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What Do Tea & Trolleys Have In Common?

Customer Experience & Revenue Source? The case of İGA İstanbul New Airport.

My four-year-old son loves riding airport baggage trolleys.

My son wouldn’t be able to get a ride at flashy new Istanbul airport. Not because they don’t have any trolleys, but because you need to pay to use them (they take lira, euro and VISA!)...and lo and behold, no one’s paying to use them (I spent 30 minutes observing passengers and identified one trolley). I love my son, but no way I’m paying! It’s not really about the money, though, is it?

I didn't even check the exact amount needed, but I knew I wouldn't pay. Behavioural science teaches us that the human is a lazy animal and it would avoid any unnecessary exertion: going out of your way to find a trolley, reaching for your wallet or even swiping your card. This point becomes particularly poignant if it involves a service that is free of charge at most airports around the world.

The lack of consideration here is particularly baffling as Turkish culture prides itself on its hospitality and human touch. When strolling through Istanbul Spice Market, any time you so much as look into a shop window, you're gently ushered into a quiet cushioned space and offered hot fragrant tea. Free of charge! This offering creates an immediate buyer-seller connection and creates a massive amount of good will. It also triggers what Psychology & Marketing expert Robert Cialdini calls the Reciprocity Principle whereby people feel obliged to give back in response to a gift or gesture they've received.

But don't look at what other airports are doing. Consider the commercial case for offering free trolleys. It's always handy to have 3 Cs, so here they are:

1. Collect Data

It enables you to collect data on user behaviour. How does the visitor interact with the space: where do they go, how much time do they spend shopping or eating and how do they navigate various spaces inside the airport, etc.. The data can help optimising retail and F&B location, layout design etc. In the words of Tom Mehrmann formerly GM of Ocean Park HK and now GM of Universal Studios Beijing:

"I realised there’s science behind the business, math propelling the fun. Because if you can measure it, then you can manage it. At Ocean Park, we continually measured everything, from the time that visitors spend in the park to which rides are most popular at a given moment, to the number of taxis that drop off and pick up guests. I can’t stress enough the importance of metrics." from Taming The Mouse: How a Small Hong Kong Theme Park Came to Dominate Disney

Further, tracking trolleys and combining that data with flight information etc, can help allocate trolleys more efficiently and effectively around the airport.

2. Customise Marketing Communication

Making baggage trolleys easily available makes it possible to grow advertising revenue. Pasting ads trolleys certainly makes sense, but with more sophisticated tools that measure passenger behaviour (e.g. RFID chip) and a large interactive screen on it, the trolley becomes the ultimate marketing communication device. It could unlock location based advertising: for example, when the trolley senses you're walking past the Ray-Ban shop, it could send a Ray-Ban limited offer info. Further, integrating data from scanning one's boarding pass--with the incentive that scanning the pass gets you a discount etc.--ensures accurate customer targeting.

3. Customer Service

By offering free trolleys, the airport can further enhance the visitor experience by providing airport information, retail and F&B location, timely deals, flight updates etc. (e.g. Chongqing Jiangbei airport is doing a great job of that--see pic below). And we haven't even mentioned the service of transporting one's luggage in a smoother way that enables you to stop and interact with the airport...and spend money.

Any commercial entity needs to decide where they draw the line between what could be a source of revenue and ways to enhance customer experience (with a view to ultimately growing revenue!). With their trolleys, it looks like New Istanbul Airport have drawn the line in the wrong place.

And why not offer free tea, too?

(LinkedIn Article 2019)


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