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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
×
Page 4
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26222.
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1   Today’s airports have become much more than transportation hubs. They are increasingly becoming places where people dine, shop, relax, work, and interact. In many ways, airports are evolving into bustling mini cities that are no longer simply meeting the basic needs of their customers, but creating unique customer experiences. This expanded role comes with challenges as airports try to understand and address the needs of their diverse customer base. This Guidebook presents information and tools to better understand the traveler’s perspective of the airport journey and how airports might respond to the evolving needs of their travelers. The findings and recommendations have been presented in the format of the airport journey. The journey begins prior to arrival at the airport for departure and ends with the return journey back to the traveler’s starting point. To better understand differences in perspectives among different kinds of travelers, the research segmented travelers into nine groups (referred to as “traveler segments” throughout this report), and data was collected from each group. Throughout the journey, the traveler’s perspective gained from primary and secondary research has been reviewed along with specific attributes or char- acteristics assigned to traveler segments and any special needs that they may have. Common elements that were shared among four or more traveler segments are grouped into a general category while elements that were specific to certain traveler segments are presented individually. Recommendations for improving airport responses to the identified traveler’s needs and/or desires have been constructed based on notable practices and commentary from the airport industry on the feasibility, implications, and/or costs of meeting customer expectations/ implementing recommended initiatives. Where applicable, adjustments have been proposed to address the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Guidebook also addresses factors affecting the overall airport journey including basic needs, environs factors, customer interface, talent management, technology, and management of disruptive events, which must be considered in planning customer experience programs. The influence and/or mandate of the federal, state, county, or city government as it relates to new requirements for airports that may impact customer experiences has also been included throughout this report as appropriate. 1.1 Goal of the Research The overall goal of this research is to provide information for the airport operator from the perspective of the airport traveler, from pre-trip activities to journeying to and through airports, to returning to the point of origin or arriving at another destination. Additionally, C H A P T E R 1 Introduction “ACI’s Airport Service Quality research and analysis suggests that, for most airports, prioritizing customer service results in the greatest positive impact on non-aeronautical revenue,” says ACI World’s Director General, Angela Gittens. “It can potentially deliver an even greater return on investment than can be achieved through traffic increases or expansion of commercial space” (Guerrieri, 2016).

2 Evaluating the Traveler’s Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience the Guidebook addresses current and evolving customer experiences and expectations, iden- tifies future trends and developments related to customer experience, and generates tools to help airport professionals anticipate and respond to a traveler’s preferences in order to deliver a seamless customer experience. 1.2 Overview of the Guidebook The Guidebook is divided into seven chapters including tools and methodologies airports can use to develop their own customer experience plans and programs (see Table 1). The Guidebook also includes Appendix A: Bibliography and Appendix B: Glossary of Terms. The following appendices are available on the TRB website by searching on “ACRP Research Report 231”: • Appendix C: Social Media and Media Analysis Toolkit • Appendix D: Creative Benchmarking • Appendix E: Sample Data Summary Table for Creative Benchmarking • Appendix F: Social Media and Media Analysis Resources and Guides Chapter Subject Description 1 Introduction Project mandate; Guidebook overview; research approach/methodology; intended benefits of the Guidebook; navigating the Guidebook; COVID-19 impacts; and limitations of the Guidebook. 2 Guide to the Traveler’s Airport Journey Introduces the concept of journey mapping from the traveler’s perspective and explains the process of identifying and classifying targeted airport customer segments and personas. It also provides tools to assist airports in creating their own journey maps and personas based on their distinctive characteristics. 3 Departure Journey Presents the perspectives common to most traveler segments and those unique to individual traveler segments, along with recommendations to improve the departure journey experience. The departure journey includes the following key touchpoints: prior to arriving at the airport for departure, upon arrival at the airport, pre-security activities, security checkpoint experience, and post-security activities. 4 Arrivals Journey Presents the perspectives common to most traveler segments and those unique to individual traveler segments, along with recommendations to improve the arrivals journey experience. The arrivals journey includes the following key touchpoints: international arrivals, transfer, domestic arrivals and baggage claim, and departure from the airport. 5 Factors Affecting the Overall Airport Journey Describes factors affecting the overall airport journey including basic needs (such as cleanliness, wayfinding, food and beverage, etc.), environs factors, customer interface, talent management, technology, and management of disruptive events. 6 Measuring the Customer Experience Provides methodologies and tools for conducting a gap analysis, goal alignment, and benchmarking. 7 Application of Findings Provides a summarized action plan for enhancing the customer experience. Table 1. Outline of chapters in the Guidebook.

