Episode 6: How Customer Experience Affects Airport Choice


Cost, convenience, proximity – those are some of the factors consumers use to choose which airports they fly out of. But what about the customer experience? How does it affect airport choice, and how do airports know that the improvements they make are ones that their customers actually care about?

These are questions that Natasia Malaihollo and her company Wyzerr are helping airports to get better at answering. She joins the podcast this week to discuss how airports are beginning to innovate on the customer experience, and how Wyzerr’s intelligent survey tools enable them to better understand and anticipate what their customers want.

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Read the Transcript

John Rougeux: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode.

John Rougeux: Our guest for today is Natasia Malaihollollo, who is the CEO and Co-Founder at Wyzerr, an artificial intelligence tool that designs smart surveys, and turns that feedback into operational insights for businesses. Today, Natasia is going to share her thoughts on how the customer experience is playing an increasingly important role in how and why people choose an airport.

John Rougeux: Natasia, thanks so much for being on the show today. How are you?

Natasia Malaihollo: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I am doing great.

John Rougeux: Glad to hear it. All right, so to kick things off today, could you briefly tell us a little bit about yourself, and about Wyzerr.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. Sure, so I am originally from California. Went to school in the Bay Area. Being in the Bay, I was exposed to a lot of tech, so I always thought that I … I always knew I wanted to be in technology, but moreso on the legal side. Thought I wanted to be a patent attorney, and so I was on that path for several years. Worked at a lot of big law firms as a patent specialist. Ended up going to law school, and then while I was in law school, had an idea for my first startup, and then so I had dropped out.

Natasia Malaihollo: I have never looked back since. I’ve been an entrepreneur now for about six years. Wyzerr’s my second company. Yeah, so kind of a very quick summary of my background. But my background was original in patent prosecution, specifically around software and artificial intelligence.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Could you tell us a little bit more about Wyzerr itself. I tried to give a little bit of an intro there, but I’m sure you can do a much better job than I can.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so we started Wyzerr four and a half years ago because we noticed that it seemed like every company was sending out a survey. You couldn’t go anywhere, you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t eat, you really couldn’t use anything without that business eventually sending you a survey, or prompting you with some kind of feedback loop. We noticed that the engagement on these surveys were dramatically decreasing year over year, and so we just thought to ourselves, “Well, if this is going down but businesses obviously need this feedback, is there a better way to do surveys?”

Natasia Malaihollo: A quick research, of course, pointed us in the direction of games and social media applications, and we just thought, “Why not adopt some of the design thinking and some of the psychological background and reasoning for why you develop games and social media, and use all of those things to create a survey.” That’s how Wyzerr started. Our goal was to stay under 60 seconds, so we always wanted to be a 60 second survey that collects as much data as possible.

Natasia Malaihollo: Today, we can collect 25 questions in under 60 seconds. Because we’re collecting so much data in a such a short amount of time, we noticed that our customers were having trouble analyzing this larger volume of data. That’s when we began developing the AI tool, in order to process and analyze that data as quickly and as in real-time as possible. That’s how we landed on this AI to turn feedback data into actual insight.

John Rougeux: So 25 questions in 60 seconds. That’s pretty impressive.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yup.

John Rougeux: All right, well in a minute we’re gonna talk a little bit more about customer experience in the airport vertical. But maybe to set that up, could you tell us a little bit more about why Wyzerr has really started to double down on the airport space?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. Initially when we started Wyzerr, we were completely focused on retail. One of our first clients was actually Walmart. Because we did really well with that campaign, we were able to get a lot of really big enterprises really quickly. Over time, it was almost like we were exclusively working with just large enterprises, especially in the retail space.

Natasia Malaihollo: About a year ago, there was a lot of research and I guess news around airports becoming the malls of the future, and retail of the future. We got a call from CVG, and they basically asked us to develop the same type of tool that we were developing for retail, for them, and they wanted to test it out.

