20 May The Role of Technology in Customer Experience
The role of technology in customer experience
In our previous article How can airports meet evolving customer expectations? we explored how airports can connect with their customers by understanding who the customers are, monitoring their journeys and meeting their diverse needs. As part of achieving this goal, there are some significant challenges to overcome.
The customer experience challenge
Airports face numerous obstacles in delivering a great experience for their customers. Long waits and overcrowding in particular will rapidly create dissatisfaction.
There are many factors that cause queuing, crowding and delays at airports. These factors are often outside of airport operators’ control and might include early arrivals and late departures due to weather and other factors; resource scheduling (staff are deployed too late when queues have already built up), disruptions to the ground access network (congestions on access arteries or mass transit disruptions) and many other factors.
The bottom line is that nobody enjoys being in a crowded space or in a long queue. This is even more true in today’s post-COVID world with long-lasting health check and social-distancing requirements. Passenger processing delays also mean less time for relaxing, dining and shopping, which means lost opportunities for airports to deliver a great experience and derive commercial upsides.
Overcrowding also restricts people’s opportunity to enjoy the airport experience in every way – dining venues are full, seating is limited and cleanliness can be compromised.
So how can queues and overcrowding be overcome?
The role of technology in customer experience
Technology presents enormous opportunities to enhance customer satisfaction at airports. It helps reduce queues and congestion with faster processing and higher throughputs; but it also provides an opportunity to get to know the customer better and deliver a more personalised experience.
Since the introduction of smartphones, customers are accustomed to having key information and updates at their fingertips. They are increasingly demanding seamless integration of this wealth of data with specific applications, such as gate updates, new boarding times and wayfinding. Airports are learning how to leverage these demands and translate them into opportunities to get to know their customers better.
The examples below explore how airports can leverage technology. These start from widely used applications through to new and emerging ones:
Flow management and queue monitoring
Measuring airport performance in real time is the first step in proactive response. With Wifi, Bluetooth ‘sniffers’ and camera sensors, queues and waiting times can be measured. Timestamping and tracking the mobile device of each passenger enables us to map their journey through the airport.
If issues are detected, the airport can redeploy staff, implement dynamic wayfinding and monitor other metrics, such as social distancing. These data can be analysed and compared against key performance indicators (KPI) to identified mitigation measures.
Ultimately, machine learning and artificial intelligence can use the sensed data to analyse passenger behaviour patterns, predict passenger demand at each processing point and implement preventive actions to reduce queuing and waiting and deliver a better overall passenger experience.
This technology can also be used by roaming staff via smart device to proactively engage with customers by providing directions, re-routing them to less busy filters and monitoring social distancing/facemask requirements.
Self-service and automation
As many industry-led surveys indicate, passengers like to be in control and prefer an automated, self-service, and now touchless choice when it comes to check-in, border control (emigration and immigration) and boarding.
Airports are increasingly deploying kiosks, automated bag drops and e-gates. Similarly, airlines are promoting home check-in through mobile apps, in combination with mobile passport scan and self-service baggage tagging options. Passenger can come to the airport “ready to fly” having completed most of the traditional check-in processes remotely or at home. While this trend already existed pre-pandemic, it has now been significantly accelerated at many airports.
And passengers are not the only ones that benefit from this type of technology. For example, check-in kiosks are ‘always open’, can be remotely located and require minimum staff, providing much needed capacity at a lower staffing cost.
As a result, less space is required for processing and queuing and more of it can be converted to dwelling, shopping and entertaining. The line between landside and airside (at security screening) is shifting towards landside, as fewer functions are performed there. This creates new opportunities for the airport to transform the customer experience.
But how to engage with the customer to deliver an enhanced experience?
Airport website or app
Gaining data on customer sentiment, whether through cameras, instant surveys, apps or social media allows airports to proactively manage customer needs and address issues in real time – by reallocating staff, opening up more counters or directing a clean-up team to a certain area.
Better customer engagement can be achieved by enticing customers to register with an airport-run system. This could be as simple as the airport website or airport app, or more advanced as a biometrically-enabled passenger processing system.
Knowing that a mobile device is the primary way to connect with a passenger, airports have developed apps that do just that. However, this is not an easy task. Most passengers will have downloaded the airline app and found journey information there. Airport apps need to offer additional benefits, including:
- new products and services such as lounge access, fast-track security/immigration, exclusive parking, food delivery options and a virtual queuing platform.
- real-time information to support customers at every turn: helping them find their way around; detailing live security waiting times and travel distances;
- special commercial offers and personalised information including loyalty programs, language and travel preferences; useful links and other relevant apps to support each customer.
Once customers are registered, and with their explicit agreement to comply with privacy laws, airports can start harvest the data to create an enhanced and better defined experience, similar to what airlines have being doing for many years.
In certain successful cases, airports and airlines are actively collaborating to share customer insights. For example, the airlines app, which has many more subscribers, can host airport specific services and offers such as car parking discounts, duty free product offers and delivery options.
These examples prove that value can be unlocked through joint initiatives between the airport and its business partners. Naturally the business model needs to be well-defined beforehand and provide reward to both parties.
The airport experience could be vastly improved using biometric-enabled technology to verify and validate customers’ identity and seamlessly process them. This overcomes the need to ask for the same travel documents, such as boarding passes and passports, at every processing point.
The advantages from a customer’s perspective are faster processing and shorter queues enabled by automated, touchless technology.
For the airport, this is an effective way to gain insights into the customer experience: by monitoring demand loads on filters, queues, and flows at a much more granular level than with sensors and cameras. On-time performance also benefits – flights are often late because of missing passengers. This technology allows airport and airline operators to locate passengers in real time.
In addition, with the customer’s consent, a much more personalised experience can be delivered. Gathering data on the customer’s shopping and dining preferences can deliver targeted offers and discounts. Combining the biometric enrolment with the airport app will enable this and entice the customer to use it regularly. Airlines have been using this technology for to give customers easier lounge access, but it also helps them keep track of occupancy times and density.
Privacy concerns have to be carefully addressed. Customers should only share data with the parties that need it to complete a certain process or service, with well-defined limits on how long data is stored, how it is used and for what purpose.
Where do we start?
Airports have a lot to gain from focusing on the customer – and those who fall behind risk losing out to their competitors.
Technology evolves so rapidly and deployment at scale could be expensive. It is therefore crucial to fully understand its specific applications to avoid abortive investments and failed implementations.
The key is to provide a balanced solution of technology, services and infrastructure, that can be implemented progressively with passenger expectations at the centre. But it can be difficult to know where to start.
Success will involve a combination of technologies, processes and business models that are tailored for your airport’s unique opportunities and challenges. In addition, partnership with business stakeholder will need to agree on use cases and evaluate the business model. Airports must also engage proactively with government agencies and follow local regulations and privacy laws. Such joint responsibilities take time and attention to bring to fruition.
It is important to take a pragmatic approach to selecting and implementing technology. As impartial consultants, we start with your challenge to find the right solutions that will deliver the best possible returns.
In addition, technology is just one of many elements required to create lasting value. How the technology will be embedded within the airport’s layout and organisation is paramount to success. For this reason, we explore all aspects of the challenge: financial, strategic, commercial, operational, IT and spatial – with the expertise to deliver tangible benefits to your airport operation.