Introduction 3   1.3 Research Approach and Methodology The research effort focused on the traveler’s perspective journeying through U.S. airports. With over 368.5 million different people traveling through U.S. airports each year, satisfying travelers’ needs holistically becomes a challenge. It is therefore incumbent upon airports to understand their own demographic base and determine the most appropriate solutions to their travelers’ unique needs. This Guidebook provides an approach to analyzing traveler needs and areas of concern and potential solutions. The research effort involved collecting data from secondary and primary sources. Secondary research was conducted through a comprehensive literature review on the current practices of airports to enhance the customer experience and future trends. Primary data collection was focused on gathering firsthand data from travelers on how to improve airport customer experi- ences. The data was collected through focus groups, airport and organization surveys, and social media analysis/media analysis. This multidimensional approach allowed the research team to identify potential solutions to challenges faced by travelers journeying through U.S. airports. 1.3.1 Secondary Data Research The research methodology included online and traditional literature searches related to eval- uating travelers’ perspectives on improving airport customer experiences and airports’ efforts to provide excellent customer experiences. The search included identifying notable customer experience techniques; processes and procedures; metrics/benchmarking; marketing and communication; infrastructure development; business partner collaborative efforts; awards programs; technology; future trends; and individual participants within airports such as airlines, ground transportation, parking, and concessions to gain an understanding of the airport journey through a traveler’s viewpoint. The literature search included a review of research publications/ reports, including ACRP reports and syntheses; trade journals; theses; websites; articles; press releases; presentation slides from appropriate conference presentations; and blogs. Further research was conducted to determine the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, including research on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and practices being implemented at airports across the United States and the world, as well as attendance at several webinars on the topic. 1.3.2 Primary Data Collection Primary data collection focused on the traveler and involved obtaining firsthand data from travelers on their perspectives of the current versus desired airport experience. The data was collected through onsite focus groups at Cincinnati International Airport and Orlando Inter- national Airport as well as through virtual focus groups of the nine traveler segments from all major regions in the United States (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, and West Coast) to ensure a comprehensive representation. Data was also collected through airport and organization queries and social media analysis/media commentary. Focus Groups Focus groups of nine traveler segments were conducted. Primary data on the different traveler segment perspectives and their evolving needs was gathered from a total of 247 participants. The sample size was not intended to be a scientific sample. There are more than 365 million travelers in the United States moving through more than 2,000 airports, and the budget for establishing a statistically significant sample size was not available. The feedback received from the focus groups instead provides in-depth comments and rich data on each point of the journey from the traveler’s perspective.

4 Evaluating the Traveler’s Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience The focus groups included the following traveler segments: business travelers, families with children, infrequent travelers, military travelers, non-native English speakers, travelers with dis- abilities, senior travelers, solo/couples, and student travelers. Several types of focus groups were conducted, including traditional focus groups, live virtual focus groups, and written virtual response focus groups. This approach allowed for a broader reach and a more diverse group of participants. During the focus group, participants were asked to visualize the journey they had recently taken through the airport. The focus group facilitator guided participants through the journey, focusing on specific points such as pre-arrival, arrival at the airport, check-in, security, post- security, international arrivals, transit area, baggage retrieval, and departure from the airport. All comments and suggestions from the participants were documented and aggregated across and for each traveler segment. This research effort included a study of the emotions experienced by the different traveler segments during their journey through the airport. Given the small sample size, rather than attempt to generalize the emotional state for each traveler segment at the various journey points, an “emotional risk” approach was used, which indicates the likelihood that a traveler may expe- rience a negative or positive emotion at a particular journey point. This approach allows an airport to identify journey points where certain traveler segments may be more sensitive to expe- riencing a negative emotion so that the airport may identify the root cause of these emotions and take actions to correct the circumstances and create a better experience. Customer Experience/Employee Experience Survey Analysis Nine U.S. airports, ranked highest in customer satisfaction by J.D. Powers, were surveyed to capture institutional responses on the approaches utilized to enhance customer experience. The main focus of this effort was to understand an organization’s customer and employee experience practices, including innovative methodologies being utilized to improve the customer experi- ence. When paired with the literature search and data collected from the traveler’s perspective, the information helped to provide a complete picture of notable practices for enhancing the customer experience at airports. Five organizations recognized for outstanding customer excellence were also contacted for their insights; however, most stated that their organization’s policy was not to respond to queries, or they were unresponsive to requests. Social Media Analysis To capture additional traveler insights, a social media and media analysis was conducted on six U.S. airports to demonstrate how airports can tap into this enormous database of customer- generated, publicly available content to understand consumers’ preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. Airports can use this information to not only assess customers’ preferences but also to diagnose problem areas, identify root causes of negative customer experiences, and evaluate new and ongoing programs and initiatives from the customers’ perspective. 1.4 Intended Benefits of the Guidebook The Guidebook provides a sample of the perspectives of travelers journeying through an air- port and accompanying suggestions for addressing traveler needs/areas of concern. The findings are presented from a perspective shared by the general traveler population as well as perspectives from specific traveler segments, allowing airports to distinguish between the possible needs of different traveler segments. The Guidebook also presents a data analysis approach that indi- vidual airports may undertake to better understand their own travelers.

