December 20, 2018

How data transformed customer experience at Rome airport

5 minute read

As reversals of fortunes go, few have pulled one off quite as impressive as Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. In 2013, the international travel hub was ranked one of the world’s worst for passenger service, while in 2018, it broke the record for the highest ever quality score for the same metric – quite the comeback.

The airport in Rome has recently been named ‘World’s Most Improved Airport’ by official airline and airport review site Skytrax, and won the award for Airport Service Quality from the Airport Council International (ACI), the same body who graded it so poorly just five years prior.

So, just how did the team behind Rome Airport achieve such an incredible  turnaround in their customer service provision? It all comes down to data and its analysis, put to work to reveal exactly where the airport most needed to improve. Here are a few ways airports are leveraging data in a similar fashion.

Big data analytics and airports

Just like virtually every other industry there is, airports have begun to capitalise on the service-boosting capabilities of big data and advanced analytics in recent years. Like cities on a smaller scale, airports have incredibly complex infrastructures, generating vast amounts of consumer and passenger data that, when collated, managed and applied in the right ways, can uncover business intelligence capable of giving them a huge commercial and competitive edge.

In Singapore, Changi Airport has used data about its passengers to create an area dedicated to something they value the most; relaxation and escapism. Realising that stress is seen as a default setting, or inevitability, for many of its regular business passengers, the airport team created an oasis of calm with gardens, ponds with water lilies, a waterfall and even a rooftop swimming pool. In Dublin Airport, passengers can download an app called Dub Hub, which guides them through the terminals, highlighting shops, restaurants and other facilities as and when they need them. The app also records data that serves to show airport managers how consumers use the services on offer.

Even airlines are getting in on the act; US-based airline Delta was the first in the world to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on its passengers’ luggage, rather than traditional printed barcode tagging. The RFID tags enable passengers to track the exact whereabouts of their bags and luggage in real-time, and flag an automatic sensor if a bag is loaded onto the wrong plane, all of which has helped Delta achieve a 99.9 percent bag tracking success rate.

Big data and analytics certainly play a vital role for any brand looking to transform their customer experience, with Rome airport being a prime example,  here is a closer look at how they achieved such a feat and what other brands can learn from their story.

Creating a business-wide data pool

Using data to achieve change across an enterprise as large and multifaceted as an airport, means first combining all of your data in one dataset; information silos can only reveal a very partial view of any business’s operational performance. Recognising that they needed to merge multiple sources of consumer and passenger data, the team at Rome Airport began feeding different datasets into a single central hub, enabling them to use intuitive dashboard software to manipulate the data into visualisations they could make sense of.

The feeds they used included open source data from road sensors around Rome (which tracked the weight of traffic approaching the airport), activity data from air traffic control and ground handlers, as well as various services throughout the passenger journey, such as car parks, public transport, check-in, security, airport shops, car rental and more. Consolidating all this complex data and viewing it via a data visualisation system created a clear picture of how services were running in and around the airport, from moment to moment, and allowed the team to see exactly where and when problems and potential problems were occurring.

Understanding passenger flow through the airport

Once Rome Airport had existing operational data feeding into a single repository, the next step was to find a way to collect a deeper level of detail and insight into how people were moving around the space. Seizing on an opportunity to maximise the value of another existing service, the team enhanced its public Wi-Fi with 2,000 new routers – an improvement that would yield dual benefits; not only would customers have a faster, more reliable network, but the airport team would have another way to analyse customer data and track how they move around the terminals, or more to the point, where and why bottlenecks built up in the airport.

They soon realised, however, that there were smaller areas of the airport that Wi-Fi couldn’t help to decipher, such as the security hall. First trialling facial recognition cameras that monitored the speed of passengers moving through security gates (but discarding them due to a low accuracy rate), the team installed ceiling-mounted cameras to track people making their way through the gates. These cameras automatically convert people in the footage into dots, hiding individual identities and protecting their privacy, while creating an effective depiction of crowd flow and congestion.

Both projects allowed the team to monitor passenger movement around the airport in real-time, spot problems as they form, stop them before they even happen, and take action to get things moving as efficiently and effectively as possible, such as opening extra security gates.

Using data insight to make meaningful service improvements

With these data-led systems working together in tandem, the Rome Airport team has been able to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for passengers to board their planes. By identifying when pressure points appear, the team can take steps to alleviate them before they cause knock-on issues. Yet, as they’ve discovered, speeding up queues and passenger flow in one area can create a range of new problems elsewhere, such as passengers arriving at security before they’re expected, and before adequate staff are there to assist them. 

Thankfully, the data enables them to see and pre-empt these problems before they begin to snowball, and Rome Airport has since achieved its ambitious aim of getting 90 percent of passengers through security within 10-15 minutes.

Data has helped the airport team get ahead of the many daily snags that, left unchecked, can easily add up to become bigger issues. Their next challenge is to make use of artificially-intelligent (AI) automation, so that issues are automatically flagged by the hub rather than identified by the team. They hope to implement technology that will be capable of automatically detecting building queues and sending a message to handlers to open more gates, all without any human intervention.

Applying data insight to your consumer relationships

With the right data infrastructure and platforms for analysis, you too can make informed business decisions based on real operational information.

At Ikano, we help our clients zero in on the data that matters to their business, and find ways to extract the actionable intelligence and insights. Just like at Rome Airport, the results are better customer service and experience with a deeper understanding of their preferences and behaviours, all based on more fruitful, more commercially-rewarding relationships. Get in touch with the team today to find out more about how an Ikano Insight solution can help transform your customer experience, or discover more about how our Business Intelligence and CRM services could help you.

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How data transformed customer experience at Rome airport