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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on May 10, 2012

Back to basics

DKMA’s James Ingram reflects on the importance of good customer service and getting the basics right.

What can I do to improve the satisfaction levels of passengers at my airport? This is a question I am often asked by airports participating in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme.

Generally accompanied by others such as, “Should we add in a new business lounge? Do we need to rethink the retail offering?” And, “Is simplifying the passenger process the answer?” 

Other favourites are, “Should we increase staff training and, how important is it to focus on ambience?”

The truth is that there is no cookie-cutter solution to improving service quality. Each airport is different and faces its own set of unique challenges. So, solutions must be tailored to the individual airport’s strengths and weaknesses and based on a deep understanding of its passenger profile.

That said, working with more than 230 airports participating in ASQ has shown that there are a number of basic tenets or ground rules for success.

Our research has shown that three major types of factors influence satisfaction:
•    Global influencing factors – the basics such as cleanliness of the airport, ambience, staff courtesy and washrooms
•    Basic airport processes which include check-in, security and immigration as well as other elements such as the comfort of waiting areas, FIDS and wayfinding
•    Services and diversions such as shopping, business lounges and Wi-Fi

But where should you focus your efforts? Much can be learned from examining how the world’s best airports prioritise their service levels.

The ASQ research team identified the services to passengers on which the world’s best airports focus most (and for which they obtain the highest satisfaction scores). We show these factors ranked by satisfaction score in the table opposite.

What this shows is that the world’s best airports have understood that in order to create an outstanding passenger experience, it is fundamental to focus first on the global influencing factors.

Passengers are not distracted by glitzy new services and attractions, when the fundamentals are poor. It is often too tempting to focus on easy-to-fix factors or high profile projects at the expense of what the passenger really appreciates and a coherent overall airport service. What passengers really want is for airports to make sure they do the basics right, and well, first.

First and foremost, top performing airports make sure that the cleanliness of the terminal is the most impressive feature of the airport. This seems an obvious priority, but many airports, particularly those with ageing facilities or those which are operating over-capacity, fail to meet this first criterion.

Along with clean facilities, the world’s best airports also focus on providing washrooms that are clean and easy to find. This may seem mundane, but top performing airports realise how important a washroom can be when you need one!

As with the cleanliness of the terminal, cleanliness of the toilets can impress or it can create a definitive poor impression.

Rounding out the top areas the world’s top performing ASQ airports focus on is staff courtesy, another of the global influencing factors.

Making customers feel valued and in a friendly environment is a core tenet of customer service, but in the average airport, passengers rate their passport inspection and their ease of finding their way around the airport higher than their overall contacts with airport staff.

These are the fundamentals of providing good customer service, but they alone are not sufficient to create an outstanding experience. All of the efforts made to ensure that the airport is performing well for the global influencing factors will be in vain if the basic airport processes are not well managed and generate stress for your passengers.

To illustrate this, just think of ambience. Great ambience arises from all aspects of the airport working in harmony: architecture that has been thought out with the passenger in mind, a pleasant atmosphere that the airport has chosen (willingly or not) to create as well as the quality of staff and their attitude towards service.

But this will all go unnoticed if a passenger has been stressed by a long wait at security or if he has nearly missed his flight due to a long queue at check-in. Well managed processes will allow the global influencing factors to shine through. However, poorly managed and stressful processes will make all efforts go unnoticed.

And this is not just true for processes such as check-in or security where staff are involved, but also for other basic airport processes such as ease of finding your way.

Too often airports will adopt a ‘more is better’ approach to signage instead of well thought out and strategically placed signs. Too much signage will quite often have a negative influence on passengers by creating visual pollution, which leads to confusion and stress.

In most cases, having less is actually the sign that wayfinding at the airport is intuitive and contributes to creating a general feeling of simplicity.

Finally, it is only when the airport has ensured that it is performing well for global influencing factors and basic airport processes that it will be able to reap the benefits from providing additional services.

If you provide the best airport shopping, but have dirty facilities and painfully slow processes, your passengers will not forgive you. Rather, the services and diversions offered by the airport should come as a third step, enhancing an already excellent airport experience.

So improving the passenger experience is like building with Lego pieces. You need to start out with a solid foundation of good performance for global influencing factors, then support these with efficient processes and finally add the extra features that will contribute to making your airport special.

This three-step approach to service quality is also at the basis of the ASQ initiative. At the core of the programme lies the ASQ Survey, which helps airports measure and improve satisfaction levels. Airports that are further along their journey to service quality excellence then join ASQ Performance, to benchmark their airport processes against global best practice, as well as ASQ Retail in order to improve their commercial offering.

Next time you are considering how to enhance the experience for your passengers, don’t forget to ask yourself where your airport stands on its journey to achieving excellent service quality and whether or not it’s time to go back to basics.


ASQ satisfaction rankings
1     Cleanliness of airport terminal
2     Overall satisfaction
3     Ambience    
4     Cleanliness of washrooms
5     Courtesy, helpfulness of airport staff
6     Availability of washrooms / toilets
7     Feeling of being safe and secure
8     Comfort of waiting / gate areas
9     Efficiency of check-in staff
10     Courtesy, helpfulness of check-in staff
11     Availability of baggage carts
12     Thoroughness of security inspection
13     Ease of finding your way
14     Courtesy of security staff
15     Waiting at ID inspection
16     Waiting at check-in
17     Flight information screens
18     Waiting at security inspection
19     Courtesy of ID inspection staff
20     Ground transportation
21     Arrivals passport inspection
22     Business lounges
23     Customs inspection
24     Ease of making connections
25     Speed of baggage delivery
26     Bank facilities
27     Parking facilities
28     Shopping
29     Internet access/Wi-Fi
30     Restaurants
31     Walking distances
32     Value for money of parking facilities
33     Value for money of shopping
34     Value for money of restaurants


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