People's impressions of the United States, its people and its products are primarily influenced by our TV,
movies, newspapers, radio, magazines and, yes, our Web sites. The next strongest impression the outside world has of the United States comes from our airports.
In a survey
conducted by the International Air Transportation Association related to airport customer satisfaction, only one U.S. airport was included among the top 10 airports in the world, which were
listed as Copenhagen, Denmark; Changi, Singapore; Helsinki, Finland; Vancouver, Canada; Manchester, England; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Perth, Australia; Amsterdam, Netherlands;
and Hong Kong, China.
It's disheartening to learn that Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Eng-land and Malaysia are all doing a better job of managing the quality of their
airports than we are. An interesting note is that the Cincinnati airport, the only U.S. airport in the top 10, isn't one of our major international ports of call. Tourism is one of the top 10
industries in the United States, and still our airport quality systems are, for the most part, just adequate.
We operate in a service economy, but the quality professionals
spend most of their efforts on "hard product" processes but do little to improve their service processes. At the last quality conference I attended, about 80 percent of the examples were related
to manufacturing. Look at the major quality reference books: Juran's Quality Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1988) by Joseph M. Juran or Total Quality Control
(McGraw-Hill, 1991) by Armand V. Feigenbaum. They both have sections on service quality, but these books are primarily related to manufacturing.
Within our government, quality
is largely spotty with a few bright points, and many departments have forgotten that they're there to serve. Airports are a good example. Most U.S. airports are owned by the government and are
designed for aesthetic value, not for functionality.
Take the new airport in San Jose, California, for example. The passenger drop-off area is a disaster. You park three cars
deep from the curb, where cars drive past within a few feet as you take your life in your hands unloading your luggage. Outside of the United States, luggage carts are readily available for free.
Here, they cost $2. The escalators in the new San Jose airport are so narrow that they won't accommodate normal-sized bags. Once you're inside, the long line of people waiting to be served at the
Starbucks located right on the aisle completely blocks the already narrow walkway. Never check your bags if you're flying to San Jose; carry them on instead. It takes longer to get your bags then
it takes to fly from San Jose to Los Angeles. The new airport looks nice, but it's just not functional for its customers.
It isn't that the San Jose airport is bad; it isn't.
It's average. Nor are U.S. airports in general bad; they too are average. For example, as I write this, I'm sitting in terminal B at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The airplane I came in
on didn't get a gate; we were brought in from the plane by bus. After the bus dropped us off, we had to climb a long stairway with our luggage. Terminal B is a beautiful building filled with
large skylights, high dome ceilings and plenty of chairs to sit in, but I have too much time to kill because my plane came in an hour and a half late, making me miss my connecting flight to
Service quality starts with putting yourself in your customer's shoes. In the case of airports, this means beginning with the building design. When the building
loading plan is prepared (parking, escalators, waiting areas, etc.), its size and floor plan or layout should be designed with the objective of being able to handle 99.9 percent of all customers
within a reasonable amount of time (as defined by the customers). Furniture and equipment should be capable of handling 99.9 percent of the people without forcing them to ask for something
special. It can be very embarrassing to have to ask for extras such as an extension for a seat belt that's too small. How much would it cost to add three more inches to the seat belt? Make sure
doors are easy to operate: A loose door handle is a good way to ensure a bad experience for your customers. Escalators and people movers in airports are standard equipment, and airports that
don't use them are not customer-focused.
As you lay out the service area, design the accommodations for the ease of your customers' use, not your own. Make it easy to get
service. Value customers' time and the effort required to do business with you and they will value your service.
About the author
H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he
served as an international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books.
Harrington is a past president and
chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. Visit his Web site at www. hjharrington.com. Contact Harrington by e-mailing email@example.com .