February 23, 2012 / 1:27 PM / 7 years ago

UK airport's Olympic training goal is royal service

LONDON (Reuters) - The head concierge of a London hotel long-favored by Britain’s royal family has been giving staff at Gatwick airport some tips on the finer arts of customer service ahead of this summer’s Olympics.

A passenger arrives at the South Terminal of Gatwick Airport in southern England October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

John Andrews from the 100-year-old Goring Hotel has been called in as the airport readies for one of its busiest summers ever with tourists also expected to pour into London for events celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

The family owned hotel was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who died in 2002 and was in the limelight last year when it housed Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge and her family the night before her wedding to Prince William.

Gatwick’s head of terminals Paul Fitch told Reuters that the session with Andrews taught his staff how to deliver five-star service for all passengers and involved interactive tasks which gave the trainees a chance to put their new-found knowledge into practice.

“We are currently looking at how we can incorporate John’s teachings into our company-wide customer servicing training programs, and indeed explore the possibility of further training sessions in partnership with the hotel.”

Roughly 2,500 people work for Gatwick Airport Ltd, a figure which increases by a factor 10 when tallying up the site’s airport and airline workers.

According to Fitch, who sees the training as a way to differentiate Gatwick from other airports in the UK, staff should be expected to provide an “unforgettable service,” behave with empathy and be accountable for people’s problems, regardless of the source.

Andrews taught staff that delivering a luxury level of service required taking such initiatives as offering to lead passengers to places rather than giving directions and asking their names to make interaction far more personal and engaging.

The staff training program is one of the first initiatives to come out of an Airport Passenger Panel that Gatwick set up in September 2011.

It is populated by independent experts representing business travelers, leisure travelers, families, shoppers and passengers with disabilities.

Panellist Mike Toynbee, managing editor of trade publication “Buying Business Travel,” told Reuters that the results of Gatwick’s 1.2 billion pound investment in new, modern facilities are now showing at an airport whose passenger traffic has traditional been perceived as mostly made up of holidaymakers.

“Though Gatwick has been perceived as a leisure airport, the introduction of fast-track security channels and two new pay-as-you-go executive lounges shows that the focus is very much on the corporate market,” he said.

“It is also putting a human face on an airport, which isn’t very easy to do.”

A spokesperson for Gatwick’s much larger competitor, London Heathrow, said they too are putting together a comprehensive package of engagement with staff and the airport community as a whole. This will include using athletes to motivate staff.

In a separate initiative, all 1,600 of Gatwick’s security staff have received a Tourism South East City and Guilds qualification in customer service.

The airport says this has already proved its value; Gatwick received an increase of 20 percent more compliments from passengers, and 68 percent fewer complaints compared to December 2010.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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