Travellers' feedback keeps Changi Airport soaring

A cellphone charging station at Changi Airport Terminal 2 departure hall. The airport has installed 880 mobile phone charging stations, 23 hot water dispensers and water coolers in its gate hold rooms at the request of travellers.
A cellphone charging station at Changi Airport Terminal 2 departure hall. The airport has installed 880 mobile phone charging stations, 23 hot water dispensers and water coolers in its gate hold rooms at the request of travellers.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG
Mr Tan Lye Teck.
Mr Tan Lye Teck.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Airport sifts through 1.8m comments a month, visits rivals to stay ahead of game

How does one of the most decorated airports listen to the people who pass through it?

Changi Airport has 880 mobile phone charging stations, 23 hot water dispensers and water coolers in its gate hold rooms.

The amenities are there because travellers asked for them, said Changi Airport Group's executive vice-president of airport management, Mr Tan Lye Teck.

Meeting demands as passenger numbers rise is a challenge, with more than 60,000 pieces of feedback received daily - 1.8 million a month - but the airport tries hard.

KNOWING THE MARKET

To maintain status quo  is to slip. So yes, we regularly visit other airports to see what  they are doing and  what they are offering.  We also look at our  target market to study consumer preferences.

MR TAN LYE TECK, Changi Airport Group's executive vice-president of airport management

"We must be doing something right," said Mr Tan.

Last month, Changi received its 500th best airport award, from Business Traveller (China).

Airports are ranked regularly by research houses and industry publications that survey travellers on their check-in, immigration and duty-free shopping experience.

Mr Tan said: "It's not the trophies but the feedback from customers and users that matters and spurs the entire airport community to work even harder."

It it tough to stay on top, with other airports stepping up their game.

Mr Tan said: "To maintain status quo is to slip. So yes, we regularly visit other airports to see what they are doing and what they are offering.

"We also look at our target market to study consumer preferences... The competition has become more intense in the last 10 to 15 years, so we have to push extra hard."

It is critical for the entire team - airport staff, airlines, ground handlers, immigration, Customs and security staff - to work as one. "With 20,000 to 30,000 working at the airport on any given day, this is the nub of the challenge," added Mr Tan.

Training is critical and regular seminars and workshops are conducted. Staff are also rewarded and recognised when they do well.

On the flipside, penalties are imposed when airlines, for example, fail to ensure that check-in waiting times do not exceed stipulated standards, or ground handlers are not able to get bags from arriving aircraft out on time.

Mr Tan declined to give details but said: "We don't do this to get at people. At the end of the day, we're all in it together with a common purpose... But we also need a system of targets and penalties that serves to provide a bit more structure and clarity in terms of expectations.

"We do this because customers expect the highest standards.

"We are, at the core, a service company and we take feedback very seriously. We have data-mining tools that allow us to analyse trends from week to week and month to month, to study the difference between a Saturday morning and a Friday afternoon, to see which contractors are better, which check-in row is more efficient and the list goes on."

When a negative comment comes in "and it is true that we have not kept up, then we will fix it", he said.

The next big challenge for Changi Airport is automation, as a manpower shortage drives the need for self-service kiosks for check-in, baggage tagging and aircraft boarding, he added.

Travellers like businessman P.N. Ramasamy, 60, gave Changi the thumbs up for being clean and efficient, with good shopping and dining offerings, as well as facilities such as foot massage stations and a movie theatre. He said: "If you have a few hours to kill, Changi is the best airport to be in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Travellers' feedback keeps Changi soaring'. Print Edition | Subscribe