Heathrow T5 Pod Customer Experience

We’re in the business of The Total Value Proposition – the whole of the experience a customer has from all of the interactions with a business (for business also read any organisation). This includes the actual product or service and all interactions before the sale, during the sale and after the sale.

So this made me wonder what the total value proposition is of Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Here’s my customer experience based on my latest trip to Sweden last week, and I’d really like to know if yours is similar or very different from mine at T5 or any other travel hub.

Helen Blake in Pod

The Wonderful Pod
Directions and parking at T5 business parking was easy.  Once out of the car I then spotted The Pod, a marvellous looking little purple people carrier.  With much childish glee we pressed the buttons and got into our personal transport device and got whisked along the track to the terminal building.  Here’s Helen in the pod.

Little did we know that this was to be the highlight of our entire travel experience.

Security Shambles

So, into the terminal we go, still buoyed by the delight of the pod and, boarding passes in hand, we head straight for security.

Now, I know that Heathrow is the largest passenger hub in the world but having travelled to many countries with very large populations of travellers, why is the security experience at Heathrow always such an undignified shambles?  Shoes on?  Shoes off? The signage doesn’t correspond with what the staff told me to do, so the expectation setting is wrong.  Then loading my bags and laptop into a tray to watch them disappear into the scanner independently of me going through security, then waiting while about 10 people go ahead of me and craning my neck trying to watch my belongings the other side of the security control, makes for a very anxious time as I’m wondering if someone is going to steal my bag or my laptop.

Then one security woman asked me what I was looking at. When I told her I was checking my belongings were still there and hadn’t been stolen, she told me very abruptly that I should have made sure that I went through at the same time as my belongings. I explained that this was impossible because the security staff members are managing the tray flow and the people flow and that these are not linked. I could see the irritation on her face and decided not to pursue this angle as clearly this is not her fault.  It’s down to inadequate process design and staff training or, as I was always taught, proper alignment of people, process and systems.  The whole experience seems to not have any process planning behind it in terms of best way to manage people flows and processes.  The result is a very stressful experience for everyone concerned.

Retail customer experience

In the press release that went out when T5 was opened in 2008 said,

“T5 took 18 years and $8.5 billion to build, is home to 112 shops and restaurants…is revolutionary in terms of its design and the retail experience it offers… brands will jostle for supremacy within a retail and leisure complex that is at the heart of the building’s design… brands were encouraged to provide evidence of innovations in their service or store design concepts that would make traveling from the terminal a unique experience.”

All I can say to this is:

It’s :
Over heated
Over lit
Over noisy
Over smelly – (perfume, air fresheners etc. nothing bodily!)

It was a full-on sensory assault course designed, I can only imagine, with teenagers in mind, not mature adults (I class myself in the latter category).  It made me want to run out screaming and find the refuge of a sensory deprivation chamber.

Interestingly I spoke to a number of the staff and commented on what I thought, and guess what? They agreed.  They said they get too hot, and the constant noise, music and smell gives them a headache by the end of their shift.

All the tills are in front of this video wall, shown above. Can you imagine working in front of the hot, noisy video wall all day?

The gate

At last, the thought of escaping this mayhem and going to the gate was very appealing….until I got close.  It was squashed in a corner between the shops and a corridor. There was a huge advertising hoarding blocking the entrance to it. There weren’t enough seats for even one third of the plane load of people.  The whole experience felt as if I was in a human battery cage waiting to be despatched.  Again there seemed to be no process or people flow design. In a word…awful.

Value = very poor

So this was the result, all in all using our value equation of Value = Benefits – Costs2 for the whole experience it was:

Benefits (the good experience) = The pod

Costs (the bad experience) = security + shopping + gate (to the power of 2 at least as the emotional and physiological effects of negative experiences stay with us much longer than those of positive experiences due to the brain’s cortisol receptors outnumbering serotonin receptors by 5: 1)

Not scientific but I think you get my point.

What experience have you had at T5?  Was I being exceptionally bad tempered that day or have you had similar experiences, not just at Heathrow but any travelling experiences?

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About Cindy
Cindy Barnes is a business and psychology consultant. Her background is in product and service innovation, business development and leadership. She is founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Futurecurve who are value solution architects and builders. Futurecurve helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental 
organisations, start-ups and not-for-profits.

Her career has spanned engineering, heading R&D for part of Panavision, running automotive component factories for Smith Industries and leading marketing and business development for Capgemini. 
She has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and solutions.