions.