January 22, 2012 in Business

BBB: Customer service comes in for landing

Jan Quintrall
 
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Spokane International Airport CEO Larry Krauter has shown that he puts the community first.
(Full-size photo)

If you want to get people talking, just toss out a comment about what a pain in the neck it is to fly these days. Then stand back.

But wait! Have you noticed the changes at Spokane International Airport over the last several months? I sure have. Lately, I seem to pass through there several times a week. What’s different? First, the luggage carts are now free. Second, your first 20 minutes of wireless access are free. Third, baggage delivery after you land has gotten speedier.

Wow, talk about serving the customer.

But airport CEO Larry Krauter arrived here with that focus in early April 2011. His first impression was that our airport “feel” was inconsistent with the community. And boy, has he fallen in love with this community.

Krauter’s last position placed him in Virginia in a “bedroom community” with little soul. When people spend several hours a day just getting to and from work, there is little time or inclination to give back, and that creates interesting challenges in many commuter communities. So the stark contrast to just how much we care about Spokane was a wonderful change for him, his wife and their young daughter, Lauren.

Krauter started his new position by reviewing surveys of the flying customer, and that moved him and his team to change the carts and the Wi-Fi. He reached out to people who had filed complaints. Yes, they got a call from the CEO, and most were shocked and pleased. How many times does the CEO call when you complain? Refreshing to put it mildly. Honestly, how often have you filled out a survey, wondering if anyone will read it, let alone react?

Krauter’s next step was making it easy for customers to contact his staff. We all know how difficult it can be on some websites to get anyone’s attention. Now, for the airport, it’s a simple process. If you have a parking or facility question, you know right where to go.

The climate is quickly changing in the airline industry. Smaller cities like Spokane are facing abandonment by large carriers in favor of more lucrative routes and population bases. Krauter is working hard to build alliances and relationships, and to understand the needs of one of his other customers: the airlines.

Rising fares and falling capacity make for improvement on the bottom line but don’t always improve the customer experience. Balancing cost-cutting by the major carriers with customer needs is a tightrope act, at times without a net. Plus, decisions made in some far-away city by an airline executive can make little sense for Spokane and the needs of a midsize regional airport.

Players like the concession operators, the TSA and the airline support companies all have a direct effect on how we feel arriving in or leaving the Inland Northwest. Krauter is the middleman in every way. He and his staff of more than 100 must serve all these different customers and try to make their experiences the best they can be.

Krauter is an approachable, warm person who walks the airport and checks in with customers on a regular basis, including his team. I was impressed by his knowledge of the staff and his genuine pride in their contributions to the growing success of our airport. When making choices and decisions, he puts the community first, not his buddies. Thankfully, the Airport Board made a decision to hire someone like him with a professional airport background. Past leadership did a good job of getting the facility to where it is, and now Krauter can make it soar.

Back to his daughter, Lauren, who is in elementary school. She is deeply in love with Spokane and has already made more connections and friends here than in her last location. She and her family found a home here, and because of that all the airport’s customers are better served.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at jquintrall@spokane.bbb.org.


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