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Airports serve a wide range of customers and users and conduct various types of customer research to better understand the characteristics, needs, and satisfaction of these users. This guidebook is intended to provide guidance to airport managers and staff, as well as others interested in airport customer research, on the various customer research techniques avail- able and how to effectively apply these techniques to conduct customer research. The rest of this section discusses the motivation for conducting airport customer research. The following sections of this chapter clarify the terminology used in the rest of the guidebook, discuss the relationship between customer research and marketing, describe the purpose and intended users of the guidebook, and provide an explanation of the structure of the guidebook and how to use it. Over the past decade, managers at many airports have given increasing attention to measuring customer satisfaction and to actions to improve the airport customer experience. In addition to conducting surveys of airport users, many airports have used a growing range of customer research techniques. The widespread use of smartphones and social media as well as the provision of public Wi-Fi service by airports have enabled the use of many of these newer techniques. Beyond measuring satisfaction as a way to identify actions that could improve the customer experience, airports have been giving increasing attention to ways to increase non-aeronautical revenues, particularly those from passenger terminal concessions. Evidence exists to support the idea that increased customer satisfaction translates into higher concession spending. In addition to improving the attractiveness and performance of existing concessions, customer research can assist airport management in identifying additional concession services that airport users would like to see available and that could lead to increased concession spending. In some cases, airports are competing with nearby airports for passengers and recognize that the quality of the customer experience may influence air travelersâ choice of airport. It may also influence airlines that are deciding where to expand or reduce their services. Customer research can help identify factors that influence these decisions. The growth and widespread use of social media have created both an opportunity and a challenge for airport management concerned about user perceptions of their airport experience. On the one hand, social media provides a way to engage with airport users on an ongoing basis and discover what aspects of the airport they like and dislike. On the other hand, social media users have a way to widely share their views of the airport and thus influence the attitudes of a large number of people toward the airport. Aside from customer satisfaction, customer research can provide information about the users of the airport that is difficult, or impossible, to obtain directly from other sources. This includes many user characteristics that are needed for planning purposes, such as trip purpose, C H A P T E R Â 1 Introduction 1Â Â
2 Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys and Other Customer Research household income, ground transportation mode use, and how air travelers spend their time in the passenger terminal. Other potential applications of customer research include assess- ing how many airport users can be expected to take advantage of proposed new services or facilities. This guidebook has been prepared to provide airport managers and staff involved in customer research, as well as airport consultants and other stakeholders, with guidance on the effective use of airport user surveys and other customer research techniques. Well-designed customer research will address high-priority management information needs and will yield answers that address those needs and can be translated directly into appropriate management actions. The guidebook draws on and expands on the results of prior ACRP research addressing the mea- surement of customer satisfaction and specific customer research techniques. This prior research has been documented in ACRP Report 26: Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys (Biggs etÂ al. 2009), which this guidebook replaces, ACRP Synthesis 48: How Airports Measure Customer Service Performance (Kramer, Bothner, and Spiro 2013), ACRP Synthesis 56: Understanding the Value of Social Media at Airports for Customer Engagement (Perry, Damian, and Lagu 2014), and ACRP Report 157: Improving the Airport Customer Experience (Boudreau etÂ al. 2016). 1.1 Terminology Although the term âconsumer researchâ is widely used in the economy at large to refer to studies of the perceptions, preferences, opinions, and purchasing behavior of customers or potential customers, the term âcustomer researchâ is used more often in the airport community. This is likely because airport users are thought of as customers rather than consumers of airport services, as indicated by use of the term âcustomer experienceâ at industry conferences. The term âguestâ is also coming into use at airports in reference to passengers (as in âguest experienceâ), perhaps with the thought that air travelers might come to view their experience at the airport in the same way that they view a hotel experience. However, not only is this term not as widely used, it may even be viewed by some, including the âguestsâ themselves, as an inappropriate characterization of the relationship between air travelers and the airport. While the term âcustomerâ may reasonably be applied to an air passenger at an airport, it clearly appears inappropriate when applied to airport employees, concessionaires, or tenant organizations. However, the customer research techniques that can be applied to better under- stand the views, characteristics, and