Airports Are at the Center of Change
June 24, 2009

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
Airport Business Magazine

Airports Are at the Center of Change when it comes to customer service. Various discussions at last week’s AAAE annual meeting emphasized that the airport itself is becoming the new guardian of the ‘customer experience’. This goes beyond the Airport Ambassador assistance programs that have achieved a level of success at various facilities. We’re talking about customer service and the additional stress it can bring to airport employees, along with the potential impact on their productivity.

It was a topic which incoming AAAE chair John Duval wanted to emphasize during an interview with AIRPORT BUSINESS. He’s working with Tom Murphy and the Human Resiliency Institute (HRI) at Fordham University on creating productivity benchmarks, with the goal of starting a pilot program later this year which could lead to a formalized training program. The initiative has its roots in the growing pressure on airports to cater to customers, despite the fact that many airports have had to make staff cutbacks. And, the reduced capacity by airlines doesn’t ease the pressure; it increases it because more passengers are getting stranded for longer durations.

Murphy at HRI is the author of a terrific book entitled, Reclaiming the Skies, which chronicles the lives of various airport/aviation personnel who were put in the position of directly responding on 9/11. Along the way, he recognized that how people got through the tragedy while handling it (or not) differed, particularly how they could help others — and different people had different needs. He saw a parallel between the counseling required in that situation to what airports are undertaking as they deal with frustrated/irate customers who are riding an airline that, from their perspective, doesn’t really seem to care. He’s been putting on a course at JFK for awhile now.

During a discussion with him he made the statement: “If you don’t make it a service issue, you’re going to lose the industry.”

For many fixed base operators and other airport-based businesses, customer service has long been one of the primary roles of staff. It can be a strong competitive advantage. For airports, it is more a responsibility that has evolved in their direction (or, you could say, has been dropped into their laps).

This edition of our weekly expanded e-newsletter features a new department from a new content partner, ServiceElements, which has a history of success in helping airport-based businesses enhance their customer service programs. Check out the new ‘Customer Service Tip of the Week’ and feel free to let us know what you think, but more importantly to share what specific topics might be featured in future installments.

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