Speaker Interviews

Discover more about the topics and technologies to be discussed at this year's conference, via a series of exclusive interviews with a selection of our expert speakers.


Innovation and customer experience: driving the airport of the future

Rick Belliotti, director, customer experience design and innovation, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, on how innovation can influence a positive customer experience

What is your presentation about?

Airport operators today are grappling with the concepts of innovation and customer experience (CX). Some consider CX a simple program/project that, once done, no longer needs to be considered. Others are struggling with the concept of innovation and what that buzzword means in an airport world – and how it can exist in an operationally focused organization. In reality, both concepts are critical to building the airport of the future. This presentation will assist airport operators in understanding different approaches to innovation; how to approach innovation from a public procurement perspective; and how CX is a ‘lifestyle’ for airport operators to bring their airports into the future – all while using innovation as the building block for that future.

Describe some different approaches to innovation – is any particular approach better?

Airport operators seem to be approaching innovation from many different perspectives today. Some view innovation from a highly technology-centric perspective, looking for new technologies to provide for improvements, for example, in operations, customer service and revenue; others consider innovation a way to engage employees, and create opportunities for their employees to provide ideas to improve the business operations; still others approach innovation from a customer experience perspective. There really isn’t one approach that is better or worse – what is really important is that the organization identifies its approach and ensures that it is married to the strategic plan for that organization.

What is a ‘public procurement perspective’, and how might it view innovation differently?

Public procurement is the process whereby a government agency or quasi-government agency solicits solutions, products and services for its organization. In general, this process is very time-consuming, requires a significant amount of investment – both in terms of money and time – from the proposers and is designed to ensure that there is a fair, open and competitive process for those proposers. While the intent is important (fair, open and competitive), in many instances innovations are driven by companies and solution providers that do not have the means or methods to sustain their companies for an extended period of time while they wait for an awarded contract – and then payment on that contract.

This current process tends to limit the ability of some organizations to join the marketplace, thus eliminating some opportunities for new thought, new approaches and new solutions.

How do you measure customer experience?

There are many methods to measure customer experience, although it is hard to quantify, as it is more subjective than objective. Some ways include looking at sentiment analysis – what are people saying about their experiences; revenue impacts – after we implemented x, what was the impact on revenue; observation – actually standing back and watching your customers as they experience your products and services; and surveys/focus groups – sometimes just asking questions gives great insight.

How do you create a culture of innovation at an airport? What is the most challenging part of that? What advice would you give to airports who wish to innovate?

There are a few things that airports can do to create a culture of innovation. These include ensuring that the senior leadership are on board, supportive and acting as champions of innovation; providing opportunities for all staff to practice being innovative (including design thinking, training classes, set-aside time for creativity); allowing room for failure – this is extremely hard in a public-facing organization, but failure is one of the best ways to learn, and it provides security to the employees in knowing that they can take some risks without some negative effects; and celebrating successes.

Don’t miss Rick Belliotti giving his presentation ‘Innovation and customer experience: driving the airport of the future’, on Day 1 of the Passenger Terminal CONFERENCE as part of the Future Airports stream. The full conference program can be found here.

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