Showing posts with label Helsinki. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Helsinki. Show all posts

Friday, October 12, 2012

Three Perfect Days in Helsinki Finland + Crowne Plaza Helsinki Review

United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine (best in-flight magazine I've read) has a feature called Three Perfect Days that gives travel advice for three days in a given city.  It provides valuable insights and is a fun read, but they haven't covered Helsinki, so allow me to fill the void.  
Hakasalmenpuisto Park, Helsinki
I don't know anyone in Finland and did very limited research, but was still able to have a great time and see everything I wanted to see.  My first stop in Helsinki was the tourist desk at the airport (ground level, terminal 2) to buy a Helsinki Card.  This card is a tourist's dream, it provides free public transit, maps, sightseeing ideas, and discounted or free admission to every museum in town (I've had great experiences with this idea in Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, and Copenhagen too).  It also helps me see more when I travel, if the museum is free, why not drop in, even if only for a few minutes.  The lowered inhibitions might be the best value; the excellent map is a close second.
Cool Designs in Helsinki
From the airport, I took the Finnair City Bus to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Helsinki.  I used points to pay for the room and confirmed with the hotel that my Platinum status would be honored when paying with points (not a guarantee with Priority Club).  I was upgraded to a club floor and got free internet for my stay.  The club floor room was a decent size and I was able to spread out and relax; good bathroom too (never a sure thing in older EU hotels).  The club lounge had cold cuts for breakfast (it's a Scandinavian thing) and light snacks in the evening.  The fridge was stocked with water, Coke, and a few beers, available any time.  All around it's a nice lounge (and not spending on breakfast really stretches a travel budget).  I was the only tourist in the lounge and stood out a lot, but I had a vacation mindset and didn't care.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Helsinki Executive King Room
Crowne Plaza Helsinki Hotel
Helsinki is the World Design Capital for 2012.  This is a rotating title to promote local outstanding design; there were various displays around town and at the airport promoting Finnish design.  The award may be temporary, but design is a strong part of the culture.  There are many stunning buildings and art pieces around town and two museums dedicated to design.  It's something best experienced.
Cool Helsinki Building #1
Helsinki Is Very Relaxing
Cool Helsinki Building #2 of Many
Helsinki is a small and walkable city, but they have a terrific tram system, so you don't have to walk very far. Most sights and museums are close to a tram stop.  The Culture Tram is a sight on its own.  Each week, a different cultural display or activity is featured.  There have been opera singers, sting quartets, and a boring thing about media coverage of the poor in Africa (what I saw).
Helsinki Culture Tram - Different Theme Each Week
Helsinki City Streets
After waking up early on my first morning in Helsinki (remember to close the curtains), I headed over to the Suomenlinna sea fortress.  A ferry goes from the top of the harbor to the fortress two or three times an hour and it is covered under public transit, so no need for an extra ticket.  Suomenlinna was built as a harbor defense for Helsinki and was the primary military base in the area.  It did not do well in the Crimean War, but is wonderful to visit now.  There are many museums, tours, and things to see and climb on (all free with the Helsinki Card).  I spent over five hours exploring the islands.  By far my favorite stop on my vacation.
Suomenlinna From The Sea
Suomenlinna Fortifications
Suomenlinna Earth Works
Russia Guns from the 1880's at Suomenlinna
Suomenlinna Gunner's View of Sea Lanes
Finland's Partner in the Continuation War
Suomenlinna Military Museum
WWII Finnish Submarine
Finnish Naval Building on Suomenlinna
It was raining on my second day, so I took a free bus tour (thank you Helsinki Card). It did a decent job of showing the city, explaining the history, and finding some sights that are difficult to locate on the tram system.  It ended by the central square in town and I hit the pavement to see a few more museums. The Bank of Finland museum was fun, in a nerdy finance way.  The Military Museum of Finland was an interesting continuation of what I learned about on Suomenlinna too.  The modern art museum has a great building and a full size police car that an artist knitted together, but the rest was a little too out there for my tastes.
Main Church in Town, Boring on the Inside
Knitted Police Car at Helsinki Modern Art Museum
Helsinki Train Station, Cool Outside, Drab Inside
Cool Bench Celebrating Helsinki's 200th Birthday
Statue to a Composer
Bank of Finland, Damage From WWII Soviet Bombing
I spent my third day relaxing before my flight. I woke up early (not intentionally) and took the ferry out to Suomenlinna and back just to enjoy the water.  I headed back to the hotel, but took a detour and wandered around the lake and park next to the hotel, very tranquil.  I arrived at the Helsinki Airport early so I could discuss customer experience management with their CEM manager.  Then I hit the lounge, did some duty free shopping, and hopped a flight to Munich.  I wouldn't say I had three perfect days in Helsinki, but it was close.

