Behind the Masks, There’s Still 5-Star Customer Service
Walking through the double doors at the airport on March 23, 2020 was downright creepy. Westchester County (WCC) airport was eerily quiet at a time when travel should be approaching its peak.
That was the first day after a mass exodus during the previous week where travelers made a mad dash to their summer and second homes to escape COVID-19. The number of new cases were climbing at an alarming rate in densely populated cities in New York and Connecticut.
Being technology forward and ticketless fit in with the Million Air brand, unlike a paper ticket system.
Everyone was wearing masks and practicing social distancing, schools went virtual, and companies moved to widescale work-from-home processes almost overnight in a worldwide effort to flatten the curve. WCC saw a steady stream of takeoffs and landings that week before, but unlike previous flights, travelers didn’t know when they’d be returning. Because the airport is an essential business, doors stayed open, even though the hangar doors stayed mostly closed once lockdown began.
Full service FBO Million Air serves business and leisure private jet travelers, and they were eager and ready for another wave of takeoffs. However, they quickly realized that anyone flying anywhere did it earlier that week. Like other businesses, Million Air had the sobering task ahead of them: furloughing employees and maintaining a small crew to serve the occasional traveler while they worked out new cleaning protocols.
WCC took advantage of the two-month pause by doing some planned runway repairs immediately instead of waiting for the summer. While they listened to the hum of heavy equipment instead of the rush of jets taking off, Million Air teams, from the CEO to field personnel, perfected a return to business strategy that hinged on one premise: How can Million Air continue their tradition of delivering personal, next-level service that exceeded customer expectations in this new business landscape?
“There’s a cadence to private aviation’s season, ebbs and flows that are known to us, but at the end of March, nothing was typical,” said Lauren Rones-Payne, General Manager at Million Air. “We’ve always regarded safety as a top priority, so that was a familiar place to start our rebound. We weren’t flying, but we got busy in a different type of way, focusing on how to operate and keep people safe, not just for customers, but employees, too. Management immediately began researching what type of cleaning and disinfecting protocols we should put in place. And at the same time, checking in with our employees who were thrust into a chaotic, stressful environment even if they weren’t working, as many were taking care of elderly parents and kids in virtual classes at home.”
Superior customer experiences at Million Air started at the curb, with smiling valets greeting customers and parking cars. While the company had long adopted contactless SMS Valet® to manage operations, that was more for convenience than safety. The platform allowed travelers to pay and tip for valet parking using their cell phones without downloading an app, and after the first visit, use speed check to get parked even faster.
And being technology forward and ticketless just fit in with the Million Air brand, unlike a paper ticket system. None of their customers managing bags and children wanted the additional responsibility of keeping up with a tiny paper ticket, and they liked having two-way communication to request cars or call the valet if a bag, phone charger, or child’s toy was accidentally left behind.
At Million Air, valets are more like ambassadors than car parkers: they greet travelers, answer questions, and give directions to ensure travelers got on their way promptly. They often help customers quickly navigate the newly remodeled, state-of-the-art 16,000 sq. ft. facility offering amenities like a hospitality bar, business center, golf simulator, pilot lounge, and flight planning room. Now they’d be doing it behind personal protection equipment like masks and taking keys with gloved hands.
In June, travelers came back to a spectacularly clean space with a brand-new runway. Million Air invested in commercial cleaning equipment and established disinfectant protocols to make everyone feel safe in addition to implementing CDC recommendations, and it’s working.
“Our valet team led by Manager Will Johnson, wear a uniform, and customers could see we were always wearing masks and gloves, so very soon our self-park lot became overflow parking for valet—we’re parking about 400 cars per month. Having a contactless system actually raises service levels because our customers can text the valet. Customers have always appreciated the cashless, ticketless process, but now it gave them added peace of mind.”
As the airline industry returned to travel in October, Rones-Payne expects this trend to continue. “People want to fly. They want to experience the world. Now more than ever, they want to get back to business or have the opportunity to visit loved ones instead of meeting on a screen. We’re proud to provide that opportunity to connect people, and we’re doing it in a way that welcomes every customer, offers the level of luxury they expect from the Million Air brand, and presents the most contactless experience possible to keep them safe during this pandemic, and also in the future.”
TEZ is equally thrilled to be part of the Million Air customer’s journey. “We develop these contactless platforms that don’t just offer the convenience of a mobile payment solution,” said Steve Resnick, CRO at TEZ. “They transform service, too, in a way that allows operators to offer touchless, but personal, customer experiences.”
Luis Salazar, Gator Operations. He can be reached at Luis@tezhq.com