Enhancing guest experience at airports

A world-class GX is important in strengthening MAHB’s non-aeronautical revenue


At Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), we are on a mission. We are enhancing guest experience (GX) to re-imagine a new hospitality-oriented airport terminal and make it a destination on its own.

GX is at the crux of the whole venture. To begin with, let us say that GX is an interaction between an organisation and a guest. It is a combination of an organisation’s physical performance, the senses stimulated and emotions evoked across all memorable points of contact.

In an airport, GX is the total experience by passengers as they go through an airport by interacting with tangible and intangible services provided at each touchpoint throughout their journey.

There are 17 touchpoints at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). All the tangible and intangible services provided to passengers at these touchpoints make up the “Quality of Service” (QoS) of an airport.

The GX plays an important part in the successful running of an airport. For starters, it has a direct impact on the airport’s revenue.

A 1% increase in passenger satisfaction level corresponds to an increase of 1.5% in non-aeronautical revenue, according to the Airports Council International (ACI), a global trade representative of the world’s airport authorities. KLIA’s non-aeronautical revenue for 2018 is estimated at RM863 million. The budgeted 2019 non-aeronautical revenue is RM869 million.

A world-class GX is important in strengthening our non-aeronautical revenue. Nowadays, as you know, airports can no longer depend solely on their aeronautical revenue to survive.

And to keep pace with the rapid passenger traffic growth in an increasingly competitive environment, airports must be able to collect sufficient revenues to finance their investments in infrastructure, operations and services through their non-aeronautical businesses.

Statistics also show that satisfied passengers are likely to spend 10% more time at the airport and twice as likely to shop. So, happy customers spend more and are more likely to return. Hence, we are on a journey to enhance the GX of airports to create joyful memories for all our airport guests.

In our initial operating stage, our focus was on the operational standpoint to provide customers with operational excellence. Today, we have embarked on a new perspective, focusing on the people-interaction or experience standpoint. Here, we aim to deliver a world-class customer experience by leveraging on our national strength which is our people’s hospitality.

Hence, we have taken the philosophy of addressing our customers as guests and us, as hosts. Our guests comprise not only the passengers, but the airlines, government agencies, retailers, ground handlers and other business partners as well. As the host, we are responsible for the services that we provide to all our airport users.

Current Practices

Originally, airports merely provided a facility for aircraft to land and take off, allowing people to fly in and out of a country. How things have changed!

How do we keep track of all the new areas of responsibilities? The Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme by ACI, is one global programme that measures passenger experience at airports.

ACI organises an annual ASQ forum. This year in September, it held its inaugural ACI Customer Excellence Global Summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Some 400 participants from 157 airports globally came to share their experiences. One thing is clear: All airports now have a more structured and systematic way of addressing GX. They look at the “hardware” (how to improve operational excellence) and “software” (how to improve emotional experience by passengers).

Airports today use automation and technology to enhance GX. At the Beijing Capital International Airport, they have deployed Airport Collaborative Decision Making to improve operational efficiency. At Singapore’s Changi Airport, the new Terminal 4 uses full automation and less human interaction. Canada’s Edmonton International Airport uses chatbots, digital way finding and social media. The Heathrow Airport in the UK has installed self-service bag drops, as well as auto self-boarding gates and security screening.

Airports globally are working at improving employees’ performance to improve GX.

The Rome Airport, for example, has formed its own internal subsidiary company to manage cleaning and terminal facilities, and provide Mandarin-speaking staff. The Los Angeles International Airport has introduced Gold Standard and Gold Star service recognitions. At the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, they have created a one-stop customer experience centre that looks at operational requirements and complaints from guests, and provides immediate responses.

There are more examples. The Cincinnati Airport has created a brand promise known as CHARM, which stands for caring, helpful, attentive, respectful and mindful. The Maine-based Portland International Jetport has created the “Above and Beyond Programme”, a real-time recognition for all stakeholders. At the Lynden Pindling International Airport in the Bahamas, they have launched a “sense of place”, while the Orlando International Airport is emulating The Walt Disney Co’s characteristics and features.

Things are also changing at our airports. MAHB started from the Department of Civil Aviation, a government and service-oriented entity. Today, the whole of the airport community must be in sync to provide the best experience to its guests.

In June 2017, MAHB formed the Customer Advocacy Division, which reports to the group CEO. It is responsible to provide strategic direction and drive guest improvement initiatives at MAHB airports. The division also set up a governance structure which systematically addresses GX.

Moving forward, one important area for us will be the Airport QoS scheme introduced by the Malaysian Aviation Commission. All in, it has 28 service elements that are being introduced in stages, commencing September 2018.

What Impacts Passenger Experience?

Back to the guests. Each passenger values different elements throughout their airport experience. In one study, we have identified the elements that are important to our guests and have grouped them based on their hierarchy of needs.

At the bottom layer, deemed “Essential”, are immigration check, cleanliness and washroom-related elements. The middle layer is “Ease of Journey” which comprises baggage delivery, security and customs, ease of navigation, staff friendliness, WiFi and check-in services. The top layer, marked as “Enjoyment”, includes premium lounges and departure gates.

Following this, we conducted an ethnographic diagnosis and identified six distinct guest personas, which represent common preferences and characteristics of our airport guests. With these identified personas, we are able to design holistic solutions that will satisfy latent and unmet needs of our guests, and to drive strategic values for the organisation.

On its part, ACI has identified four items which drive passenger satisfaction at airports worldwide. They are human factor (18%); service environment and ambience (42.5%); retail, and food and beverage (20%); and accessibility and security process (9.5%).

What’s Next?

At MAHB, we have a three-year roadmap to attain world-class airport standing. The roadmap has three key elements: Infrastructure, process and people. These elements are embodied in our strategies via two tracks: Service Operational Excellence and Customer Centricity Culture (CCC).

For the former, we plan to achieve, among others, the incremental improvement of the GX Index measurement year by year and full compliance of the QoS scheme.

In the third quarter of 2018 (3Q18), we have commenced enhancements of our basic infrastructure based on our quick-win initiatives, passenger flow by enhancing and installing new directional signages, and our airport mobile application.

By end-2019, we aim to improve further the quality of our facilities by refurbishing infrastructures and developing a single-stop call centre to manage complaints, and to enhance the airport ambience with airport beautification projects.

Then, by the end of 2020, we will be delivering wonders and delights to all our airport guests by introducing new infrastructures and coming out with predictive analytics to reduce customer complaints.

For the CCC, we will focus on changing our organisational culture from being operations-centric to customer-centric. Customer centricity is an approach of doing business that focuses on providing a positive customer experience, both at the point of sale and after-sale, in order to drive aero and non-aero revenues, as well as gain competitive advantages.

We have diagnosed our organisational culture to ensure the organisation is aligned with what needs to be changed. The CCC adoption shall be holistically embedded in the airport community that includes the airlines, government agencies, retailers and business partners.

  • Suradini Abdul Ghani is the head of customer advocacy at MAHB. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and its editorial board.