I don’t fly often, and when I do, it seems like I’m more horrified each time. Airports are interesting little ecosystems where the rules of the outside world don’t necessarily apply. Where else would you:
Pay fifteen dollars for a hamburger?
Queue up as soon as possible to get into another area where you’ll have to wait, rendering all that time spent in the queue irrelevant?
Go out of your way to avoid any sort of human interaction?
(I do the last one regularly, but that’s not important now)
Yet for all of the flaws of the airport, they make excellent testing grounds for human behavior. Take, for example, the introduction of restroom cleanliness surveys in airports: Happy-or-Not produces those little kiosks with 3-4 faces ranging from smiley to angry.
First of all, if the restroom weren’t clean, why would I touch this thing, dissatisfied or not? Participating requires me to overcome the very thought process that would cause me to leave negative feedback in the first place. I don’t even know what they would have to come up with to get me to leave a positive review.
Second of all, what’s happening with this information? I can’t say I’ve noticed any difference between the restrooms that have this feedback system and the ones that do not, although, as I said, I don’t fly a lot.
Lastly, even if you collect the data, so what? Our restrooms aren’t very clean. I could have told you that with a quick stroll through the airport. Dispatch the restroom cleanliness action team. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have one, because you don’t see the restrooms as more than just another sub-set of some KPI on a spreadsheet.
As it turns out, knowing what’s happening isn’t as important as knowing why it’s happening.
So we know that our restroom data is probably shaky at best, because those who are most dissatisfied are probably the least likely to leave any review. We know there’s not much incentive to leave a positive review either. Most likely, the data says the restrooms are “okay” when in reality the restrooms are steaming heaps of garbage.
So what do you do if you’re an airport manager? Don’t use the rating system as your own performance rating system. Use it as a descriptor of what’s actually happening and what you want to aspire to. Instead of making some vague goal like “let’s increase our overall satisfaction rating” (we went from bad to not-as-bad! Whoo!) set a specific goal, like “let’s increase the number of most satisfied ratings”. This gives you incentive to delight your customers. How do we do that with the restrooms? What’s the biggest pain point with airport restrooms? High usage rates and uncertainty upon entering. If there’s no available space for you, you have to figure out what to do. Leave? Stand there awkwardly? Queue up behind someone? In our dream scenario, wouldn’t we know the restroom is full before entering, be redirected to the nearest available restroom (or get some kind of take-a-number thing), and then enter, know exactly where to go, have complete privacy, and then leave, all while everything around you is spic-and-span clean?
This could all be accomplished with technology, and yet no one has taken the lead. Instead, they came up with this:
Recently installed in several airports, and with many more to come, OTG is replacing the traditional sit-down-and-eat restaurant concept with something disturbing: a tablet at every table, which serves not just for ordering, but for checking flights, Twitter, news, and so on. In other words, everything that you could do on your smartphone, just sitting on the table in front of you.
What’s wrong with that?
I guess there’s nothing wrong with it, since most of us are zoned-out on our phones anyway. But the idea that this is an improvement over the old model of restaurant is what bothers me. In the old days, you could sit down at the bar and naturally bump into people, have conversations, and make connections. But the tablet sacrifices this in the name of constant digital engagement and (potentially) revenue.
The good news is that airport restaurants have a huge opportunity to distinguish themselves. In an age where the internet is always at your fingertips and digital interaction is valued as much as in-person interaction, restaurants can capitalize on being the “human-centric” location of choice. One restaurant in Britain has done just that.
All of this, of course, depends on the restaurant creating that ambience to begin with. Whether restaurants or restrooms, the entire product has to be designed to fit with your vision. Taking electronics away from a mediocre restaurant isn’t going to cut it, just as adding a kiosk to a dirty restroom isn’t going to make your restroom cleaner. But proper design can make all of these elements work in tandem to create an exceptional, unique customer experience.
Which leads me to my final point: focus on the customer experience, not customer service.
Customer service is what you do when you screw up.
Customer experience is what you do before the customer even knows you exist.
Customer experience will reduce the amount of time you have to spend on customer service, and any good design for customer experience will include exceptional customer service.
Call it customer delight. Call it unique selling proposition. Call it whatever you want. Even doing slightly more (or, in the case of tablet-dining and soup-nazis, less) than what’s expected of you will show your customers that you really care about your vision.
Because you aren’t selling a product or a service. You’re selling a vision, and your customers are those who support you in that, regardless of the path you take to get there.