needs of air passengers can be applied equally to address similar issues with airport employees and other organizations operating at the airport. The more general term used in this guidebook is âairport user,â which is intended to refer to all members of the airport community, including air passengers, greeters and well-wishers, employees, concessionaires, and other airport tenants. Where terms such as âair passengerâ or âairport employeeâ are used, the intent is to refer to that particular subset of airport users. Therefore, this guidebook will use the term âcustomer researchâ broadly to cover research studies addressing all segments of the airport community, even though members of many segments of that community may not think of themselves, or be thought of by the airport, as customers. Some other terms used in the guidebook may deserve some explanation: â¢ Groundside. The guidebook uses the term âgroundside facilities,â as well as related terms such as âgroundside planningâ and âgroundside surveys.â These are also often referred to as âlandside facilities,â âlandside planning,â and so forth. However, the term âlandsideâ can also refer to airport terminal facilities, as distinct from airside facilities that handle
Introduction 3 aircraft. The terms âlandsideâ and âairsideâ are also sometimes used to refer to the areas of the passenger terminal before and after security screening. (These areas are also referred to as the ânon-sterileâ and âsterileâ areas of the terminal, respectively.) For these reasons, the term âgroundsideâ is less ambiguous and is used throughout this guidebook to refer to those areas of the airport used by airport ground-transportation vehicles, including the terminal curb front, airport roadways, and vehicle parking facilities. â¢ Airport access and egress travel. Airport âaccessâ trips (both passengers and vehicles) refer to travel to the airport from ground origins, while airport âegressâ trips refer to travel in the opposite direction (from the airport to ground destinations). The distinction can be impor- tant, since travel in each direction is often influenced by different factors. The terms are also unambiguous, in contrast to the terms âarrivingâ and âdepartingâ as related to passengers (or âarrivalsâ and âdeparturesâ), which can refer to arrival at or departure from the airport on either aircraft or ground transportationâtrips that are in opposite directions. (An arrival by ground transportation is an outbound trip, whereas an arrival on a flight is an inbound trip.) For clarity, it is better to refer to enplaning and deplaning passengers, rather than arriving and departing passengers, unless the context makes the direction obvious. â¢ Quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative research methods are those (such as surveys) that are primarily designed to produce numerical results. Qualitative research methods (such as the findings of focus group discussions), in contrast, are designed to produce descriptive or explanatory results. The results of the former can be subject to tests of statistical accuracy, while the latter cannot, although they can usually offer a more detailed explanation of the factors affecting a particular issue. 1.2 Distinction Between Customer Research and Marketing Airports engage in a range of marketing activities, from encouraging air passengers and airport employees to spend money in the airport concessions or use particular ground trans- portation services, to attracting new air service. In cases where air travelers have a choice of airports, airports may engage in marketing to encourage those travelers to decide to use that particular airport. These marketing efforts are frequently informed by the findings of customer research. However, their objective is to promote the airport or persuade a particular target group or organization to take some action (even if it is just changing their opinion of the airport) rather than to acquire specific information about airport customers or other members of the airport community. This guidebook firmly focuses on airport customer research, not on marketing activities. However, the boundary between customer research and marketing activities is not always clearly defined. To the extent that the findings from customer research can be used in marketing activities, or that customer research is undertaken precisely to support marketing activities, the customer research techniques involved are addressed by the guidebook, although the focus is on the research rather than its application. 1.3 Airport Customer Research and the COVID-19 Pandemic Although this guidebook was conceived and initiated before the arrival of COVID-19 and was largely written amid the uncertainty of the 2020 pandemic, some airports continued to conduct research by adapting their methods to the shifting rules and regulations designed to
4 Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys and Other Customer Research reduce transmission of the virus. Thus, while the guidebook largely addresses pre-pandemic research conditions and norms that could reasonably be expected to return in large measure when the outbreak is brought under control, it also considers ways in which practices have been modified to reflect pandemic conditions. Should there be another pandemic or a pro- longed continuation of the 2020 pandemic, understanding these revised practices may prove to be helpful to the reader. The two key areas in which research methods were altered during the pandemic were the modification of in-person passenger and other customer intercept surveys to protect both inter- viewers and interviewees and the transition of focus groups and other qualitative studies from in-person interactions at physical facilities to online platforms. The former included both universal precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing and apparently unique