Kraków Airport: Exceeding expectations
Kraków Airport’s director of aviation and commercial services, Paweł Galiak, tells us more about the gateway’s award winning customer service strategy.
How proud are you of Kraków Airport’s success in ACI’s ASQ programme, and what does it mean for the airport, because success doesn’t happen overnight, does it?
That’s true. We have achieved success thanks to hard work, determination, professionalism and the constant commitment of Kraków Airport’s staff. Each day brings new challenges and we are happy to face them. There are also failures, which are the best lessons to learn from. Thanks to the participation in the ASQ programme, we have a unique opportunity to strive to be the best regional airport in Poland. But the greatest reward is the appreciation of our efforts by our passengers, whose satisfaction is reflected in every award or distinction.
If we start with the basics, what is the airport’s customer philosophy, and it is possible to highlight the main goals you strive to achieve?
A customer service philosophy is the starting point to develop an effective customer service team and to improve the customer experience. Excellent customer service comes from a synergy between the airport’s ability to satisfy its customers’ needs and the customers’ perception that their needs and expectations are well met. And none of it can happen without properly embracing the employee experience.
This is particularly challenging in an airport environment where, although different stakeholders deliver the services, the customer often recognises the airport operator as accountable for the level of service provided airport-wide. A solid philosophy empowers team members and sets a foundation for a proactive customer-first strategy that must be embraced by all entities interacting with passengers at the airport. Having a shared understanding keeps your entire team focused on the same goal. Regardless of who the customer interacts with, they will experience quality service that reflects our company values.
How important is good infrastructure such as new terminals or modernised older facilities to enhancing the airport experience for passengers?
This is critical and we have experienced that in the last decade. The airport can complement a great travel experience by making it easy for customers to make their way through the passenger path. It also provides good opportunities to eat, shop and relax along the way. An airport that elevates the passenger experience while maximising revenue potential can succeed in the long-term. That is why airport infrastructure and the surroundings are important – roads, parking spaces, pavements and transit facilities. They are often the first things that passengers experience and that make a big impact, and a lasting one, on first impressions.
Is embracing digitalisation and new technology playing a key role in your customer service strategy?
Yes, digitalisation and new technology are important in our customer service strategy. We are constantly putting the customer at the centre of our airport’s strategy. Today, customers expect relevant content in relation to what they’re doing anytime, anywhere and in the format and on the device of their choice. It’s their journey that dictates our strategy. And in order to keep up with this new kind of “always-connected” customer, we must embrace technology to deliver an unmatched customer experience.
Are we in danger of forgetting the important role people play in the provision of customer service excellence, and what are you doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen at Kraków Airport?
The human factor is crucial in customer service. For example, you can design an impressive terminal building with great amenities and the best self-service technology on the market, but interaction with staff is often the thing that makes the biggest impression with customers. After all, staff are invariably the ones who help passengers address the various challenges they face while at the airport. So, it’s important to be aware of the role your employees play in defining that impression. Kraków Airport focuses on customer service by employing qualified personnel, training them and improving their competencies and commitment to their daily duties.
How does your customer service philosophy reconcile with LCCs like Ryanair and Wizz Air who generally want the minimum of facilities and services in order to keep their costs down?
In the past, airlines created the idea of a customer experience that is closely tied to the quality of inflight services. In recent years, as the airline industry has become more price competitive and air travel has become more accessible, many airlines have prioritised profit over customer service. The rule is clear – you will pay little, but in return you will receive a minimum service. As a result, airports are not just infrastructure providers today. They have become sophisticated and complex businesses where customer experience becomes one of the most important tools for influencing competitiveness between airports.
Can you give us some examples of customer service excellence that you believe helped Kraków Airport do so well in last year’s ASQ Survey?
There are many examples – good management of the airport with a strategy focused on the customers and their needs. In recent months, in particular, being able to respond quickly and adapt to new challenges has been important. But what makes the customer service experience truly stand out is the human element.
Employees are humans and customers/passengers are humans as well. When they need assistance, they need it from someone who has the ability to understand, help and react in a proper manner. Great service creates value. It is not a change of the working model but a change of the mindset that ultimately benefits us through our service. And that’s what our staff are like. Always ready to help, create something valuable, always smiling and focused on the needs of passengers.
Can you tell us why you consider ACI’s ASQ programme invaluable to Kraków Airport?
Kraków Airport has continuously participated in ACI’s Airport Service Quality programme since 2007. The main benefit the airport gets from ASQ is a clear understanding of our customers’ needs and expectations. Based on our ASQ results we are able to identify which areas of passenger perception are rated lower and how we should prioritise further steps, including infrastructure modernisation, in developing the passenger experience.
It is also a great tool to check and self-assess activities undertaken by the airport in the past (previous quarters, years) and their impact on passenger satisfaction scores. ASQ members also get access to the results of other airports taking part in the programme, hence it also helps to benchmark
our services against different airports and understand market trends in the industry.
What would you say to those airports that are thinking of joining the ASQ programme?
I would say “do it”! The ASQ programme provides comprehensive customer and employee surveys, benchmarking tools, and advisory services to promote airport excellence worldwide. This is a really great way to find out more about your business. From our perspective, we get to understand about passenger expectations in a simple and accessible way, which allows us to manage and deliver the best experience to our clients and strengthen our competitive position.
What do you hope to gain from Kraków hosting this year’s Customer Experience Global Summit?
Kraków Airport operates in an interconnected system with many other institutions and facilities serving tourist traffic in the region. Kraków Airport is not only a direct employer for over 5,000 people, but it also provides indirect employment for over 50,000 people co-operating with the airport.
In 2019, the region of Małopolska was visited by 3.5 million foreign tourists, 1.9 million of which chose to fly by air. Their visits bring tangible benefits for the region’s economy. We hope that all those visiting Kraków for the ACI Customer Experience Global Summit and accompanying international media coverage will contribute to building an even stronger brand of Kraków and Małopolska around the world.
In terms of traffic, where is Kraków in its recovery from the global pandemic and is it possible to predict when passenger numbers could return to 2019 levels?
In the second quarter of 2022, Kraków Airport handled almost 92% of the traffic recorded before the pandemic, so, we are very close to a full recovery. However, we see a lot of uncertainties on the horizon. Our forecast for the year projects that we will handle around 5.4 million passengers in 2022 (65% of 2019 traffic). Having said that, if you take into account the enormous pent up demand for air travel that we are experiencing right now and also the geopolitical tension combined with economic instability, we must envisage all possible scenarios.
Looking to the future, what is the timescale now for the construction of your new runway and new cargo terminal?
Decisions to start new investments at Kraków Airport are always founded on thorough, regularly updated air traffic reviews and forecasts. We are implementing the Master Plan approved by the Ministry of Infrastructure in November 2018 in stages. The pandemic did affect the work schedule, but it did not stop the work.
Currently, we are extending the airport apron, a project worth PLN133 million and scheduled to be put into service in 2023. The cargo terminal has already gone through the formalities required to obtain the necessary permits. The new runway is a key investment included in Kraków Airport’s Master Plan. The project is crucial as it will equip the airport for future, long-term growth. We are currently waiting for the final necessary formal, legal and environmental decisions to be completed, including its environmental approval, and then it will be possible to take the next step with the project.