"Its Back to Basics, Well Almost"
By Ira Weinstein
President Airport Interviewing & Research, Inc. (AIR)
major airline plans to reintroduce an ad campaign from the past
(New York Times 4/30/02). An advertising executive stated they are
taking advice from their customers who voted an ad as one of the
"best loved" and "most requested" commercials.
Using an ad from the archives may or may not be the best thing
to do but at least ad executives are listening to their customers.
They are not alone. Packaged goods, healthcare, and other industries
are returning to basics in meeting customer needs. They are not
In these times, given the dramatic changes in the behavior and
mindset of the travelers, the concessions industry should not take
risks. Abrupt change is exactly the wrong decision to make. Travelers
have taken a 180 degree attitude shift and, as the studies of our
company show, are beginning to adapt well to the new airport environment.
At the same time they are calling for pre-September 11th treatment,
which even then was not up to their standards.
Does our industry get it? Do airport and concessions managers really
understand or are we guessing? Perhaps we tend to seek solutions
by being reactive. Proactivity seems not to fit into our overall
We tend not to listen to travelers needs and let ratings
and being the "best airport" or having the "#1 concessions
program" be the measurement standard. We continue to return
to old ways that may no longer work. We copy each other in what
we do, discontinuing end-user input to a great extent.
Know Your Customer
Instead of "pulling" customers into our stores we push
them away. We think of raising prices, cutting staff, limiting hours
of operation, but have we forgotten the basic pre-September 11th
principles of retailing
know your customer.
Those airports that are almost back to pre-September 11th passenger
levels and those that are not should strongly consider the comments
and opinions of more than 8000 post-September 11th and more than
15,000 pre-September 11th travelers our company surveyed. The statistical
analysis is of course available but lets hear comments about
what the declining customer service numbers represent:
"Some staff have real attitude problems. You try to be pleasant
to them but they snare at you in return. They are too busy chatting
with each other."
"Due to the long wait on the food lines to get served, the
food court stores professionalism is horrible. All they do
is work like turtles and talk to each other."
"They (concession employees) dress like slobs. Dont
they have any self-respect? Do their managers care? The airline
staff is neat, well dressed and polite. How about having them teach
"Politeness needs to be taught. Why dont they realize
we (travelers) are anxious? A smile works wonders."
Now back to statistics because we all seem to like them better.
People have plenty of time to visit shops so why dont they?
Since the free time available averages one-and-a-half hours this
is a good reason to question policies and react to needs once they
Since more people are flying since September 11th, airports are
now becoming more crowded but it appears that we have not re-adjusted
to the increased traffic. Dirty terminal facilities and concession
shops, a frequent complaint, indicates we are not acting quickly
enough. While people remain very concerned about security they are
quickly becoming much more judgmental about most other airport factors,
than they were immediately following September 11th.
Business travelers are much more critical than leisure travelers,
and overall travelers experiences are now showing major declines
from just four months ago. Some of the causes according to our surveys
are that travelers experience the following:
- Poor treatment of customers.
- Low levels of customer service.
- Lingering anxiety about security issues.
- Higher airline fares combined with decreased on-board service.
- Crowded airport conditions.
TIME ON THEIR HANDS
|Free Time Levels
These complaints are not coming from inexperienced travelers. In
fact business travelers report having taken 6.25 airline trips since
September 11th and 14 or more trips in the past year. Which shows
no real difference from the same period a year ago.
Post 9/11 (March 02)
|Convenience of Locations
|Variety of Selections
|Quality of Offerings
|Speed of Service
|Courtesy of Staff
|Cleanliness of Area (F&B)
Last December, an improvement in satisfaction was seen, but this
is no longer so. Recent surveys show:
- Food and beverage primarily, and retail services secondarily,
continue to be judged critically.
- Factors of cleanliness of the outlets staff courtesy and staff
appearance have declined.
A Comparison of Satisfaction Levels
|Overall Customer Service
|Getting To the Airport
|Airline Check-In Process
|Security Check-Point (O&D Only)
|Food & Beverage Services
|*Lower at the 95% confidence
In comparison to "cleanliness of area" retail services
receive slightly higher ratings with "pricing" registering
the lowest level of satisfaction.
What Should We Consider Doing?
- Step back and get to know your customer all over again. Expand
your research to include Focus Groups so you can "hear"
whats behind the statistics you gather.
Educate your staff about these "new" customers. Find
out what their travel experiences are now like, and how to anticipate
- Keep your store and the immediate area clean, organized, and
looking fresh. Food service areas must be spotless.
- Put staff under an enforced dress code. Consider having them
wear uniforms. They need to appear professional and treat your
customers as such. Discourage cross employee chatter.
- Monitor your customer service standards. Make sure "smiles,"
"pleases", and "thank yous" become the rule.
- If youre thinking of raising prices dont.
Above all, adopt a proactive customer service program. Dont
be a follower of others in our industry just because they are doing
it. Chances are, you could do it better.