What is “Passenger Experience”?

Passenger experience has become a hot topic in public transport especially for airports.  Major airports are putting it at the centre of their thinking – for example, the mission statement for Heathrow Airport is making every journey better.  But what does it actually mean?

Is it more than the latest bandwagon for every vendor of products and services to jump onto claiming that their product will guarantee to improve the passenger experience?

In an increasingly competitive transport environment, operators and providers are clearly seeing it as a way to improve their offer and attract more passengers and increase revenue.

The revolution in social media means that customer feedback on that “experience” is loud and public.  The reputation of the service provide or operator is quickly formed and changed on the basis of how it delivers the experience.  So they are right to take it seriously.

This should mean that it is more than a gimmick or a trend but something that is at the heart of the design of environments, products, staff roles, etc – all the touchpoints with the service.  Passenger experience should be the thing that unites the various elements of the airport or station.  We think it is an area where design research and design thinking need to be at the centre of the approach to getting it right.

There are a number factors here…
1. Understand the passenger as a person  
This is more than market research of “what do they want”.  This is about understanding behaviours now and predicting needs into the future.   This is often done using broad groups of user types with the assumption that there is commonality – there is no such thing that as the “business traveller” for example.  Our needs as passengers are complex, dynamic and individual.  It’s also never the same as how the designer sees the world.

2. What is an experience?
Is it about services and things we can do at the airport?  Or is it actually about how we feel…feelings about stress, security,…attitudes, beliefs, perceptions…how do the things we interact with make us feel?  How does the total interaction make us feel rather than just the elements?

3. Join it up
It’s about the door-to-door journey and therefore it needs to be joined up.  The passenger won’t remember the great check-in experience if security was awful.  It’s about getting the whole journey right and making sure the different services work together.  That’s why the gimmicks and the isolated bits of “passenger experience” technology don’t work.

4.  High performing passengers
Delivering a great experience often demands that passengers honour their side of the bargin and do things like have their ticket ready or get their bags ready for inspection.  But we have to help them to know this in a way they will receive and understand.  We also have to make sure that the desired behaviours don’t go against what people would naturally do.  Otherwise we face an uphill battle.

5. It’s about more than shopping. 
Retail is great and lots of us love shopping (and of course it’s handy for revenue).  But it is clearly only one part of the experience we have of a transport system and it is the wider system we remember.

6. Get the basics right.
Without providing the basic services, the high value or memorable services will be forgotten.  The temptation is to go for some high profile interventions or add some great new technology.  But if the toilets are dirty, the staff unhelpful or absent, the ticket machine out of order, none of the flashy stuff will make any difference.

7. Put the passenger needs first…
…and sacrifice some of your needs.  A great example is how free wi-fi is currently delivered.  If it’s free, as a user, why do I have to register and log-on each time?  This is providing an irritating step in the process purely for the benefit of the service provider (presumably marketing information).  Why can’t it just connect?  So challenge how the operation works, but doesn’t help the passenger.  From the passenger’s point of view, these operational factors are usually invisible or not understood so will do nothing but annoy – their perception is what counts

8. Make the experience feel human.  
The world is complex, crowded and fast paced.  The memorable experiences are often in the personal touches and the small things, the details.  Someone going out of their way to help (rather than confirming to a company policy) or just being useful, for example.  Technology and shopping have their place but get the human stuff right first.

So what does “passenger experience” mean to you?



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