I am going to start with a question. What is your strongest memory of an airport and what happened on that particular journey to make the experience so memorable
The tools for creating a memorable airport experience are many, of course, and range from stunning architecture, stylish lounges and immaculate washrooms to clear wayfinding, appealing F&B options and innovative and exciting retail.
However, I would argue that the most influential and memorable point of a passenger’s journey through the airport is when they meet or come into contact with a member of staff, as it is usually the human encounter that makes the memory, for good or bad.
Whether your strongest airport memory is positive or negative it will almost certainly focus on the action of a person – whether it’s a warm welcome at the check-in desk or a helpful service staff member going the extra mile for the traveller – as it is the human factor that makes an experience stronger, satisfying and memorable.
For many travellers, retail plays a pivotal role in making an airport experience special and memorable. As such, at LS travel retail we place great emphasis on the quality of our staff and the service they provide.
I believe that adopting such an approach not only strengthens the quality of the traveller’s experience but also drives the revenue opportunity for both the retailer and the airport.
Through our regular and extensive research programmes and consumer surveys, we know that the shopper’s key purchase decisions are not made on logic alone but on emotion, particularly in the vital area of ‘gifting’.
By engaging, persuading and convincing the shopper, sales staff not only drive revenue but also make the retail experience a powerful contributor to passengers’ positive memories of the airport.
In our own operations we believe that, in relative terms, we invest more than any other travel retail operator in training our staff and there are three key areas where we are committed to developing the skills and knowledge of our sales teams:
Know the products
Firstly, and perhaps most simply, is an in-depth understanding of the products on offer, including the latest arrivals and special promotions. This is also developed through the strength of our partnerships with leading brands across the categories. With their added specialist input we ensure that sales teams have in-depth understanding of the products.
Across our stores, including the concept stores with multi brands such as LS travel retail’s ‘So Chocolate’, product training is conducted every quarter by specialists from brands such as Alfred Dunhill and Longchamp and many leading perfumes and cosmetics brands.
Our sales teams develop an in-depth understanding of the brands and the retail environment and this is updated through awareness of upcoming seasons and trends and product launches.
Know the traveller
Secondly, it is imperative that staff understand traffic profiles at the terminal. This means understanding not only the key nationalities and their needs and behaviour but also the patterns of departures, which can change throughout the terminal’s operating hours. For example, Chinese travellers might dominate traffic in the morning and South Koreans or Japanese in the afternoon, and knowing this should allow the store to adapt its offer and the staff approach to the specific needs of those travellers.
Serve the customer
Thirdly, shop staff should develop the necessary communication skills to engage, convince and satisfy the customer. This extends not only to multi-lingual skills, but also appreciation of the social, cultural and behavioural expectations that apply to different nationalities.
OSCAR – a winning system
To better co-ordinate our training efforts, in 2002 specialist duty free company, Aelia, established the Ecolede Vente (Sales School), a training centre that oversees its needs in this field from the identification of new requirements to the creation of bespoke modules to implementation.
The core training platform has achieved ‘OSCAR’ ISO 9001 certification and enables us to enhance our service solutions through inter-cultural coaching; tailoring the sales approach to the traffic profile; and combining exceptional service with sales effectiveness.
All Lagardère Services and LS travel retail tax and duty free sales staff, are inducted into the spirit of OSCAR from the day they start their journey with us.
Importantly, the OSCAR programme also incorporates regular advanced training updates and the evaluation of service standards to ensure that we exceed the shopper’s expectations.
Our ‘mystery shopper’ programme, for example, focuses particularly on the effectiveness of our staff in greeting a store visitor and using product knowledge and sales skills to persuade a shopper to buy and also to return to the store on their next visit.
Underpinning OSCAR, we also operate our ‘Go Beyond’ strategy, which emphasises the importance of maintaining the right attitude and finding creative ways to delight customers beyond their expectations.
Airports such as Hong Kong, Incheon, Singapore Changi, Auckland, Vancouver, Düsseldorf and Kuala Lumpur place a great emphasis on service quality and this commitment has helped transform routine journeys at their respective gateways into a memorable experience.
Like the major airport examples I’ve mentioned above, the spirit of excellence in service needs to be shared holistically if it is to be truly cohesive, consistent and effective.
We make these commitments because we know that our sales performance is significantly strengthened by our emphasis on high quality training. For example, at every new contract that we have undertaken we have driven sales revenue up by as much as 60%, even before we factor in the effectiveness of subsequent store re-fits etc.
Although we are confident that we can deliver similar increases at any airport, the input of the airport can provide an additional emphasis on the whole airport experience.
A number of leading airports, for instance, have developed with great effect, powerful and extensive programmes to strengthen customer service satisfaction and engage with partners across the airport.
Such programmes are fundamental to the success of these airports in achieving industry-leading standards as well as a succession of awards.
Our own retail operations at partner airports have been recognised by a number of awards at airports across the world, including Changi’s ‘Let’s Smile’ and Hong Kong International Airport’s ‘Customer Excellence’ awards.
The power of such programmes to zoom-in on team and individual efforts is a powerful incentive for staff to go beyond the customer’s expectations every time, not only in retail but also across every aspect of the traveller’s experience of the airport.
Passenger expectations are constantly evolving, including more people travelling more frequently, higher demands on their time and a growing awareness of global trends and brands.
The emphasis on service can only get stronger and become more challenging for airports – and retailers – to deliver. However, when retailers and airports make a shared commitment to go beyond the customer’s expectations, the customer departs with much more than their shopping – they take away exceptional memories of a fantastic airport experience.