Teams in the aviation industry contend with huge spaces, multiple organizations working within the space, and huge amounts of traffic. Airports are some of the busiest facilities in the world, especially in a place like New York City. 

So how can airports make the traveling experience a positive one?

When ongoing construction was causing woes for travelers at LaGuardia airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey created the Service Delivery Unit to take ownership of customer service and the traveling experience. About two years ago, the Service Delivery Unit (or SDU) began using OrangeQC at John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.

We spoke with Kim Payne, the Aviation Department’s Service Delivery Assistant Manager, about how they use OrangeQC, how her unit has improved the entire traveling experience, and why they implemented customer experience (or CX) inspections.Her insights into data-driven customer experience improvements are invaluable!

Why a Service Delivery Unit?

New York’s airports are among the busiest in the world. They’re managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has the huge job of overseeing these major transportation hubs. With all of the jobs being taken on at the airport, the SDU was created to put the customer experience first.

“The Service Delivery Unit is part of a continuum of customer care that implements initiatives and strategies to make the Port Authority a world class operator of world class airports,” Kim told us. “The Unit is responsible for the consistent delivery of world-class customer experiences at all points of the passenger interaction throughout the Port Authority’s airport system.”

When Kim says all points, she means it. Her unit considers the entire experience, thinking about things from a customer’s perspective. That starts before travelers ever leave home, from the time they book their flight and begin researching accessibility, food options, and more.

The unit also thinks about the needs of different travelers. A person traveling with a wheelchair, for instance, will want to know if they can navigate successfully and find the right information ahead of time. A family traveling with young children may be concerned with access to clean bathrooms and buying food for everyone at a reasonable price.

Kim says that with this approach, the team takes ownership of the whole experience, rather than everyone focusing on only one element of the airport, which can create gaps.

For example, the airport has inspectors who audit the pricing from restaurants and vendors. That’s because if someone walks into a store and a candy bar is for sale for $5 when it’s supposed to be $1.50, that’s a bad airport experience, even though the airport itself isn’t directly responsible.

How the SDU uses OrangeQC for CX inspections

“We began using OrangeQC in the Service Delivery Unit about 2 years ago at JFK, LGA and EWR to capture field inspection data at customer-facing touch points, such as restrooms, gate waiting areas and terminal frontages,” says Kim. “We also expanded the use of the system in our shopping and dining areas for general cleanliness and condition data as well as for auditing pricing.”

Frequent customer experience inspections help the team determine what they need to focus on. Then, they’re able to shift staff accordingly to address those problems. (Read more about what customer experience inspections are and how teams use them to improve.)

Customer experience focus

“Customer experience inspections are focused on areas that have the most impact on a customer’s journey as they traverse our airports,” Kim says. 

This means that the team pays special attention to:

  • Overall facility condition
  • Reporting of condition of customer-facing assets (elevators, escalators and moving walkways)
  • Pricing of items in our shopping and dining locations
  • Condition and appearance of our on-airport buses, AirTrain stations, and parking garages
  • Tracking taxi wait times
  • Observations of airport staff behaviors toward customers

However, inspectors aren’t limited to the line items on the checklist. They’re encouraged to put themselves in the mindset of a traveler in order to notice the things that could be improved.

Responding to the inspection data

“OrangeQC’s flexibility allows us to update our inspection checklists as operational needs dictate,” Kim says. The software is also flexible to inspect what travelers notice and care about. 

For Kim’s team, it’s not just about showing up and always inspecting the same thing, but putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.

Of course, it’s not enough to just collect the data. The SDU continues to track issues and trends even as they make changes in staffing and strategy to fix the solutions. For instance, if travelers are often getting lost or confused at a certain point in their journey, the unit might send staff to the area to direct them to the right spot, as well as increasing signage in the area.

“OrangeQC allows the staff to centrally house inspection data that is used to identify trends and track identified deficiencies through resolution,” Kim says. “We also use the communication capabilities—emails and photos—as well as the system’s ability to create and track tickets, to ensure that identified deficiencies are addressed and resolved.”

How inspection technology helps prepare for industry inspections

Because OrangeQC is flexible, the SDU team is able to quickly pivot and use it to inspect for other considerations, too. 

This came up when the team found out that one of their airports was on Skytrax’s list of airports to investigate. Skytrax—an airline review service—dispatches investigators to airports to inspect for quality and safety. (Read more about Skytrax here.)

“When we found out that one of our airports was on Skytrax’ list of airports to investigate, we immediately dispatched a team of customer experience specialists to our major airports to ensure the airports’ terminals were compliant with all COVID-19 regulations as outlined by the elements the Skytrax investigators were going to review,” Kim says. 

They were able to set up inspection checklists for each airport and start inspections within two weeks. Staff were able to make initial assessments of each terminal’s readiness for the Skytrax inspections, as well as track improvements. This meant they were well-prepared when the Skytrax inspector came to review the airport.

World-class experience at world-class airports

With the number of people moving through their airports each day, the Port Authority’s teams have their work cut out for them. But their dedication to delivering a world-class experience helps motivate the day-in and day-out work required to stay on top of issues and continually improve.

Thank you so much to Kim Payne and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for sharing these insights with our readers. Read more about how we help teams in the aviation industry keep up with quality control in a busy environment or check out our OrangeQC aviation playbook.