Natasia Malaihollo: We piloted the program, but then that program ended up being the most successful campaign that we’ve had, and the most successful client to date. We measure that just in terms of the value of the data, the volume of the data, how useful the data is to the stakeholders, how they’re using the data. Just across the board they were just outperforming every metric and KPI that we had for our customer campaigns.

Natasia Malaihollo: That let us make the decision earlier this year that we were gonna focus exclusively on airports because it seems like we’re delivering a much higher value to them than we are to retail, specifically.

John Rougeux: With that time you spent at CVG, which is Cincinnati’s airport, you really started to see that with the tools you had built pairing surveys and artificial intelligence, you were adding a lot more value than what they were doing previously. If you could shed a little bit more light on that, what were they doing prior to working with you? Was it paper surveys? Was it a less intelligent form of digital surveys? Maybe it was nothing at all. I’m curious what the baseline was.

Natasia Malaihollo: They have a standard survey, which is what most airports I think use, the ACI ASQ survey. I think they were doing a couple hundred a quarter. Today with Wyzerr, they’re doing about 60,000 a month.

John Rougeux: Oh, really. Okay, so that’s an order of magnitude larger than what they were doing previously.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yup.

John Rougeux: I think that’s a good background for what you really wanted to talk about today, which is how the customer experience is affecting how people choose which airport to fly out of. Just broadly speaking, can you start by telling us a little bit more about some of the challenges airports are facing with customer experience right now?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of things, at least from my own, in talking with stakeholders at airports, and just some research on my own. But there’s a couple of challenges because the way that airports are built, when airports were developed was before all of this new technology, and before all of this new behavior that people are experiencing, and before this technology revolution.

Natasia Malaihollo: I’ll give you a perfect example is that a lot of airports were not built to handle Lyft and Uber. A lot of the airports do not have dedicated stops, and they don’t have dedicated pickup areas for Uber and Lyft. In some airport, even at Atlanta, for example, the Uber and Lyft pickup spot is a 10 minute walk, very, very far from the terminal. That was because in the design of the airport, they didn’t foresee. There’s really no way they could have foresee a technology like Uber and Lyft.

Natasia Malaihollo: ‘Cause different things like that, I think a lot of it is rooted in technology. I think there is so many new innovations that people in general, consumers in general, their perception of what their standards are, and what they should expect, and what they should be in the airport is consistent with what they’re seeing everywhere else.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another thing of course, that you’re very familiar with is wi-fi. There’s a lot of talk around wi-fi being it should be a public utility, it should be a free utility, people expect it everywhere. If you don’t have a fast internet connection or if you don’t have access to free wi-fi in places, people are generally very upset. That applies to the airport space as well. Especially in the feedback space, I see a lot of feedback coming in, just in general around airports, and they’re around travel. A lot of it is always around wi-fi, not having access to wi-fi.

Natasia Malaihollo: I think it accelerated because of the tech revolution, but also just because of outside changes that are not necessarily relevant to the airport, but affect how consumers behave and think, and perceive what they should be receiving.

John Rougeux: Yeah, so you talked about a couple things there. One was the amenities themselves that passengers, customers access when they’re at the airport today. I think the other thing you were talking about is trying to prepare for the future. I think you’re absolutely right when you said, “There wasn’t necessarily a great way to prepare for Uber and Lyft,” but it’s probably safe to say that there’s going to some other disruption five, 10 years down the line, maybe even sooner. What are you seeing airports do to start maybe prepare or get a better forecast on what’s coming down the line?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a couple things that I have noticed at scale. To be fair, and I’ll just … My first disclaimer is that I’ve only been in the airport space for about a year now. I wouldn’t even say a full year. I’d probably say nine months. This is just based on my own initial research, and my own interviews. But number one, I’ve noticed that a lot of airports are getting these huge remodeling budgets. Part of that remodeling budget is of course creating a better customer experience. Like LAX for example. They have a huge $15 billion remodeling budget, and a big part of that is around improving the customer experience at LAX.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another thing is just the amount of time and effort that airports are spending to innovate, and to cultivate a culture of innovation. I think that also speaks volumes to just how airports are definitely seeing that they need to get better at understanding what’s to come, or at least keep a hand on the pulse of what is to come.

