Is your airport operating as a community?  I mean, is your airport a community of concessions operating as independent brands, yet all striving for a common goal? 


When I first started customer service consulting and training at John F Kennedy Airport's Terminal 8 (2) years ago, I arrived to find 50-ish concessions locations all operating and acting independently of each other.  Understandably, they were each laser focused on their own sales, their own employees, their own customer service scores. 

At JFK T8 and thousands of venues across the airport industry, customer service scores are measured by various means including mystery shopping.  At JFK, we also use airport mystery shops as a form of service measurement to identify areas of opportunity and success for each concession.  After each round of mystery shops I would see several locations that were knocking it out of the park and just as many, if not more locations, that were hitting bottom.  This inconsistency in scores does nothing but average out an airport customer service program to mediocrity. 

I realized that the only way to get the JFK airport customer service program in the right direction was to get everyone in each concession on-board and envisioning the same goal.  Each location had to play their part in driving up the level of customer service or the airport would go nowhere. 

I began group consulting instead of conducting individual meetings with concession managers.  With group consulting, managers of the same store categories come together and take a good hard look at the bigger challenges each category faces:

  • We discussed scores from the big picture, and how they can act as a support group for each other. 
  • We stressed the importance of talking to each other and sharing ideas and struggles.
  • We tackle customer service from a group prospective, understanding that the airport can’t shine unless we all shine. 

After a couple of months, managers of different stores actually started talking to each other. They used the group consultation sessions as a time to ask questions, learn and talk about challenges.  Today, I walk through the terminal and see managers coming out of their stores to talk to me, and each other.  Often times, more managers walk up to join the conversation. 

These managers have broadened their scope of focus to include their location as an integral part of a larger airport community.  We have created a community and it is alive and well.  Service scores continue to improve.  Here are examples of some of the most improved scores:

  • Au Bon Pain

              Q1 2014                Q2 2015

              66.33                    97.00

  • Auntie Anne’s

              Q1 2014                Q2 2015

              89.00                     93.00

  • Pandora

              Q1 2014                Q2 2015

              91.00                     96.00

Additionally, JFK recently was named Best Customer Service for the Large Airport Division from Airport Revenue News (ARN). While I’ve seen other airports still struggling to raise their level of customer service, each one of those airports seems to be lacking the community spirit that is alive and well in Terminal 8 at JFK.

"A rising tide lifs all boats."  And in this case, building an airport community benefits everyone!

Donna Kopf is the Manager of the Training and Consulting Team. She supports both team members and clients with her employee development expertise.  Her passion is working in the field- training frontline staff, supervisors and managers; and consulting with managers and teams on improving the customer and passenger experiences.

For more information and to learn how to improve service in your airport, download our Sample Airport Customer Experience Program below!