Q&A With Declan Collier, CEO, London City Airport

I have to admit that I’m a little intimidated at the thought of sharing a stage with Declan Collier, the CEO of London City Airport, at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA on November 19th and 20th in London

For one thing, if you’ve ever been to London City Airport, it’s an experience that’s far superior to what you’ll get at bigger and better-known airports that I won’t name.* So even though I like to think that I know a bit about customer experience, Declan clearly has something special going on.

For another thing, Declan is charming. Taken together, that combination of content and presentation is, well, intimidating for your humble forum host.

In the run-up to the event, Declan took the time to write some great detailed answers to our questions about what he’s been doing, how his efforts have evolved, and what advice he’d give to others on the journey to customer experience maturity.

I hope you enjoy his answers, and I look forward to seeing many of you in London on November 19th and 20th!


 

Q. When did London City Airport first begin focusing on customer experience? Why? 

A. London City Airport (LCY) has been focused on customer experience since its doors opened in 1987 — it’s a niche player, serving the travel needs of the business communities of Canary Wharf and the City and the political establishment of Westminster, and our passengers expect a consistent, best-in-class experience.

LCY has three brand propositions — location, convenience, and speed of transit — which ensure we’re airport of choice for our target audiences. Being just over 10 minutes away from Canary Wharf and around 20 minutes from the City, our location and ease of access save valuable travel time, while a 20-minute check-in, door to gate, and a 15-minute arrival, tarmac to train, guarantee fast passage through the airport.

Our work goes into guaranteeing the customer experience through the airport — minimizing queues and delays, ensuring timely aircraft turnaround and on-time departures, and providing the quality of facility and amenity that the typical LCY passenger expects — and always looking to improve and provide more.

Q. What if anything is different about what you're doing now to improve customer experience versus what you did when you were starting out?

A. In the 26 years the airport has been operational, there have been enormous changes  —  both in the type and volume of business that we do and in the way that the world as a whole does business. In 1987, LCY had two destinations and served 15,000 passengers  —  in 2013, we fly to 48 destinations, work with 11 airlines, handle 75,000 flight movements, and welcome around 3.5 million passengers.

Regular passengers look upon us as their personal airport — our challenge is to maintain and enhance the personal, bespoke experience as we grow into the next decade and beyond and become airport of choice for increasing numbers of people.

The continuing emergence of new technologies is having a dramatic impact on how we deliver that bespoke customer experience. We know our audience — over 60% of our passengers are travelling on business — and we were one of the first airports to offer free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal so those passengers can work while they’re in transit.

Currently we’re working on a groundbreaking project called "The Smart Airport Experience," which will allow us, through the use of innovative monitoring technology, to assess the passenger journey through LCY in real time, anticipating potential delay or bottleneck and dealing with passenger issues before they arise.

The project will also deliver a new and unique method of passenger communication — both guiding the passenger through the airport with just-in-time information as well as providing up-to-the-minute details of retail and catering amenity. The Smart Airport Experience is unique and, we believe, will underpin the way our industry approaches customer experience into the future.

Q. What advice would you give to a company trying to plan its own path to CX maturity?

A. Anticipate and innovate. Understand the needs of your customers, then imagine what they will be in five, 10, and 20 years’ time. Embrace new technology and investigate how it might be leveraged to the benefit of your business.

At its root, however, customer experience is nothing without delivery, and in our business, our propositions stand or fall on the ability of our people to deliver them. LCY invests heavily in training and is constantly looking at new ways of doing things — working smarter, not harder — to assist the team in doing their jobs and ensuring that they understand why it’s important and the impact that each individual has on the proposition as a whole.

Finally, remember that it’s a journey, not a destination. Customers’ needs constantly evolve, and the customer experience you provide must evolve more rapidly. Standing still is not an option, and every organization needs dedicated resource and investment to ensure it doesn’t.

 

*But if I were to name a few of my least favorite, they’d include LAX in Los Angeles (is it possible to design more nonsensical lines for security?), Heathrow (which lost my luggage not once but twice), and Charles De Gaulle (where it’s virtually impossible to make a connecting flight due to the bizarre nature of the floor plan and absence of comprehensible signage).

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