Our number one objective is to make Heathrow better every day and provide our passengers with the airport experience they deserve. We want people to love Heathrow. The British public deserves a hub airport they can be proud of and that is what we are working towards.”
These are the words of Heathrow’s marketing and insight director, Nick Adderley, the man tasked with transforming the passenger experience at one of the world’s largest and busiest hubs.
In terms of international passenger numbers London’s Heathrow is by far the biggest airport in the world with more than 66 million passengers each year passing through its gates – so making sure everyone is happy all of the time is no easy task.
However, the proof is in the pudding and the fact that over the past five years the Airport Services Quality (ASQ) scores at Heathrow have rocketed speaks volumes.
In 2006, Heathrow’s ASQ results found that only 39% of passengers rated their experience of the airport as either good or excellent. By 2010 this had jumped to 68%.
Since taking up his role, Adderley has successfully instilled Heathrow’s mantra of ‘making every journey better’ into the fabric of the entire airport.
He said: “Back in 2008 we started turning Heathrow into a brand and started to think of it in those terms.
“Over the last two years the ethos of ‘making every journey better’ has become more and more baked into the business – from the lanyards we wear around our necks, to the advertising, the way we talk, behave and treat our customers – as a whole the airport and everyone working here is much more passenger focused.”
Adderley said that the shift in attitude and the increased focus on passengers is just as important to improve the customer experience at the airport as any investment in infrastructure.
He explained that ‘making every journey better’ is not all about grand gestures or expensive building projects – although this has been apparent at Heathrow in recent years – but it is more about an intricate recipe, focusing on the basics and making small differences here and there that all add to the passenger’s experience.
He says: “As well as all the exciting, interesting stuff with building new terminals, we want everybody’s experience to be better, so we have put a lot of effort into making sure everything is clean, for example, and making sure all the toilets work.
“We have learnt from what ASQ said, that the best performing airports in the world also happen to be the best at the basics. So if we want to be one of the best airports in the world we have to be the best at the basics.”
On top this Adderley also likes to add to the mix what he calls “a few elements of surprise and delight.”
One of his examples of this ‘surprise and delight’ was what the airport did for passengers at Easter.
During the Easter period families travelling through Heathrow were entertained by the Easter Bunny and Peppa Pig, and children were given Easter eggs and Heathrow eye-spy books.
Adderley said how it is little things like this that make the passenger experience more enjoyable.
He said: “There is not really one big thing but just lots and lots and lots of small steps being continually done to improve the passenger experience.
“Fundamentally it is about doing lots of small things well and better.” That said, inevitably major infrastructure development projects are inextricably linked to improving the passenger journey through an airport.
That is why since 2008 Heathrow has been spending around €1.1 billion every year on improving and updating the infrastructure at the airport.
Not only have the past few years witnessed the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which, according to Adderley, “if it were an airport on its own, would be the top performing airport in Europe on ASQ measures”, all the other terminals have had some sort of facelift as well.
Terminal 4 was refurbished 18 months ago, and Adderley said it is now the fastest improving terminal in Europe, according to the ASQ scores.
Meanwhile, a refurbishment of Terminal 3 has nearly finished, not to mention the €1.1billion construction of the new Terminal 2, which should be completed by 2014.
Adderley said: “So the actual facilities around the airport for passengers have been significantly improved over the last two years or so as well. Even the new Terminal 5 is getting improvements, with the new satellite terminal T5c which has just opened.”
Transfer passengers make up more than a third of all passengers at Heathrow, and Adderley has been keen to improve their experience in particular.
Since joining Heathrow, he has overseen the launch of the ‘purple pathfinder’ for transfer passengers and been part of the process to relocate airlines so they all sit within their particular alliances.
He said: “We have put in a lot of changes for transfer passengers. I think fairly uniquely in the world of hub airports we have a special ‘purple pathway’ designed internally within the airport specifically for passengers to find their way to their connecting flight.
“Also, over the last two years – post Terminal 5 – we have moved more than 40 airlines around, so that the majority sit within their relevant organisation or alliance.”
For example, the Sky Team alliance is now based in Terminal 4. Star Alliance, although predominantly in Terminal 1 at the moment, will be based in Terminal 2 when it is completed. One World is based in Terminal 3 and British Airways is in Terminal 5.
The reshuffle has all been done in the name of customer service and to make life easier for connecting passengers.
Adderley said: “Basically, nowadays the vast majority of customers who are connecting, connect within the same terminal. Before the advent of Terminal 5 and the move around, something like 70% of passengers had to go between terminals to transfer.”
Heathrow is also going to launch ‘No. 1 Heathrow’ – a new passenger lounge – in Terminal 3 for transfer passengers in the summer.
It will be specifically designed for connecting passengers who do not have access to airline lounges, so they can take some time out and have a rest within their journey.
Other customer-focused improvements which Adderley has been part of include a new mobile phone application which helps passengers find their way around the airport and discover information about flights and services at Heathrow.
The airport has also built up a team called the ‘Heathrow journey team’ who speak more than 45 languages between them across all the terminals, and who are there to help passengers who don’t speak English get a better experience in the airport.
The Heathrow Pod – a people mover shuttle service between the business parking and Terminal 5 – is also now operating, so passengers have no need to take a bus anymore, and the bus service itself has just seen €566,000 worth of upgrades to make life easier for passengers.
But these are just a handful of projects that Adderley and his team have been working on to promote Heathrow as a more customer-friendly airport, and to make every passenger journey better.
He added: “Is there one specific thing we have done to make the experience better? No, is it 150 different things.
“It is not necessarily exciting stuff, but it is actually important stuff, and every time we do it a little bit better we improve the performance of the airport and make the customer experience better.”
This article features in Airport World 2011 - Issue 3