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Why customer feedback matters for an airport. The case study of Cochin International Airport. August 16, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Aviation, India, Marketing, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

Image credit: Shahin O.

One of the reasons I like Cochin International Airport (COK) is because of its large spaces. A lot of airports I have been to in India or in the Arabian Gulf region are bursting at the seams or are under a constant state of development.

Opened in 1999, Cochin International Airport has all the whistles and bells of a modern airport. Larger spaces. Faster check-in. A great view of the tarmac from the gates. A reasonable duty-free selection. And the airbridges, which means no bumpy rides in the bus to the plane or no getting wet in the rains. And yes, a bookshop will be open soon. I’m told that the newly opened international terminal at Trivandrum (TRV) is catching up with Cochin and I can’t wait to check it out soon.

I was recently traveling through Cochin and with a couple of hours to kill for my flight to Muscat, I chanced upon a register placed in a corner of the Departure Terminal under a board that said ‘Feedback on Airport Security’. I couldn’t help but glance through the feedback book and what I read is going to be the crux of this post.

1.    Airport security needs be more friendly.
Majority of the people complained about the cold, indifferent attitude of the airport security staff. Someone wrote: “The airport security should learn to speak proper English; English being the ‘national language’ of India.” I don’t know if the airport authorities can influence behavioral changes among the security staff. I think airport security is managed and run by CRPF, a central government agency whose functioning is outside the purview of the airport management’s control. But yes, there was almost universal criticism of their ‘customer service’ skills and their general approach to dealing with travellers. Now some of you may ask, shouldn’t their focus be on airport security than being nice to people in an age of heightened terror and security risks, but isn’t it better to have pleasant people skills no matter what your job.

2.    Please smile, Mr. Immigration Officer.
The immigration officials at the airport came under fire too. Someone had written – Can someone teach these people to smile? Or getting them to smile is like asking for the moon… something in that lines. Frequently traveling through airports in India, I know this is true. It doesn’t matter that the immigration official is probably one of the first people you come across in a new country, especially if you are a tourist. I have given up on all etiquette and polite manners when I submit my passport at Indian immigration. I give a cold stare and get a colder one back along with the stamped passport. On good days, I get the passport and boarding card flung at me. Oh why not, I’m being done a huge favor after all by this official who had to forgo his siesta at 6 in the morning to see the back of planeloads of travelers bound to the Arabian sands. This is where I admire the immigration officers at Muscat International Airport. They never forget to wish you, enquire your well-being and heartily welcome you to their country before stamping your passport.

3.    “Can Cochin Airport have a dedicated smoker’s lounge?” What really impressed me about this request was not the request itself, but the sincerity and manner in which it was expressed.
“More than 60% of travellers and tourists around the world are smokers and hence this airport should make convenient arrangements for smokers to light up in peace without going out of their minds and troubling fellow passengers.” A feedback suggestion that is always substantiated with a fact has a better chance of going through. (In this case, the ‘60%’ fact).

4.    A gentleman requested for a separate prayer room for gents as well as ladies… fair enough.

5.    A traveler to Houston made the brilliant observation regarding the absence of a single clock in the entire boarding gate area. True, there are giant screens showing flight schedules, but it would be wise to have the local time on them as well.

6.    A tech-savvy traveler requested the airport authorities to provide passengers with Worldspace Radio… a couple of them demanded a better selection of TV channels on the airport TV. I guess Asianet or Surya is not everyone’s cup of tea.

7.    One of the ultimate requests was by a couple of travellers who requested a bar in the terminal; nothing like a neat Scotch on the rocks before departure. Full marks to that. And no points for guessing that they were Malayalees.

8.    Almost everyone complained about the lack of decent dining facilities in the departure terminal and the exorbitant price of tea & coffee. A cup of coffee costs 50 rupees. (A passenger wrote that the price of coffee was more scalding than the coffee itself). And COK Airport Coffee takes the crown as one of the ultimate listless coffees I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

9.    A passenger wrote about the how the drive-in entrance at the departures & arrival terminal wasn’t covered leading to travelers and their luggage getting drenched in the rains as they entered the terminal building. A very valid point; I came under the showers too as I was leaving COK that morning. Not a good experience to take off wet.

