As it appeared in the Daily Nation on October 10th, 2017
I had the pleasure of ushering in a visitor to JKIA a few days ago. The young Dutch lady seated next to me was taking time off to volunteer in Africa before joining college. It was her first time travelling out of Europe. The only other airports she had visited were Heathrow in the UK and Schiphol in her home country. She seemed excited about coming to Africa for the first time. As I reflected on her excitement, it struck me that her overnight stay at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) would form a major part of her first impressions about Kenya. Disembarking on the tarmac was part of that experience. Luckily, I had explained that we have great weather all year with temperatures never going to the extremes. She however wondered what would happen in case of rain. I assured her that raincoats would be provided.
As I went through the arrivals process, I wondered if JKIA really guarantees a delightful experience at every point of interaction. What sort of memories do the over 7 million passengers departing, arriving or transiting via the airport have of Kenya’s busiest airport? Why was the entry to the arrivals unkempt? Why was the immigration officer wearing a stone face? Why was there an unnecessary stair to the washrooms at arrivals? Why did the architecture look so out of place even after the recent refurbishments? I wondered if JKIA often reflects on its end-to-end passenger experience.
Have you ever dropped off or picked up someone at JKIA? It is such a painful process. Two months ago while dropping my nephew, I was arrested for using the wrong parking. There were no markings or barriers to indicate that I should not get into the said parking lot. Luckily, I apologized and was let go despite refusing to part with “chai”. With limited waiting areas, passenger drop off and pick up is such a hassle. In addition, the taxis are too many and there no efficient public transport system to and from the airport. Drop off, pick up and parking remains one of the customer pains at JKIA.
The airport has a 3.6 rating on google reviews. The over 600 reviews sort of balance the good the bad and the absolutely ugly. Some of the areas highlighted for improvement include the general infrastructure, the layout, the signage, more restaurants near the boarding gates, staff professionalism, customs declaration, lack of a JKIA website etc. Though we may be doing better than other airports in Africa, globally we are still lagging behind and I hope that JKIA is doing something about the customer experience and the general feel and look of the airport. There is a lot we can learn from other airports. The very organized public transport to and from Heathrow airport and the strong service culture at the award winning Changi Airport in Singapore are some of the airports with great lessons for JKIA. I believe that customer centred airports go an extra mile to ensure seamless and bearable passenger experiences. For example Changi Airport requires all those working at the airport to go through specialized customer experience lessons.
A great lesson for JKIA comes from one of Bill Gates favourite quotes “Every day we’re saying, ‘How can we keep the customer happy? How can we get ahead in innovation by doing this?’… because if we don’t, somebody else will”. Is JKIA keeping its customers happy? I believe that passenger experiences have some influence on passenger numbers and JKIA must therefore fast track its overall passenger experiences.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy