By Ekelem Airhihen
On February 8, 2021, the Airports Council International revealed those airports that have continued to prioritize listening and engaging with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The recognition was given to those airports that demonstrated significant efforts in gathering feedback through the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme to help them better understand their customers during the pandemic. This year 140 airports have been recognised around the world.
How your customers perceive their interactions with your organisation defines the customer experience. The key to managing that experience is to understand who your customers are and their expectations and experiences with your organisation.
Voice of the Customer, means that, organisations must tune into what their customers are saying, thinking and feeling. The understanding derived from such is used to shape their strategic and operational decision making. It helps organisations adapt their medium and long term strategies as well as define targets for employees. It helps shape organisational culture and improve employee engagement. Where for instance, the organisation shares a compliment from a customer, it is an excellent way to recognise and motivate employees.
A lot of information can be gathered listening to the customer. Customer expectation both overall and specifically at each stage of the customer journey can be gathered. Satisfaction levels overall and specifically for each step of the customer journey is another. Complaints can also be collected. Complaints can highlight issues with specific employees, processes or services. Comments from customers can be used to enhance the customer experience. Also, compliments in recognition of great experiences towards employees or service rendered are useful information from the customer.
Improving customer experience begins with a focus on the complete experience a customer has with an organisation, as seen from the perspective of the customer. That journey has a clearly defined beginning and end, spanning the progression of touch points. Customers don’t know or care who in an airport for instance, owns the individual experience of retail sales, check-in, security clearance, ground handling and so forth. From their perspective, these are all part of one and the same journey.
The effort of perfecting the most important journeys for customers can be hard, but organisations, by focusing on the task, can provide experiences that make customers want to engage and continue engaging
In the ‘CEO Guide to Customer Experience’ by McKinsey, the following six strategies were suggested for best in class customer or citizen experience:
Define a clear aspiration – have a shared vision within the organisation. Let the employees recognise what need the organisation has set out to meet. There should be a deeply rooted collective sense of conviction and purpose to serve the customer’s true needs. Working on a performance management system, I have heard employees say: ‘this now gives us a goal post and not just that we keep playing around the field’.
Develop a deep understanding of what matters to the customer – For airports and many other organisations today, ignoring health concerns of customers due to the pandemic will take the customer experience improvement effort off course. The customer does not set out to get poor service but holds the organisation to high standards.
Today, thanks to big data and advanced analytics, organisations can tell the actual behaviour of customers as they use their products and services. So understand the importance of each step of the journey to the customer.
A culture of record keeping beyond bookkeeping and accounts will help build data base from which to commence analytics. Accidents and incidents, lost work time from sick leaves and other causes, queuing times and delays as taxi or gate departure delays are among metrics for which data would be captured.
Use behavioural psychology to manage expectations – Behavioural psychology is the study and analysis of observable behaviour. Expectations can be adjusted to improve on the customer experience. Again setting metrics, mapping processes and comparing data collected with set metrics will help determine a realistic service delivery standard. How the standard is communicated is also important to the customer.
Digitize the processes behind the most important customer journeys – This is more imperative as emphasis is placed on health measures in various organizations. Continuously monitoring processes and refining them based on feedback from end users helps improve customer experience as organizations now speed up their operations. Organisations should not be shy to embrace new ways of working in order to achieve speed that comes from digitizing important customer journeys.
Operational readiness tests for restart of operations post-Covid-19 lockdown or for opening of new service offerings like airport terminals or hotels help employees and stakeholders effectively prepare to deliver customer experience that results in minimal bottlenecks; that may cause queues and delays that negatively impact customer experience.
Use customer journeys to empower the frontline – Customer experience is focused on being in tune with the customers and attempting to truly understand their experiences with your service or product. It is about developing empathethic approach to customers. To effectively deliver needed customer experience, have motivated employees who embody the customer and brand promise in their interactions with consumers and are empowered to do the right thing.
Steps to achieve this as stated by the guide are: First, listen to employees and establish mechanisms to address their issues and needs. Next, hire for attitude, not aptitude. Then give your people a purpose, not rules, as a result, the company sets clear expectations and lets employees know that it trusts them to do their jobs. Finally, tap into the creativity of your frontline employees by giving them the autonomy to do whatever they can to improve the citizen experience and fix problems themselves.
To improve constantly, establish metrics and a governance system – It is important to measure what happens to be able to satisfy customers. More importantly, the data should be used to drive action throughout the organisation.
Have a proper metric to measure the customer experience. Allocating scores to your organisation based on perceived customer satisfaction does not do justice to the system of establishing metrics and gathering data on customer experience.
Cascade these metrics down into their key customer journeys and performance indicators and have a proper governance and leadership to move from knowledge to action. Where the chief executive takes an interest in these metrics, significant progress can be made in moving to action and improving the customer experience.
Organisations which listen to the voice of the customer should be able to define what they want to deliver to customers based on a thorough understanding of customer expectations.