approaches such as shrink-wrapping paper questionnaires. The latter were fairly standard across the research profession as a whole, with national services and local facilities offering to convene and host virtual sessions. In fact, the focus groups with airport representatives that were undertaken to inform the development of the guidebook were conducted online. It is also worth noting in this regard that virtual focus groups are not new to the pandemic era. Although they are generally viewed as being inferior to in-person sessions in terms of group participation and interaction, they have long been used both to convene discussions with widely dispersed participants and to conserve resources. Three sections of the guidebook discuss specific approaches to adapting research methods to a pandemic. These include a call-out box in Section 6.4.1 that offers recommendations for conducting online focus groups, a discussion of adjustments to real-time customer monitoring in Section 9.5, and a discussion of adapting to a pandemic environment in the introduction of PartÂ II of the guidebook. Three appendices to the guidebook also offer guidance in this regard. The in-person survey material checklist in Appendix D includes a section on pandemic-related supplies. Appendix I presents two examples of survey questionnaires that address perceptions of and reactions to the pandemic. Finally, most of the six case study reports in Appendix L address the subject airportsâ reactions and responses to the pandemic. The appendices are not printed herein but can be found by going to www.TRB.org and searching for âACRP Research Report 235.â 1.4 Purpose of This Guidebook This guidebook has been developed to help airports undertake customer research on airport users and to help airports and other survey sponsors plan, design, conduct, and analyze airport user surveys. The guidebook is intended to improve understanding of the issues involved in planning and implementing airport customer research and to provide practicable methods and techniques to overcome these issues. The guidebook has been updated and expanded from ACRP Report 26: Guidebook for Con- ducting Airport User Surveys (Biggs etÂ al. 2009) and addresses the full range of airport customer research techniques in addition to an updated discussion of airport user surveys. As tasked by ACRP, the team that developed this guidebook conducted research on the current state of knowledge and practice in performing airport customer research and airport user surveys. The research included a review of existing literature, a telephone survey of airport
Introduction 5 representatives, and detailed discussions with selected airports regarding their current customer research and survey practices. These discussions took the form of six case studies and two focus groups discussions. This research and the expertise of the research team are the basis of this guidebook. 1.4.1 Users of the Guidebook The guidebook will be of interest to airport managers, planners, analysts, customer research staff, consultants, and staff of other organizations, including government agencies and tourism or convention organizations, with an interest in airport customer research. Airport managers will gain a better understanding of the reasons for undertaking airport customer research and an appreciation of when surveys or other customer research methods are required; the avail- able techniques for undertaking airport customer research, including basic survey concepts and methodologies; and the time and effort required to plan, develop, and implement surveys or other customer research. Planners and analysts who have little experience with airport customer research or surveys will benefit from the detailed review of the basic concepts and the practical considerations related to specific types of surveys, such as passenger and tenant surveys. It is hoped that the guidebook will prove equally useful to readers who already have experience with airport cus- tomer research or surveys, by allowing them to compare their practices to the approaches and considerations described in the guidebook and by providing advice and insights to enable them to enhance their practices. 1.4.2 Issues of Concern The range of questions, issues, and concerns that can initiate airport customer research is quite broad and spans from measuring customer satisfaction to collecting data on air passenger char- acteristics. However, they can be divided into two general categories: 1. Measuring the attitudes or satisfaction of some group or class of airport users, and 2. Obtaining data on the factual characteristics of a particular group or class of airport user. Particular issues of concern that commonly arise include: â¢ What aspects of the airport facilities and services are viewed as less satisfactory than at other airports, and what can be done to improve these? â¢ How well do current airport concessions meet the needs and desires of airport users, and how could the airport concessions be improved or changed in a way that would generate more concession spending by airport users? â¢ How do air passengers and airport employees travel to and from the airport, what access/ egress vehicle trips get generated by their mode choices, and how are these mode-choice decisions influenced by the airport user characteristics and the service characteristics of the airport ground-transportation system? Airports commonly undertake benchmarking studies to compare their performance with that of peer airports, as discussed in more detail in Section 2.2.1. The motivation for such studies can include maintaining their competitive position among airports in the same region, meeting air passenger expectations for comparable customer experience to that at other airports, identifying innovative actions being pursued at other airports, and developing comparative data on unit costs and revenues.