Natasia Malaihollo: I think airports are getting better at at least putting themselves in the position to embrace innovation, and be part of the innovation, versus just waiting for it to happen, and trying to figure out how to respond and react. I think they’re being more proactive these days.

Natasia Malaihollo: There’s a lot of airports that have innovations programs. I know San Diego has one. Of course, ATL has innovation program as well called ATL Thinks, which we were part of. But I’ve just seen a lot of this pop up all over at different airports.

John Rougeux: Yeah, let’s dive into that a little bit further. You talked about being reactive, but trying to gather data today to have a better idea of what might happen in the future. Certainly feedback and survey tools, like Wyzerr and others, are an important piece of that. What else are you seeing airports do to better understand how passengers are behaving?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so there’s a couple way … Of course my expertise lies in the data side of it. At least from the feedback perspective is understanding what consumers and customers want, and anticipate or they expect to see in the airport. That’s really big.

Natasia Malaihollo: Another key thing I think that airports are big on right now is this increasing their non-aeronautical revenue. Being able to identify new ways to connect to the consumer, and have them shopping or spending at the airport beyond just an airline ticket, I think that’s going to be as well, key to improving the customer experience because then it becomes … It doesn’t become …

Natasia Malaihollo: Airports right now are like … It’s almost like a requirement. If you want to travel, and you don’t want to drive, and you want to fly, you have to go to the airport. But I think airports are trying to shift that perception and become a place where it’s part of the actual travel experience, like you look forward to going to a certain airport because of these amenities, and these things. Maybe they are stores, maybe they are restaurants. But I think there’s a shift in how airports are trying to change the consumer’s mind around what an airport actually is. It’s not a mandatory stop in your travel, but a leisure stop, or a place that you actually look forward to.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s right. Speaking from personal experience, so I’m in Lexington, Kentucky, which is not a huge metropolis, but even where I live, every time I fly I choose between three different airports. So CVG, Cincinnati, which you mentioned, obviously Lexington, and then Louisville. They’re all close enough to be worth flying out of. It’s not always based on price. There’s other factors. If I come through Louisville and I see they’ve done something nice, maybe I’ll pay a little bit more to go there. Or if I see it’s a little bit easier to park at Cincinnati, I may come back there.

John Rougeux: I’m curious, do you have a favorite airport, or an airport that’s just really doing something outstanding in terms of creating a great experience for people who pass through?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. I don’t get to fly out of this airport often, but every time I do, I am just astounding by just how much they have going on, so the Houston airport. I want to say it’s IAH, it might be that one. There’s just so much going on in there. They have the restaurant where you don’t have to wait for your waiter, you can just order the food. You can scan your boarding pass and they’ll bring it to your gate, if necessary, if they can’t find you. You can pay for food with your loyalty points, with your airline points. I mean, there’s just a lot. There’s so much great things going on. It’s just a great experience.

Natasia Malaihollo: Honestly now, when I’m choosing for my layovers, because I fly between cross-country a lot, and so I fly back to California, often times I’m actually looking for everything but Chicago. Now, I’m really looking at Houston now as the favorite airport, just because of the amount of innovation that I think they’re spending on.

Natasia Malaihollo: I also like New York airport. I think they’re doing a pretty great job of introducing new technologies in the airport. I’ve seen some. They have these portable office spaces and things like that, that’s set up, that you can almost actually work as if you’re in an office there. You can rent these offices by the hour. There’s just a lot of different things that I’ve seen, that I think especially for a business traveler, like myself, then you decide to pick your airport based on that. With New York, like now I’m always flying out New York, and I don’t even look at LaGuardia or JFK anymore.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s interesting, those rentable work spaces. I haven’t seen those personally since I haven’t been through those airports recently, but yeah, I think that’s definitely something that is gonna get a lot of traction. I like what you said too, about it’s not just where you fly from, but it’s where you pass through, and what that experience is gonna be like in any layovers you have.

