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Design Eases the Way

1.2.2012 at 07:30
Airports can be daunting places but they don't have to be. Ironing out the niggles, making things just a little easier, can turn tedium into a pleasure, and it's what Helsinki Airport calls service design. 

And it's part of the arsenal the airport is using to ensure passengers keep coming back.

The airport turned its attention first to Terminal 1, where it began scrutinising the security control mill that can so easily irritate passengers. And feedback suggests that predictability and a bit of Finnish birchwood cladding can already make that whole process more pleasant.

The pilot project for the service design concept, launched in spring 2011, was the revamping of security control in Terminal 1. Security checks must conform to strict international regulations, so it was an ambitious goal to turn them into a pleasant experience. The idea of service design always ends with people and the way they interact. The processes and facilities also have to be in good shape.

"Service is a process that consists of several independent factors, moments and their interactions. We not only focus on what happens during a procedure but also how the various processes happen," explains Helsinki Airport Customer Experience Manager Johanna Metsälä.

They began by breaking down the security control process into more than 30 parts, then reviewed each component from the passenger's point of view.

"Do staff have to stand behind the belt?"

"This is a people-oriented process, and the personality and professionalism of staff is crucial. A passenger's experience is largely based on how the staff treat him or her. Will they hand the bag to the passenger in a friendly manner and perhaps wish them a pleasant journey?"

The staff's role was approached without preconceptions.

"Do staff have to stand behind the belt? We have experimented with moving them to the passengers' side, where they can more easily help and guide them."

Passengers and checkers as designers

Greater predictability has lowered passenger stress levels at busy airports. Helsinki Airport uses universal symbols as well as multilingual signs to explain the various phases of security control.

The facilities have been improved by simple means. The sides of the security control belt have been panelled in birch down to the floor and carefully lit to bring out the beautiful pattern of the wood. Much more stylish than the usual metal frame! The security check process is being revamped mainly by the staff and passengers themselves, a unique concept anywhere. Passengers are asked for feedback which the staff passes on at the end of each shift. And the staff have also been active in developing the procedure.

Social media are a key feedback channel. For example, one tweeter wanted a chair when he had to remove his shoes for scanning. Now they are available. Not just any old stools; these are unique Nousukausi chairs by Artek.

Tell us about your own experience at Helsinki Airport:

Text: Minna Kalajoki
Photo: Jyrki Komulainen