6 Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys and Other Customer Research 1.5 How to Use the Guidebook This guidebook was developed to serve a variety of usersâfrom airport managers and staff to researchers, consultants, and others, as noted in Section 1.5.1. To address this diverse audience, the guidebook was developed to serve as a resource document that could be consulted chapter by chapter to address specific questions rather than a narrative report that should be read from cover to cover. To underscore this point, the guidebook has been organized in three major sections. â¢ PartÂ I: Conducting Customer Research provides background information, topics, and concepts that are common to nearly all customer research projects. â¢ PartÂ II: Specific Survey Guidelines identifies specific types of survey efforts that can be under- taken by researchers and the specific considerations associated with each type of survey. â¢ PartÂ III: Developing a Customer Research Program describes how research can become part of the airport culture, the role of airport management in research, and how research programs are developed and implemented at general aviation and commercial-service airports. TableÂ 1-1 provides a summary of guidebook contents to help readers identify the desired information. 1.5.1 Use of Icons To assist the reader, icons are provided in PartÂ II of the guidebook to identify topical elements such as key topics or common themes. TableÂ 1-2 presents the topic or definition associated with each icon. Chapter 1 Part I Conducting Customer Research Part I provides an overview of the range of airport customer research methods, so that users can understand what each method involves and the relevant issues and topics that arise with each method. How airport management, staff, and consultants can undertake this type of research is incorporated into those chapters. This section explores concepts, topics, and considerations that are common to most research projects regardless of the type of survey undertaken. Chapter 2 Customer Research Methods The role of surveys, basic concepts, and main survey types Chapter 3 Research Planning The steps and related considerations in planning and implementing any survey; guidance on issues that arise in developing and managing a customer research program Chapter 4 Statistical Concepts Underlying concepts of sampling and statistical accuracy required for airport user surveys Chapter 5 Survey Design and Implementation The factorsâsuch as sampling strategy, questionnaire design, survey period, and interviewer trainingâthat will need to be considered in the design of a particular survey Chapter 6 Qualitative Methods Qualitative methods, such as focus groups and observation Chapter 7 Monitoring and Enhancing Customer Service Techniques for monitoring and enhancing customer service, including surveys and tracking customer feedback Chapter 8 Targeted Studies of Specific Issues Types of research questions that may arise and considerations for planning a targeted study to address those questions Chapter 9 New and Developing Data- Collection Techniques New and developing data-collection and analysis techniques, including smartphone tracking technologies and analysis of financial transaction data; the use of social media is also addressed. Introduction TableÂ 1-1. Guidebook structure and contents.
Introduction 7 TOPIC ICON Purpose of the survey and data to be collected Survey methodology Sampling approach Questionnaire wording and length Measures to obtain and enhance responses Survey budget TableÂ 1-2. Icons used in the guidebook. Part II Specific Survey Guidelines Part II explores the specific types of user surveys, including their purpose, methodology, sampling approach, questionnaire characteristics, data collection, and budget. Chapter 10 Air Passenger Surveys Specific issues and guidance related to air passenger surveys Chapter 11 Employee Surveys Specific issues and guidance related to employee surveys Chapter 12 Concessionaire and Other Tenant Surveys Specific issues and guidance related to concessionaire and other tenant surveys Chapter 13 Surveys of Area Residents Specific issues and guidance related to surveys of residents of the area served by an airport Chapter 14 Surveys of Area Businesses Specific issues and guidance related to surveys of area businesses and other organizations Chapter 15 Air Cargo Surveys Specific issues and guidance related to studies of air cargo activities Part III Developing a Customer Research Program The concluding part describes how general aviation and commercial service airports develop research programs. Chapter 16 Developing an Airport Customer Research Program The role of research within the airport culture is explored, as well as how research programs develop, are implemented, and evolve at general aviation and commercial-service airports. TableÂ 1-1. (Continued).