Getting Customer Service Right

Author: 
Lawrence Krauter
Published in: 
November-December
2011

"Service" - an act of helpful activity.

"Public Service" - a service (act of helpful activity) performed for the benefit of the public.

"Customer"- a party that receives or consumes products and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers.

Now more than ever, airport managers must understand that it is up to us to own and define the customer experience at our facilities. We certainly have our work cut out for us. In 2010, J.D. Power & Associates surveys indicated that satisfaction with




Lawrence Krauter

Lawrence "Larry" Krauter, A.A.E., AICP, is chief executive officer of

three distinct and financially

independent aviation entities:

Spokane International Airport, Felts Field Airport and the Airport Business Park. Collectively known as "Spokane Airports," these facilities employ more than 3,000 people and produce an annual economic impact of nearly $1 billion.

airports was considerably lower than satisfaction with hotels and rental cars!

How did we lose our way? There are three primary reasons: 1) For the past 11 to 12 years, we've been transitioning through the "Race to the Bottom," as airlines slashed staffing and commoditized their product while trying to reduce costs and maximize revenues. 2) We have tolerated a singular security screening "solution" rushed into place after 9/11 that has not evolved quickly enough to eliminate obvious inefficiencies. 3) Many airports have been forced to curtail investing properly in facilities and have turned to their patrons to generate revenues in the face of shrinking airline payments and dwindling financial support from local government.

As we walk the terminal buildings each day, we see firsthand what is happening to our customers. Over time, their expectations have been steadily and dramatically lowered. They often feel ignored, mistreated and "nickeled-and-dimed." It's a shame to see a husband and wife with small children or an elderly person struggling to repack luggage at the ticket counter playing "beat the scale" to avoid additional bag fees.

Delivering the fundamentals such as food/beverage have become significant challenges at many smaller airports. Because investment is lagging, many airport lobbies are still crammed with security screening equipment and a forest of self-check-in kiosks that were dropped in with little thought other than reducing staff.

In the face of these challenges, we must ask some important questions: If not us, who? If not now, when? We must step up to the plate, own this problem and deliver good customer service.

We need to remember that our customers are not third parties, but citizens of the community served by the airport. Our charge is to fulfill the public trust placed in us to provide a safe, efficient and pleasant experience (that "helpful activity") and to recognize that customers have a choice not only about which airport to use, but in many cases, whether to drive or fly.

At Spokane Airports, we have identified a number of ways to improve the customer experience, including 20 minutes of complimentary wireless Internet access and free luggage carts. We believe that if we take care of the fundamentals, everything else will fall into place.

Managers now routinely communicate with customers through our website and learn details about what they really want. We'll soon launch into Facebook and Twitter to start a continuous dialogue with, and engagement of, our customers.

Responding to the results of extensive professional surveys, we are exploring customer loyalty programs and have added Starbucks in our terminal buildings.

Customer input has also been at the center of our capital improvement planning, and we

are bolstering our commitment to the general aviation community.

Through a $950,000 Small Community Air Service Development Grant, we have energized local leaders to support nonstop service to Los Angeles.

Knowing how much our local customers value environmental stewardship, we're implementing projects funded by the FAA's Voluntary Airport Low Emissions program.

These are challenging, yet exciting, times for airports to innovate and delight their customers. Despite all of the other issues that can distract you and steal your time, you have to remember to ask: What have I done today to put my customers first?

Subcategory: 
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