10.    Hidesign has a swanky outlet at the airport. I hope they are making money.

11.    Thought to end the post: I find liquor at Cochin Duty Free cheaper than Muscat Duty Free. And the last time I checked, they were giving a bottle free with every 2 bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

A couple of thoughts on Feedback:

1.    Feedback is vital.
For individuals, brands and organizations, feedback tells you what’s working right and what isn’t. Feedback is critical to customer service, product improvement, cost savings, productivity and work efficiency.

2.    Feedback matters only when it is from the right person.
So I worked on this snazzy looking marketing campaign. Getting suggestions on its look and feel from my peers isn’t as good a feedback from the customers of that product or service.

3.    Use the right tools to collect Feedback.
A complaint book at Cochin International Airport seems to a simple and old-fashioned method to collect feedback. But it is any day, a more effective and practical tool than a website form. The customer should find it convenient to share feedback and feedback collection should ideally happen at touch points where customers interact most with you.

4.    Feedback should lead to action.
Feedback is of no good if you don’t act upon it. Also, it helps to acknowledge that have you received feedback.

To conclude, do enjoy this video of an Emirates B777 landing at Cochin.


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What can Steven Slater learn from a pillow fight onboard Lufthansa August 14, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Airlines, Aviation, Conversations, Marketing, Travel.
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3 comments

Flight attendants are very much in the news these days.

This year belongs to Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who after an altercation with a passenger on an aircraft that had just landed at New York’s JFK International Airport, announced via the in-flight intercom that he was quitting his job and hurled profanities at the passenger who provoked him. He then grabbed a beer, activated the aircraft’s emergency chute and bolted off the plane.

While many are hailing Mr. Slater as a ‘working-class hero’ for standing up against an unruly customer & walking away from an ‘unpleasant’ situation, his otherwise social media-open and transparent former employer is forced to remain silent as this matter is under investigation. Mr. Slater looks certain to benefit from his newfound fame as an ‘air rager’ and there are calls for JetBlue to take him back to the skies. Personally, I believe he shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

Being a flight attendant is a tough and demanding job that requires immaculate stress management and people handling skills beyond the veneer of a smiling and glamorous exterior. Needless to say, cabin crew are the human face of the airline to the flying public. How they conduct themselves plus how they treat passengers in the skies and on the ground reflects the general service attitude of the airline to the world. 20 odd years into the job, it doesn’t bode well for me to have Mr. Slater on my flight losing his top and bolting off the aircraft like a renegade general.

Cut to the story of this inspiring Lufthansa flight attendant who is now the star of an emerging YouTube viral video titled ‘LH 687 – The endless dispute between the French and the Germans’.

A hilarious pillow flight broke out recently on a Lufthansa flight bound to Frankfurt from Tel Aviv. A German cabin crew was handing out complimentary pillows to Economy Class passengers when pillows were thrown back at her. Not one to be cowed down, she joined in the fun and threw back pillows at the passengers (a group of French tourists). In the 42-second clip, the stewardess can be seen dashing for the safety of her curtain as the hail of pillows intensifies. A passenger recorded a video of this funny pillow fight that ended with rounds of applause for the flight attendant for being a sport. The video is becoming a hit and there is overall appreciation for the flight attendant and the fliers for bringing some light-heartedness into flying.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman later said that the airline is laughing along with everyone else. “It’s an example of passengers enjoying themselves in economy class. And it shows we still offer pillows to our passengers in economy class,” she said.

The lesson to be learnt from this experience is simple. Mass brands such as airlines that come in close contact with human situations that are odd, impromptu, unpredictable or challenging need to be spontaneous, creative, positive, calm and responsive in a professional manner, on the go.

In today’s age of social media, judgments and opinions are formed and shared before corporations or brands can react. Hence, forget about controlling the message. Note the positive spin Lufthansa is giving to the whole incident. Kudos to them for this smart marketing plug in and not going for the staid and natural corporate measure of punishing the flight attendant. Today’s ‘age of social’ demands that we remain constantly on our guard displaying our best social behavior, no matter what the situation. Mr. Steven Slater and his kind can certainly learn a lot from this pillow fight onboard Lufthansa 687.