Melbourne, like most major cities, spends a fortune trying to attract international visitors to its myriad attractions. Disappointing then, to experience the inadequate and dehumanising process of arrival through the International terminal of Melbourne Airport. Yes, I am recently returned from a wonderful jaunt to New Zealand and feel that my airport experience can serve as a salient tale for marketers - it's no good getting people to your door if the customer experience is rotten. Sound familiar? Marketing dollars spent to get your audience to take action but the product/customer service/website... let's them and you down.
So where did Melbourne go wrong? Certainly the building is long overdue for a refurb, but more importantly the absence of helpful, multi-sensory cues turned what should have been a straight-forward exercise (leaving plane, forming queue, screen passport, collect bag, screen declaration) into a navigational nightmare. So here are some thoughts about how Melbourne Airport could get a flying start on creating a wonderful tourist experience.
1. Treat passengers as customers, not problems
Every effort in the Customs and Immigration process seems to be around obscuring which city you are in and how long it is taking. This not only points to an implicit acknowledgment that the process is undermining the city's marketing effort (ie we are not proud of our Airport process and don't want to remind people they are in Melbourne as they are enduring the exercise) but signals a clear disrespect for these paying customers. Your time isn't as important as our systems. How about a "time taken" clock so that I can make a choice about spending more time in Duty Free whilst the queue frees up? Why not have entertainers or tourist info officers parading the queues to keep people pleasantly distracted? Disneyland, the mecca of queues (with the added challenge of small children), uses this time to delight their customers, keeping them happy and ensuring the whole experience is magical. If Melbourne is serious about being a tourist destination, surely this is a big opportunity to exceed expectations?
In your business, do you appreciate the effort that it has taken your customer to get to you, and made every part of the exercise a positive? And if you are not proud to present your Brand at every step it's a clear sign that your customer experience is not up to scratch.
2. Manipulate the mood
It beggars belief that the Customs process seems to want to put people in a defensive and bad mood. Surely relaxing people will mean they are more open to scrutiny and willing to tow the line? Just because Customs is a serious thing doesn't mean it should be a bleak experience. Air NZ and Virgin have proven this with their in-flight safety briefings that convey serious material in an engaging, positive and memorable way.
When your customers call you, walk in your door, are visiting your website, what's their mood likely to be and how can you ensure you are doing all you can to make their mood a positive one? If they are tired, how can you alleviate decisions or the need to concentrate? If they are panicked, how can you calm and assure them? If they are angry, how can you pacify and move them to resolution?
3. Appeal to as many senses as possible
There is no universal language - but we all possess a range of senses that Airports and businesses like yours can play to.
Sound - power of music is well known. Why not pipe calming music through the Airport building, changing the type and tone of the music as passengers pass through different stages? Build the excitement as people exit the formal areas and move towards their "release" to the great city and great experiences they are hoping to have. Evoke an essence of the city so they find themselves humming a happy tune as they jump in their taxi, meet their loved ones, hop the bus.
Smell - mine was just about the shortest international trip we Aussies can take, but many who are visiting have travelled 8, 10, 14, 22 hours just to be here. Do they smell and feel scungy? You betcha. How about some pleasant smells wafting through the building, calming the mind and helping people feel energised and humanised?
Sight - scary signs are the preserve of Customs authorities. But why not some positive language and imagery rather than the terrifying? For example, tell me about what success the screening process has had in preventing drug importation so that I can feel better about participating. "Through drug screening last year we saved 189,000 lives, so we need your help..." would be pretty powerful.
Touch - people who are travelling are usually laden with bags and clothing, but have to complete paperwork, pull out important documents, store them, pull them out again. How about supplying passengers with a disposable neck pouch into which they can carry their passport and paperwork as they travel through the processing sections?
For your business, try experiencing your customer process without the usual emphasis on language. How about getting someone from overseas to try using your website? If they can intuit their way around, you're probably on a good thing.
I would love to hear from people's experiences of other International Airports - who is getting it right and who can do better - so please drop a comment.