04 Jan How DFW Airport won the top passenger experience in North America title
At DFW International Airport, taking care of the 180,000 or so passengers who pass through each day starts in a windowless room tucked away in Terminal D.
There, a team of about 12 people tracks the flow of travelers throughout the airport’s five terminals while monitoring social media, email and phone lines to address issues as quickly as they arise.
Just as importantly, the team analyzes a stream of data — from incoming flights and passenger loads to security checkpoint wait times — to anticipate where problems might occur and respond before passengers have a chance to complain.
“Rather than being reactive to everything, we can be proactive. We can work with the [Transportation Security Administration], work with our other vendors and partners so that issues don’t become really big issues,” said the airport’s CEO, Sean Donohue. “That’s starting to really pay dividends to us.”
The approach helped earn DFW Airport recognition as having the best passenger experience of any large airport in North America in 2016, based on passenger surveys conducted by industry group Airports Council International. That put them ahead of peers like Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Denver International Airport.
In 2017, DFW Airport managed to improve on those scores, which are based on passenger surveys covering 34 aspects of the airport experience, from check-in to cleanliness to restaurant and shopping offerings. However, it won’t know how it ranked against its peers until early this year.
A key aspect of DFW’s evolving approach to customer service is the Terminal Services Center in Terminal D.
Over the last 18 months, the operation has grown from one person monitoring six screens of information to a multifaceted team that centralizes functions that had previously been spread across multiple departments.
More than a dozen television-sized screens beam in live footage of the airport terminals, as well as real-time monitoring of security checkpoints and flight activity.
The center, which is staffed around the clock, oversees the deployment of customer experience specialists who are on-the-ground in terminals responding directly to passenger needs. It can also dispatch custodial staffs and communicate maintenance requests as issues are reported by workers or passengers.
Julio Badin, the airport’s senior vice president, said much of the its success has come from focusing on the basics.
“We want the place clean, we want everything working and we want it to be friendly,” said Badin, who joined the airport last year after working as a general manager at Disneyland.
The day-to-day operation is managed using what employees at the Terminal Service Center refer to as the “playlist,” a spreadsheet with tasks scheduled throughout the day — like cleaning a specific bathroom — that can be checked off as they’re completed.
Much of the team’s work is focused on predicting and monitoring passenger flows. This helps identify where congestion could cause long lines, where extra cleaning might be needed or even where airport workers are best stationed to help greet and direct travelers.
The airport has also invested heavily in customer-centric amenities and technology, highlighted by its recently completed multiyear renovations of three terminals at a cost of $2 billion, which redid everything from security checkpoints to gate areas to concession options.
The airport has installed lighting systems in parking garages that guide people to open spaces, launched an on-line parking booking system and is spending more than $1 million to bring thousands more electrical outlets to seating areas.
This fall, the airport worked with the TSA to install four new automated security lanes meant to process passengers faster.
Badin said in the year ahead, the airport will continue focusing on executing on the basics of cleanliness, reliability and good service, while using its growing amount of data to refine staffing and identify areas for improvement.
“How do we make sure the customer experience is the best that it can be with the information that we have?” he said. “I would argue there’s a difference between customer service and experience. Really understanding the customer is what we’re focused on.”