Company-Wide Commitment Is Needed to Lead Customer Service Innovation

Continuing with our special Customer Service Week series, OmniServ’s Samantha Saunders argues that to lead customer service innovation in an industry, you need commitment across the board.

Leadership: Championing customer service

The air travel industry is all about the customer experience; and I am glad to say that many of its chief players have recognized the importance of customer service by giving senior executives responsibility for it.

But it’s not enough to appoint someone, give them a title which includes ‘customer experience’, ‘customer journey’, or just ‘customer’ and expect that to magically solve any customer experience problems a company may have.

What customer experience cries out for is a kind of leadership that comes from building a corporate culture in which everyone embraces and endorses the concept, rather than feeling like it’s a forced corporate ‘policy’.

Driving enhancements in customer experience forward should be ‘owned’ by everyone in a company, not just one individual or even one department.
Leadership should send a clear message to all employees that the company as a whole is focused on customer experience as a mission, not just as a ‘nice to have’.

Delivering exceptional customer experiences should be core to what we do in the airline industry too. That’s certainly true at OmniServ. Many of the varied services we deliver for airports and airlines are directly customer-facing, while others take place behind the scenes but can have a profound impact on the customer experience.

While our team members are encouraged to offer assistance to anyone they see may need it in the airport space, we also have a particular focus on delivering enhanced customer experience for disabled passengers – what the regulators and the airline industry refer to as People with Reduced Mobility, or PRM, passengers.

The term also encompasses those with developmental disorders, cognitive, visual or hearing conditions, and chronic or life-threatening medical conditions.
We assist around 1.8 million PRM passengers a year; 1.2 million at Heathrow alone and the rest at Liverpool, Edinburgh, Stansted and Manchester airports.

Brought in to be the voice for these passengers within OmniServ, I am responsible for ensuring our team members live our mission to ‘make a difference, every person, every day’ – whether someone is able-bodied or not.
I have the good fortune to work with team members from all levels of seniority who have enthusiastically embraced the idea of delivering an excellent customer experience, which we are achieving through training, technology and also recruitment.

We are constantly looking to adapt and trial new enabling technology that will empower our PRM passengers and improve their travelling experience. We are currently working with SignCode, an innovative online provider of video translation services for the D/deaf community (Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing). This collaboration will improve their airport experience by ensuring they are able to access information that hearing people take for granted, such as retail opportunities, and information on how to prepare for the security processes.

For D/deaf passengers, it will reduce frustration and help them get around airports more easily. At Stansted we have been trialing a new mobility solution, the Wheellator, which combines the benefits of a wheeled walking frame and a light-weight wheelchair, which provides passengers with mobility issues the option to define and adapt the support they need, allowing them to maintain their independence.

In recruitment terms, I’m not just talking about recruiting people who we think have the right skills and empathy to work with PRM passengers. We have committed to becoming a ‘Disability Confident’ employer, under a UK Government scheme which encourages employers to hire and retain disabled people or those with long-term health issues as members of their workforce.

The Government provides help with what different people will need in terms of adaptations in the workplace and a forum to exchange best practice.
For us, there is huge value to be got from this scheme, because disabled employees are going to have a lived understanding of what it’s like to be disabled, and will be able to help us advise on and even implement business practices which will drive enhanced customer experience for PRM passengers.

I know that if we get this right, it will improve the customer experience for all passengers.

I also have the assistance of organisations who support disabled people and their families, who work with us and with the airports we deliver PRM services for to share their own experiences and their own solutions. So we work closely with a range of disability charities and membership groups – in fact, we were announced as a Strategic Partner with the #PurpleLightUp Movement which we are so excited to be part of.

Our organization has already invested significantly in new equipment and training, so we can be constantly improving our service delivery for PRM passengers. That investment will have a knock-on effect. If we improve service levels for people who need our assistance the most, then we will also be creating a culture of improved service and customer experience across the board.

This isn’t a binary thing; it’s a journey of continual improvement we have started on and, I believe, we will always be on.

And while we need leaders and leadership, that doesn’t have to mean that leadership is always going to be top down. Sometimes, it will be bottom up; at other times, ideas will come from the outside.

What matters more than where the idea comes from is how open we are to hearing it, how we are structured to support it, and how well it works in delivering better customer service.

Other articles in this series:

About OmniServ

OmniServ Limited is the International Division of ABM Aviation, the aviation division of ABM Industries. ABM Aviation provides a comprehensive range of innovative and dependable solutions, including Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) Operations, to more than 100 airports globally. This includes the top 30 airports within the USA and 15 airports within the UK. Established in 2004, OmniServ employs over 5000 staff delivering ‘Legendary Service’ across a wide portfolio of aviation services.

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