Business as usual is not good enough


1 November 2022



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Robson Freitas, Head of Operations, Security and Emergency at Belo Horizonte International Airport, examines the revolution the air industry is experiencing in seamless travel and explains why now, post-pandemic, is the time to deliver a passenger experience that is above and beyond.

When we think of an airport, we usually think of queues, delays, security checks, high prices, and other annoyances for passengers. However, this sentiment has been radically changing due to the action airports are taking with a focus on operational efficiency and customer experience. Airport operators have understood that providing a high-quality airport experience makes a difference among travellers, as well as increasing the airport’s non-aeronautical revenue. A negative airport experience and general dissatisfaction can result in passengers choosing to fly from a different airport.

Modern airports interested in improving the traveller experience need to understand the traveller’s perspective. It should be clear to airports that some services are essential and extremely necessary for a great customer journey, such as service, cleaning, wayfinding, security checkpoint. However, with the world steadily recovering from the pandemic and with the opening of international borders, now is the time for airports to focus on differentiating themselves rather than just surviving. With global aviation competition heating up once again, it’s airports that can ensure that customer experiences are far from trivial and basic.

Doing the basics for the customer experience is no longer enough, which increasingly requires airports to take disruptive actions and positive strategies in which the customer is prioritised. It is necessary to rethink the current modus operas, because for years we have basically been doing the same thing in managing the customer journey. After all, customers increasingly expect their airport experience to be as seamless and personalised as their online retail, banking, and social experiences. The airport of the future will be with the customer first: smart, connected and personalised. Supported by technological solutions and partner ecosystems, airports must move forward to put the customer at the centre of their operations.

How is IT contributing to driving changes in customer experience?

Technological innovations play an important role in improving customer experience. Through smart solutions, the airport can now track and share real-time information about passenger flow, flight and baggage status, availability of service resources, sales of services and so on. We can create an airport capable of quickly responding to the needs of each passenger and making them the best possible.

Passenger and airline expectations are changing rapidly, and it is up to airports to keep pace with these changes using advanced technological capabilities of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics. As the millennial generation dominates the consumer market through their fingertips, it forces airports to develop services and experiences in line with the new era of tech retail. While online has disrupted conventional non-aeronautical revenue-generating business models, it has also brought untapped ‘out of the box’ opportunities that are yet to be developed by airports, such as the use of airline miles as currency for purchases at airline stores, retail, in restaurants, payment for parking, use in bookstores, payment for taxi or subway, car rental, etc. operating at airports around the world.

Revenue generation

The aviation industry is a prominent sector with an annual growth of $865 billion in 2019. This growth, combined with unpredictability, has made airports develop their business strategies to increase non‑aeronautical revenues. While aeronautical revenue comes exclusively from company operations and airport fees, non-aeronautical revenue encompasses all other businesses, such as parking, retail, advertising, food, and beverage.

It is evident that these businesses are often in the hands of different partners who work at the airport, which makes it essential for the airport to be the protagonist and promote a culture focused on customer experience for all partners involved, developing a common vision to the standard of service and management desired by the airport for the customer journey. As a result, airports are increasingly developing concepts that go beyond their limits and reach their partners. Actions that range from training, visual identity, awards, and annual recognition of highlights to partners most adhering to what the airport wants to provide to its customers.

The vision that, by providing a pleasant and frictionless experience to customers, will bring a positive return for revenue generation, is increasingly consolidated among large airports. So much so that airports are creating strategic departments dedicated to customer experience that are entirely dedicated to ensuring that every airport action has the best interest of customers in mind.

The future of customer experience

The future of customer experience is different, not commodity. The rise of digital experiences and changing customer expectations mean that all airports will need to have a uniquely customer‑centric experience strategy, which will create a huge differentiator for the airport business. Investing in customer experience as an engine of growth will reorient the business around customer value and the airport’s strategic positioning.

Personalised experiences cannot be the result of automating everything at the airport, but rather actively choosing what to automate – and what not. It’s much smoother when airports use automation to amplify and enhance the experiences they already offer, rather than designing an all-digital experience from scratch. If we focus on what customers value, we can use automation to shorten the path to valued human engagement, as behavioural research shows that customers are becoming more accustomed to a mix of human and digital interaction.

Automated customer experience can remove an obvious barrier to scale for airports, as gains in scale have always been prioritised above all else, leaving out or forgetting to prioritise what benefits the customer experience.

Customer focused research

With the post-pandemic resumption, we had to restore people’s confidence to travel again, establishing a safe and comfortable customer experience. We focus our attention on developing actions focused on the main touchpoints in the customer journey, as we have all these points mapped and identified in the document we call Journey of Services. In addition, we established a working group jointly with the airlines focused on the analysis of the indicators that detract from the Net Promoter Score of the airlines, as well as the indicators of the airport satisfaction surveys carried out by the Civil Aviation Secretariat. Through these results, it was possible to apply the Pareto Principle & the 80/20 Rule and define immediate actions for the different areas and partners directly involved in the customer journey. This year alone, we went from 14 January to 6 June 2022 in the latest Q2 result published by the Civil Aviation Secretariat.

Starting in January 2023, we will include the ACI ASQ survey in our customer understanding tools roll. It is already used by more than 300 airports around the world that seek to understand and improve the customer experience, being considered as the main benchmark of the airport industry. The surveys monitor all decision moments involving critical touchpoints and provide a benchmark to help airports deliver memorable experiences. Customers are randomly selected at the boarding or disembarkation gates for pre-selected flights. These flights are selected based on destination/origin and carrier to obtain a representative sample of all departures or arrivals. The survey covers all hours of operation every day and every month of a quarter, ensuring that the resulting samples are representative of the true traffic distribution and allow for the extrapolation of results for all passengers by specific people.

At Belo Horizonte, we believe that the customer experience can be improved when we can hear our customers better. Customer experience is the best reflection of our values, our perception and the services provided and associated with our brand.

Robson Freitas, Head of Operations, Security and Emergency at Belo Horizonte International Airport, examines the revolution the air industry is experiencing in seamless travel and explains why now, post-pandemic, is the time to deliver a passenger experience that is above and beyond.Robson Freitas is Head of Operations, Security and Emergency at BH Airport. He began his career as Flight Operations Office during the early 2000s and worked for the main Brazilian airlines. He worked at the FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee Brazil, where he was responsible for supporting all Nation Teams air operations. Also, during the RIO2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, he was responsible for the tactical operation of the Airport Operations Center at Rio de Janeiro International Airport. Since 2018, he is Head of Operations, Safety and Security responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations, also ensuring the high-quality customer experience, operational efficiency, the ACDM process and regulatory compliance, positioning the airport as the best Brazilian airport in the category above 10 million passengers in 2021 in passenger evaluation.