Interview to Barbara Yamamoto, Chief Experience Officer (CXO), Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)
“We want them to leave with a feeling that we live up to our vision and mission at LAX and we care about connecting people, places and cultures”.
1.- After three years as Chief Experience Officer (CXO) for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), can you take stock of the work done by your department or the new actions implemented in order to improve passenger’s experience?
In the last three years, we have made significant strides in transforming the LAX experience. We have integrated and embraced the guest experience in everything we do. Realizing there is no one silver bullet, we have taken a multi-pronged approach to enhancing the guest experience through physical, process and people improvements – and surprise and delight!
LAX is in the midst of a $17 billion modernization effort, including nearly two dozen projects with almost $3 million spent per day. In addition to the Midfield Satellite Concourse which will add an additional 12 gates to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the centerpiece of LAX improvement is the Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) which will give airport guests choices that provide a first class, swift, convenient and reliable way to access LAX, featuring an Automated People Mover, consolidated rental car center, two Intermodal Transportation Facilities and a link to public transit. The LAMP will revolutionize the way people access and egress from the airport. Overall completion date is 2023.
In addition, following the completion of Terminals 2 and 6 in 2016, 2017 saw more great retail and dining transformations at LAX. Westfield partnered with LAX to redevelop more than 8,400 square feet of dining and retail space in Terminals 1, 3, 6 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 saw the biggest changes, with the introduction of guest favorites including Reilly’s Irish Pub, Shake Shack, La Familia, Moshi, Soundstage and The Parlor. In total, 14 new restaurants and five new retail stores opened in 2017.
There are a number of projects that have been completed or are underway to create better efficiencies. For example, in conjunction with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP), LAX deployed the first automated, paperless boarding solution using only the passenger’s face; with the TSA, LAX piloted for the first time in the U.S. new AIT scanning and biometric e-gates at the security checkpoint; LAX has deployed 27 Automated Security Lanes, more than any other airport in the U.S; and LAX piloted a big data research tool that analyzed guest feedback utilizing Artificial Intelligence to assess Emotional Intelligence by looking for words and phrases that correlate with important guest experience metrics.
And what are the results of this research?
As the first airport to utilize this research, LAX listened to the voices of nearly 17,000 guests and has benefited from insights that defined root causes or offered evidence that led to root causes when supported by other internal metrics and research.
As part of its people improvements, LAX implemented an innovative iCARE training, mystery shopping and rewards program, using an innovative, holistic approach to change the culture of nearly 55,000 employees. LAX developed an ambitious program to provide training, mystery shopping and recognition airport-wide.
In the past, we viewed LAX as just a transportation hub to get people from A to B. But now instead of being just a transportation hub, we have adopted a hospitality mindset. It’s not just about getting from A to B, but it’s about your experience along the journey – and how you FEEL during that journey.
As part of that culture change, our passengers are no longer passengers or customers (which is more of a business transition). They are guests who are welcomed into our home and valued. Words are important because when we change the way we speak, we change the way we view people and we change the way we act.
In addition, LAX is listening to its employees and guests and using improved customer feedback tools to help make better decisions that will improve the guest experience.
Sometimes it’s the little things that really add up to a memorable experience. To this end, LAX has been working hard to delight guests with unexpected, exceptional extras that help put the fun back into travel and to alleviate stress by creating a calming ambiance and enjoyable feeling that reflects an iconic city and lifestyle:
- “LAX Presents” Performing Arts Program: In December 2016, LAX launched a performing arts program in partnership with Grand Performances, Los Angeles’ premier presenter of free, outdoor summer performing arts programs. In addition to showcasing some of L.A.’s finest musical talent, LAX Presents enlivens the airport’s public spaces and delivers distinctive cultural encounters to guests. The 2018 line-up includes 18 performances across nine months, including six classical performances, a DJ with dancers and a percussionist, a puppet show, and an Indian dance troupe.
- Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP): The LAX PUP program now features 89 therapy dogs ranging in age, size and breed, who, along with their handlers, continue to relieve stress and comfort passengers throughout the airport. PUPs are in full force throughout the year bringing smiles and delight to guests of all ages.
Technological innovations play an important role enhancing passenger experience at airports. In your opinion, what are the technology trends for the coming years?
We look to increase guest satisfaction and optimize the end-to-end journey with exceptional innovation and technology that improves efficiencies through increased throughput, decreased wait times, streamlined processes. To that end, we are in the development, RFP or advanced planning process for the following pilots and new solutions that will be deployed by the end of the year, reflecting industry technology trends:
- LAX Digital Assistant Facebook Messenger chat bot pilot that will provide airport information and services, including a shopping and ordering solution (Digital Assistant functionality eventually will be integrated into all other digital channels as well)
- Common, self-service bag drop in the Tom Bradley International Terminal
- Unmanned Aircraft Management pilot using drones for perimeter security monitoring and inspections (runways, roads, assets, etc.)
- Smart parking solution
- New loyalty/customer engagement solution
- Centralized data management and analytics Center of Excellence with enabling platform
The ‘LAXceptional Xperience’ programme is been carried out since 2015, based on a customer-centric vision. Can you tell us a little bit more of this initiative and the results obtained since its launch?
The LAXceptional Xperience is a commitment to improve the overall guest experience through physical, process and people improvements and more. This commitment is shared by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners and Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint who are fully invested in the guest experience and delivering a gold-standard airport.
Our vision for the future leads us to our commitment to our guests with a brand statement created by a cross-section of employees: 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!
The goal is to align the entire airport community as if we all worked for one company. We want to create a feeling of ONE exceptional experience rather than a combination of multiple, disparate companies and agencies that just happen to work within the same footprint. This initiative reinforces the point that no matter who you work for or what you do, we are all part of the LAXceptional Xperience.
Results are impressive and we are pleased that we are on a path of continuous improvement. Our Airport Service Quality scores increased from 3.70 in 2016 to a 3.78 in 2017 on a five-point scale, which is a 2.1% increase. According to J.D. Power airport guest satisfaction surveys, LAX scores have risen from 670 in 2015 to 735 in 2018 on a 1,000-point scale which is a 9.7% increase. And in Skytrax ratings, since 2015, LAX has moved up 26 positions which is a 25% increase. LAX ranked 98th out of 100 best airports world-wide in 2015 and is now #72 in 2018. LAX is now the ninth best ranked airport in the U.S.
The training of the airport staff in charge of help guests to have an outstanding experience is very important for LAWA. What are the current programmes to engage and train airport employees to deliver exceptional service to the millions of diverse LAX guests?
We’ve put together 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. Mystery shop scores are supported by coaching and consultations to help teams improve their scores. And the coaching and consultations are supported by a rewards piece to reinforce what’s learned in training and spotlight those employees who are exceptional examples of exceptional service. Underlying all of this is communications which is key to reinforcing positive behaviors and ensuring program adoption and sustainability. This holistic approach helps ensure that we get REAL outcomes with REAL impacts resulting in an engaged workforce that shares a common vision that is guest-centric.
The training focuses on “iCARE” behaviors to demonstrate that LAX employees care to be informative, courteous, approachable, responsive, efficient and effective.
In your words, “at the airport, we are the first and last impression of Los Angeles”. What would you like travelers to remember after passing through LAX?
We would like them to remember the exceptional feeling they had at LAX whether that’s attributed to our physical, process and/or people improvements. We want them to leave with a feeling that we live up to our vision and mission at LAX and we care about connecting people, places and cultures.