Poor service is not typically something that goes unnoticed, on the contrary, good service hardly ever goes unnoticed as well. Whenever leaving a restaurant, my first instinct is turn to my wife and dissect the finer points of the service we received. However, no service flaw is too small for me to overanalyze either.
This lifelong predisposition of being somewhat of a service-snob played a role in leading me to co-found a software company that makes communication tools for helping high touch service organizations deliver amazing experiences through digital channels. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to serve, and become a student of, some of the most well-known service brands in the world. We work with close to 2000 customers, including the leaders in the hospitality and retail markets, and the purview afforded by this customer base provides our team at Kipsu a unique view into what is it that motivates the leaders to make their experience so incredible.
What We Can Learn About Customer Service From Airports
Last week, I was a speaker at the annual symposium for airport customer service executives, and what I witnessed made me question my basic assumptions behind the motivation that leads to great service experiences.
Conventional thinking would say that the more competitive a market is the more incentive an organization would have to try to differentiate through customer service. However, what I observed during my conversations with the airport executives flies in the face of those grand theories. What I saw proved that many of my own core beliefs needed to be revisited. I came to appreciate that mission can be a powerful motivator that far exceeds the power of competition.
Sense of a Greater Responsibility Motivates Airport Leaders
These airport leaders took tremendous pride in their role of being the first and last thing a visitor experiences when they come visit their community. At the beginning of many of the conference presentations, each executive would stop and give a short pitch on their city and give a personal testament about why it was important that every guest view their visit to their home as a positive experience. A connection to something bigger can be a powerful motivator, beyond the need to just stay ahead in the rat race.
I was amazed at the appreciation by these leaders that people are an essential component of the service recipe. Many airports have large volunteer programs for providing passenger assistance. The Dallas Fort Worth Airport, which has the largest volunteer support team of any airport, has almost 700 in their program. Leaders in guest service view human connection as critical to driving satisfaction and use culture, not control, to establish amazing personal relationships that drive experience.
Great Service Starts at the Top
Managing the guest experience is a C-level function inside many airports. Leaders such as Barbara Yamamoto at the Los Angeles International Airport report directly to the CEOs of their organization. Ever heard of the Chief Experience Officer at J.P Morgan Chase or Walt Disney? You haven’t – because the role, reporting to the CEO, doesn’t exist. Making customer experience a senior executive leadership responsibility means that it gets attention and is woven into the entire operation. The San Francisco Airport, for example, has developed a 246-page guide which it uses to guide employees and vendors that influence the total customer journey. This is particularly impressive when you consider how much of the overall experience the airport doesn’t have direct control over. If an organization is serious about the customer’s experience, they make a job for it and that executive has enough clout to integrate it into the entire organization.
The rest of the service industry can learn a lot from the airports that serve us. Providing extraordinary service is a choice, not something that is only dictated by the market or capitalist tendencies. Taking pride in the experience you are delivering and being committed to raising expectations for what awesome feels like are aspirations for which we can all strive.