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Barbara Yamamoto, chief experience officer at LAX, discusses the deployment of a US$3m airport-wide training program in partnership with customer experience specialists CSE

What will the program entail?

The program that we are developing with our partners Customer Service Experts (CSE) provides a holistic approach to employee engagement. It is not just training in isolation. Training is supported by mystery shopping to ensure that what’s learned in training is applied on the job. Coaching and consultations support mystery shops to help teams improve their scores. This is then supported by a rewards piece to reinforce what’s learned and identify those employees who produce exceptional levels of service. This holistic approach helps ensure that we have a real impact resulting in employees that share a common guest-centric vision.

The training is envisioned to include one-hour classroom training in addition to 30-minute “quick trains” that will be delivered on-site as we recognize that pulling airport employees away from their work locations is challenging. In addition, a video component will be folded into the required badging process to enable us to reach out to the 53,000 employees airport-wide.

The approach is blended learning to help ensure that classroom training is applied to real-life situations. It will also include active participation featuring simulations, gaming, case studies and role-plays. The idea is to provide a learning environment, in which employees feel safe, supported, empowered and actually have fun learning.

As for performance management, there will be a variety of mystery shops including quick-targeted interactions for selected groups along segments of the journeys, and more robust evaluations with more meaningful interactions for longer periods of time. Lastly there will be an evaluation of the full airport journey for arrivals and departures.

Based on mystery shopping results, coaching and consultation sessions will be held to reinforce standards and priorities throughout the airport community. This is also an opportunity to share best practices and ideas to improve service and focus on employee development.

For the employee appreciation program, CSE has partnered with O C Tanner, a global rewards and recognition pioneer. Recognition will occur when employees complete the training, when there are improvements in mystery shop scores, and when employees are “caught” doing something exceptional. A communications campaign will reinforce positive behaviors and ensure program adoption and sustainability.

Right: Members of the Guest Experience team at LAX

How does it differ to the training that’s already in place?

This program is unique in that it will be the first time that guest experience training has been provided airport-wide. Many of the companies and organizations at LAX have their own customized training for those on their respective payrolls, but we do not have an airport-wide training program that provides the foundation to underlie and support that training. This training will provide the standards and expectations for all airport employees so that together, we all create exceptional experiences on a consistent basis to make our guest visits efficient, hospitable and memorable.

The training and performance management programs are just two components of a multi-pronged approach to improve the LAX guest experience. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is transforming the end-to-end journey at LAX with a major culture change that fosters an exceptional guest experience ethic among all who work and do business at the airport. The intent is for everyone in the entire airport community to share in a common vision that is customer-centric, including everything from processes and procedures to terminal design and communications.

The goal is to increase guest satisfaction and optimize the LAX experience with exceptional people, services, innovation/technology, facilities and improved efficiencies through increased throughput, decreased wait times and streamlined processes. Through airport-wide collaboration, the LAX Guest Experience Initiative will align all who deliver services to LAX passengers and meeters/greeters and will enhance the airport’s collective ability to deliver an excellent guest experience across the continuum of services provided to LAX’s customers, each and every time, regardless of who is responsible for delivering specific services.

How long will the courses run for?

The contracts that were approved are for one year with two, one-year renewal options (for a total of three years).

How will they benefit airport employees?

Airport employees will feel more engaged, informed and empowered to enhance the LAX guest experience. It will also unite airport employees in knowing that we are all on the same page and working to provide exceptional experiences together. We are only as strong as our weakest link, so strengthening all of our partners in the service delivery chain is a benefit to all of us. The service that one partner provides is a reflection on the entire LAX experience.

How will they benefit passengers?

Our guests (which includes passengers, meeters/greeters and well-wishers) will begin to feel a difference in how they are treated and how they feel when they experience LAX. The “LAXceptional Xperience” is a culture change – a fundamental shift in the way we view and treat people. We are shifting to a hospitality mindset where our passengers are not only customers (which is more of a business transaction), but are guests in our home where they are valued and appreciated.

As part of this shift, we are trying to align the entire airport community who make up the LAX service delivery chain so that we all consistently provide exceptional experiences as if we all worked for one company or agency.

To do this, we have designed this brand statement as an overarching guide to give all who work at LAX something to aim for, so that together, our facilities, processes, services, amenities, and people, all add up to an exceptional experience for our guests, each time and every time:

“At LAX, we strive to make our guest visits efficient, hospitable and memorable by providing modern, world-class facilities, services and innovation that showcase the ambiance and excitement of Los Angeles and the lifestyle and warmth of sunny Southern California. It’s all about an LAXceptional Xperience!”

Have the courses been used in an airport environment previously?

CSE has used a similar approach in other airports with great success. In 2014, CSE was contracted at Denver International Airport (DIA) to develop and deliver monthly customer service training. Both manager and frontline sessions were offered each month and topics included “Positive Attitudes Rock” and “Are you a Leader or a Manager?” All concessionaires involved in the program benefited from the training by the increased consistency with which service was delivered at the airport. In addition to internal measurement at DIA, CSE also conducted external measurement every 18 months at five peer US airports. DIA uses this information as a benchmark to determine the success of its program.

In 2015, more than 2,272 employees were trained at DIA. The average mystery shop score for the program in its first year was 92.82% and scores have remained consistently in the low nineties throughout the course of the program. DIA’s scores are also consistently higher than their peer US airport locations.

Miami International Airport (MIA)

Launched in 2012, CSE designed and implemented an airport-wide customer service development program branded “100% Pure Miami Service”. The program has become part of the airport’s culture for customer service development for 218 concessions locations. Since the program kick-off, branded management and frontline training was designed to further support the customer service effort and foster ongoing learning and application of the “100% Pure Miami Service” standards. Ongoing customer service measurement has been conducted on a monthly basis, resulting in a rewards and recognition component based on positive performance.

In addition, manager consultations take place on a regular basis with concessions management teams on measurement results to help concessionaires coach employees and support the program goals. MIA executed 195 training sessions with attendance exceeding 3,979 employees. Mystery shop scores (measures service levels) improved by 1.74% from 86.93% in 2014 to 88.67% in 2015. The 2012 baseline was 79.88% which is an 8.79% overall increase.

Left: LAX staff handed out red, white and blue carnations for the Fourth of July holidays

How will these courses and training programs be developed in future?

Collaboration with our employees and our airport partners is key and their input in designing and developing these programs is critically important. To this end, we have created two forums for discussion both internally and externally.

The Guest Experience Partners Council is made up of high-level leadership of our key stakeholders airport-wide. We launched this group on October 4, 2016, and we were extremely pleased to see important segments of the airport service delivery chain at the table specifically to discuss the guest experience. Key leaders include representatives from TSA, CBP, representatives from a number of airlines and airline organizations such as Airline Airport Affairs Committee, representatives from all concessionaires, as well as our ground transportation providers.

The Guest Experience LAWA Council is an internal group made up of key LAWA employees who play a major role in affecting change and improving the guest experience. They represent our LAWA divisions and ensure that we are aligned internally in support of LAXceptional Xperiences.

The airport culture change that LAWA is spearheading and championing is a journey. It won’t happen overnight, but we are already seeing that we are definitely moving in the right direction. We are working hard to support our brand and commitment to make our guest visits efficient, hospitable and memorable. Together with our unprecedented capital plan bolstered by our guest experience initiative – including these contracts – we are well on our way to a reimagined LAX.

To read more about the training program in the January 2017 issue of Passenger Terminal World magazine, click here.

December 8, 2016

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About Author


Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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