Russian Orthodox Churches Are Interesting
Fun Tapas Bar

Monday, October 1, 2012

Helsinki Airport Customer Experience Management Program

What feelings do airports create?  Frustration, anger, stress, nervousness, confusion, and discomfort are common answers.  Most airports don’t see the customer experience as their first priority, but focus on operations, costs, regulations, or revenue.  Even though a lack of interest in the customer experience is common in airports today, it should be the next big area for innovation in airports and Helsinki Airport is on the leading edge.
Departures Board in Terminal 2
Helsinki Airport is in a difficult position, faced with strong competition and limited resources; they can’t outspend the Middle East governments, can’t expand their existing footprint very much, and don’t serve a giant city.  Helsinki, like most airports, cannot compete for passengers based simply on grandeur and opulence; instead it competes based on the total customer experience.  Customer experience management (CEM) is an area where every airport, no matter the size, can compete for customers. 
Terminal 2 Lobby with Self Check In and Self Bag Tagging
Finavia, the government owned firm that operates 21 civil airports in Finland including Helsinki, has the goal to own the entire customer experience.  This goal goes beyond just the 600 employees they have at Helsinki, but encompasses the customer’s entire travel experience, from booking, transit to the airport, ground experience, and inflight experience.  Their CEM goal is to create “Smooth Traveling.”  This supports the larger business goal to be Europe’s number one transfer airport. 
Terminal 1 Check In Lobby
Helsinki’s customer experience initiatives attempt to cover the complete “customer path.”  There are multiple customer types, and depending on the trip, the same individual can be a different customer type.  For example, 6,500 “first timers” (haven’t flown in more than a year) visit each day; some first timers ever go to the airport on the day before to practice.  Their needs differ greatly from frequent travels, families, pensioners, etc., but each group needs to have their needs addressed to create a positive experience.  Mindsets are further influenced by why the trip is being taken.  What influences customer experience varies greatly, so CEM isn’t a simple proposition.
One of Many Art Pieces Around the Airport
Helsinki Airport has three basic focus areas for CEM, premises, processes, and people. If these three items are done well, everything should run smoothly.  Processes are complex and difficult to observe when passing through.  Finavia has worked to redesign processes, self check in and bag tagging for example, to improve the customer experience and make things run smoother for passengers. 
Wireless Phone Charging Built into Tables
The second focus area is the premises and the goal is to create a comfortable atmosphere.  The first thing I noticed is the terminal is very quiet, just soft conversation.  There are no recurring announcements (absent are Homeland Security threat level style reminders), no one screaming in their phones, no carts beeping, and no hum from the HVAC system, luggage belts, or other sources.  The signage is large, clear, well placed, and helpful.  It is a simple idea, but not well executed in most airports.  Work centers are available and promoted with signage.  Ample seating is provided in many forms.  There are many different restaurants, shops, and large windows to look out on the field.  Power outlets and phone charging (including wireless PowerKiss charging) opportunities abound.  There is even a space with chairs designed by famous Finns to showcase Finnish design.  The airport has an open and Finnish feel to the layout and decor; creating a calm and comfortable atmosphere. 
Finish Designs' Chair Examples
The terminals are well lit and a comfortable temperature.  The WiFi is fast and free; it isn’t even advertising supported.  Free luggage carts are available curbside and by baggage claim, they look to be clean and in good shape.  The terminal building has many open spaces, long sight lines, and comfortable colors and materials.  There is a pervasive Scandinavian design idea in all areas.  T1 and T2 have a modern feel to them, while the original terminal building has hard wood floors and timeless jet set 1960's style atmosphere (even with a banner promoting the wifi and self check-in kiosks). 
Large and Clear Signage Right After Security
Employees at the airport treats passengers as guests.  The staff, regardless of who they work for, is sharply dressed and friendly.  There seems to be a positive and hospitable culture at the airport.  It also self-reinforces with coworkers complementing others when they go that extra step to help passengers (I saw this at the security screening and was dumbfounded).
Work Area, Finnish Style
My favorite example of these three focus areas coming together is the security process.  The T1 checkpoint was engaged in a pilot program to test new customer experience design improvements.  They want the security process to reflect Finnish design by including light wood paneling, more sound absorbing materials, clear explanations, and a softer feel.  They are also working to eliminate the “metal taste” from the experience by silencing the belt rollers and other metal on metal contact points in the process.
Helsinki Airport's Timeless Old Terminal
T2 uses an older design, yet still miles ahead of the standard US experience.  There are plenty of bins, free baggies at the entrance of the line, right next to recycling bins, and a sign explaining the process and what is not allowed.  The line moves orderly, the staff is helpful, sharply dressed, and pleasant.  The different touch points, bins, rollers, floor, benches, are clean too.  It’s relaxed experience from start to finish.
T1 Security Explanation Sign
Helsinki Airport tracks and measures the customer experience (measure what you want to improve).  They use a combination of feedback mechanisms (much more than just a postcard like at BOS) including customer surveys, web forms, Twitter, Facebook, and customer interviews. Time through the security line is tracked too (implied is there is an unacceptably long time, the TSA would disagree). Staff also attends seminars with airlines and other airports to share ideas.  International airport surveys are also used to independently compare different aspects against their peers.  The Quality Hunters 2 program, run in conjunction with Finnair, provided customer suggestions, 25 of which are being implemented, like the Book Swap room.  All these sources of information are used to create a comprehensive view into customer thoughts and feelings.
Book Swap Room in T2
Customer experience management is an area that all airports could improve.  It will also help airports of any size compete for customers and improve loyalty.  Passengers will appreciate the changes tthat transform flying into a fun experience, not a chore.  

I'd like to thank Johanna Metsälä, Finavia's CEM lead, for discussing the intricacies of CEM at Helsinki Airport with me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Helsinki Airport Security Check Innovation

Helsinki Airport is at the forefront of security check designs because they are focusing on the customer experience.  I wish US airports would follow the Finn's lead.  Read more here or watch the video below.