Introduction 5   The findings further indicate the emotions that different traveler segments may experience at various points of the journey. Airports are emotional spaces, and a better understanding of the complexities surrounding the emotions experienced by travelers can help the airport design interventions to enhance or reduce positive and negative emotions. The tools provided in this Guidebook provide an approach for airports to conduct an analysis of their travelers and identify their emotions. The Guidebook also contains several other tools that an airport may use as part of its customer experience plan/programs. A path to implementing the tools is presented in Chapter 7. An online multi-media tool provides an alternative visual reference to support the information pro- vided in the Guidebook. In addition to summary material from the Guidebook, the multi-media tool includes video testimonials from actual travelers and can be accessed via the following link: http://acrp0140.strdemo.org/ 1.5 Impacts of COVID-19 on the Future of the Industry The COVID-19 outbreak occurred during the final stages of this research effort. Given the significant impact of the outbreak on the future of the industry, the original contents of the Guidebook have also been impacted. Where applicable, actions to account for COVID-19 have been presented and are identified with a specific icon (see Section 1.6). The aviation experience will be forever changed as a result of COVID-19; however, many changes will be seen as positive from a customer experience perspective since they involve tech- nologies to create a more seamless experience. In general, certain technologies have advanced at a more rapid pace than anticipated to create touchless environmental experiences including check-in, security processing, boarding, and customs/immigration. Airports have also enhanced communication and collaboration with their stakeholders, which translates into an improved experience. 1.6 Navigating the Guidebook The purpose of the icons used in the Guidebook is to simplify the recognition of the purpose of comments made throughout the Guidebook (see Figure 1). Mini case highlights of customer experience initiatives and innovations at airports/ organizations have been presented in the following format. Figure 1. Report icons.

6 Evaluating the Traveler’s Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience 1.7 Limitations of the Research Due to the smaller sample size used in this research, caution should be exercised when gen- eralizing the results, and care should be taken not to draw conclusions beyond the research sample. This Guidebook’s commentary on the research is intended to be illustrative of the kinds of needs or issues that the general traveler population and the specific traveler segments may encounter during their airport journey. While the commentary cannot be generalized to the entire population of travelers, the findings do highlight potential areas for concern and are broadly illustrative of an approach to data analysis that airports can undertake. In addition, the research aims to provide examples of an approach that airports could take to assess traveler emotions and provides a source of information that can help airports gain a deeper understanding of their traveler segments. Each airport needs to analyze their travelers’ perspectives and emotions to identify the needs/issues specific to their airport. Finally, the examples cited in the Guidebook are presented for illustration purposes and do not constitute an endorsement for use.

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Today’s airports have become much more than transportation hubs. They are increasingly becoming places where people dine, shop, relax, work, and interact. This expanded role comes with challenges as airports try to understand and address the needs of their diverse customer base.

The TRB Airport Cooperative Research Program's ACRP Research Report 231: Evaluating the Traveler's Perspective to Improve the Airport Customer Experience presents information and tools to better understand the traveler’s perspective of the airport journey and how airports might respond to the evolving needs of their travelers.

Supplemental materials to the report include an executive summary, a multimedia tool that provides visuals to support the findings, and Appendices C through F (which include a social media and media analysis toolkit, a review of creative benchmarking, a sample data summary table for creative benchmarking, and a listing of social media and media analysis resources and guides).

In July 2021, an errata was issued for ACRP Research Report 231.

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