John Rougeux: When you’re working with airports and you’re talking to their teams, what are you seeing in terms of which departments are involved in customer experience decisions? Do you see, is it a siloed effort? Or are you seeing changes in the way different departments are working together on these types of efforts?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah. It’s definitely evolving.

Natasia Malaihollo: I always see marketing. Marketing is always somehow involved in some capacity, or they have someone that represents the marketing team in the meeting. Lately, a lot of our interest has come from these Chief Innovation Officers, or innovation departments that are springing up at the airports. Not ever airport, of course, has someone in this capacity, but for a startup like us, we’ve seen the fastest traction, or at least the needle moves a lot quicker when we’re speaking to someone in the innovation department. Of course, I also see the airport manager. The service manager, or the airport manager is often in the meetings as well. A little bit of everything, but usually definitely someone in marketing is always in the meeting.

John Rougeux: You mentioned was it an innovation role? Did I hear that correctly?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. Like a Chief Innovation Officer, or an Innovation Director.

John Rougeux: Is that a role you’re seeing growing in terms of … How many airports have a role or a team dedicated to that purpose?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes. I am actually. I don’t know if I’m surprised or not, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. But I notice that it’s definitely not a prominent, not a very common role for the airport space. But I do see that it’s a growing role, so I’m seeing a lot of the airports that are known to be forward thinking, have an innovation department, and some of the other ones, they do not.

Natasia Malaihollo: I’ll notice that the people in these roles, they’ve only had this role for a year, but they’ve been at the airport for 27 years. Or they’ve been at the airport for 20 years, and they’ve only been in this role for two years.

John Rougeux: Interesting. This is a new development.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah.

John Rougeux: Airports, it sounds like they’re starting to recognize the importance of having dedicated to innovation and other developments.

Natasia Malaihollo: Yes, exactly.

John Rougeux: Natasia, lots of great advice for anyone in the airport industry who’s wanting to create a better experience for their travelers. Let’s cap things off with a tangible piece of advice that our listeners can leave today with. If you could recommend just one resource that you feel is really key to anyone who has a customer experience related role, what would you say?

Natasia Malaihollo: Yeah, so I read this great article that has a link to a Harvard study called The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value. But the article itself, it frames how you should create a customer satisfaction score, and how you should measure your customer satisfaction.

Natasia Malaihollo: Then this article and this study is actually what we used to develop Wyzerr four years ago, and it basically says that there’s only three zones of loyalty and satisfaction. They’re zone of loyalty, zone of indifference, and zone of defection. Every single customer basically falls into one of these three zones. It’s just a very simplified way, and it makes a lot of sense in the modern world, especially in terms of thinking about your satisfaction. Basically, anything below 80% is automatically indifference or defection. You focus your efforts on that.

Natasia Malaihollo: I will send these links to you, but I think that in terms of thinking about consumers and customers in the modern time, especially with all of this technology, I think this is a great way to just think of your measurements and your benchmarks.

John Rougeux: Good deal. Well, we will certainly include a link to that in the show notes.

John Rougeux: Natasia, if someone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Natasia Malaihollo: Best way is probably email. My email is natasia@wyzerr.com, N-A-T-A-S-I-A at wyzerr.com. Of course, you have that, John, so feel free to share.

John Rougeux: All right, will do. Natasia, thanks so much for being with us today. Was great having you on the show.

Natasia Malaihollo: Thank you so much for having me.

John Rougeux: You bet.

John Rougeux: All right, if you are listening to this episode and liked what you heard, please do me a huge favor and leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. It would mean so much to me, and it would help make sure that great advice from guests like Natasia get heard by more people. Secondly, if you have an idea for the show or a guest you’d like to propose, send us a note at podcast@skyfii.com. That’s podcast at S-K-Y-F-I-I dot com.

John Rougeux: Okay, well that’s it for today’s episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: podcast@skyfii.com. See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. The article Natasia mentions is Customer Satisfaction Surveys & Research: How to Measure CSAT
  2. The Harvard Study referenced by Natasia is The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value
  3. The best way to get in-touch with Natasia is through email at natasia@wyzerr.com

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