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Customer service remains a focus at airport

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By M.J. Subiria Arauz

msubiria@news-daily.com

Though Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is enormous,

it is beautiful and friendly, and is an efficient airport for

travelers, said passenger Jonathan Gomez, of Dothan, Ala., while

walking through the airport's atrium.

Passenger Gordon Pun, of Dallas, Texas, agreed with Gomez and added

that he comes to the airport often.

"The airport's rental car center is very convenient," explained Pun,

about other customer-service features. "It is an easy airport."

"Customer service has always been a focus," said Karen Ellis, senior

customer service manager at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Ellis said the "Passport to Service Excellence" initiative is a

customer service training program for all entities housed at

Hartsfield-Jackson. These include airlines, concessionaires, cleaning

staff, federal agencies and police and fire units.

The program delivers a consistent message to the airport's customers

and passengers, she said.

"This is not a DOA [Department of Aviation] program, this is a

Hartsfield-Jackson program," Ellis stressed.

According to airport officials, the program was launched on June 21,

2010, with a goal of reaching 4,000 airport employees by June 2011.

The program has a three-year plan, and is on its way to completing

its first year. FreemanGroup Service Solutions, a company based in

Richardson, Texas, is providing the training.

FreemanGroup will certify airport employees to become internal

trainers, airport officials said in announcing the program last year.

During the second year, the internal trainers will take the lead over

the sessions.

Officials said the program includes occasional mystery-shop surveys.

The initiative has three components, which include foundations

training, pillars training and practices, she said.

Foundation training is geared for managers and supervisors and is

eight hours in length, said Ellis. The training allows company

leaders to manage and coach the program to their employees, through

certification, she said.

For example, said Ellis, "Delta [Air Lines] is going to have two

people certified on their own team ... they don't necessarily have to

come to us. Whenever they have new employees coming in, they can

train them on their own."

Pillars training is also a course that is eight hours in length for

all airport employees, and goes in depth with the program's

standards, including appearance and behavioral standards, she said.

Those that complete the course receive a certificate.

"The pillars training teaches them what Hartsfield-Jackson deems as

being customer service, and how we explain it," said Ellis. "The

message is the same, whether they go to a rental car company ... an

airline, or whether they go in the restroom."

Ellis said there are three to four training courses conducted per day

at the airport. These classes are available every day, Mondays

through Saturdays.

The third component is entitled, "Practices," Ellis said. This

portion allows certified managers and supervisors to train their

employees on the job, while an instructor of the program supervises

closely. This is done to assure the employee is being trained

appropriately by his or her superior, she explained.

"We stand by them and make sure that they are sharing their

appropriate information, and they are getting feedback, and make sure

that they are working with their employees to keep this training

going after they've left the classroom," said Ellis.

This is an ongoing component, she said.

"The program started about nine years ago," explained Ellis. "We were

determined to have an airport-wide customer service training program."

The Customer Service Unit realized that competition was located a

couple of hours away from Hartsfield-Jackson, and potential customers

have the option to use those other airports, said Ellis.

Before the program's launch, customer service had been the individual

responsibility of stakeholders at the airport, including airlines,

concessionaires and other entities, she said.

As a result, the airport's Customer Service Unit received complaints

from some passengers about their different customer-service

experiences with companies within the world's busiest airport, said

Ellis.

"So we decided to make one program for the entire airport," she said.

"So regardless of where they go, they would have that same experience

-- same positive experience."

According to Hartsfield-Jackson officials, the American Association

of Airport Executives collaborated with the airport's Customer

Service Unit to produce a training video, which was recently awarded

a 2010 Gold Ava Award in the training category, from the Association

of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

The video, which is a part of the customer service initiative at

Hartsfield-Jackson, outlines customer-service responsibilities for

airport employees.