Robbert van Vliet works as a Customer Care Manager at Schiphol. At the heart of his work is the mission to ensure that all passengers receive prompt and accurate answers to their questions. There are three ways in which this is done: through the customer contact centre, the self-service units in the terminals and departure lounges, and the mobile personal assistants. Under Robbert’s watchful eye, everybody gets the help they need, and staff members go the extra mile. Spot talked to Robbert about the magic of Schiphol and the secret of good customer service.
Tell us Robbert, how did you end up working at Schiphol?
‘I had an interim position here about four years ago. My job was to set up a partnership with RIFF, an external party. They specialise in customer contact and fielding questions from customers (i.e. passengers) by telephone and through digital channels. Once I’d completed that interim project, there was a vacancy for the position of Customer Care Manager. By then I’d been bitten by the Schiphol bug, so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands!'
What is so great about working for Schiphol?
‘It’s that Hello, Goodbye feeling that’s everywhere, it's magic. I always come to work by train, so I’m surrounded by passengers every day. People with suitcases, looking at their watches to check they have enough time to catch their flight, or people who have just got back from their holiday looking tanned and relaxed. I love that – it makes me feel like I’m looking after everybody. It’s fascinating to watch people move through the airport – on their way to the gate, perhaps rushing for a connecting flight. Schiphol is so big, with lots of noise and things going on. Not many people are truly relaxed. So it’s up to me and my colleagues to make sure that everyone has a good journey.’
How do you do that?
‘Good customer service starts with a clear vision and strategy. As a company, how do you interact with your customers? It’s important to remember what you are doing it all for. For us, everything revolves around customer satisfaction. We prefer to help passengers in as personal a way as possible, and we also make things easy for them by offering self-service units. And even though we've outsourced some of our customer service to RIFF, we work together so seamlessly that customers would never notice the difference. Ultimately, what matters is that waiting times are reasonable and that you keep your promises. And sometimes you go that little bit further than you need to. Recently, for example, two personal assistants sang for a passenger’s birthday, in front of all the other passengers. It’s those little things that make the job so special.’
You receive hundreds of messages every day. How do you make sure that your communication always has that personal touch?
‘We use friendly, informal language with our customers. But you also have to be flexible: if someone prefers a more formal approach, you adapt accordingly. What also makes a difference is engaging and really asking questions. Our customer service reps are trained to find out the questions behind the question. It’s only when you really try to understand what the customer needs that you can provide a good solution. To make sure that we all get better all the time, afterwards we ask our customers how they found the conversation. We use that feedback to work on points for improvement so that we can help customers even better in the future.’
Most people will have noticed that it has often been busy at Schiphol lately, due to the staff shortage. Has that affected you?
‘The current situation certainly is having an impact on my work. We have to keep a close eye on the latest situation all the time. The crowds and long queues have brought a lot of uncertainty, and so passengers are contacting us more. They want to know how much waiting time they should expect before they can catch their flight, and that’s only to be expected. We have been inundated with questions, especially during the holiday season. We have taken on extra staff to answer all of them within a reasonable time. That helps us to be as responsive as possible and to give people the right support.’
So you are constantly monitoring what passengers are asking questions about. Do you also adapt your working methods accordingly?
‘Absolutely. During the pandemic, for example, passengers had to bring all kinds of printed documents with them – test statements, location forms, you name it. We were not used to this, because nowadays almost everything is digital. There are hardly any printers at Schiphol, so passengers would often ask where they could print out a document. Some even missed their flight because they only had digital versions of forms or documents with them. Of course, that was not what we wanted to see, so we came up with a solution: portable printers. We purchased a few of them so that our mobile assistants could print anywhere, on demand. We helped a lot of people to catch their planes, especially at the beginning of the pandemic!'
What is your message for your Schiphol colleagues?
‘If a passenger is walking around looking lost or anxious, or if you see a suitcase come sliding off a cart, stop to help. Little things like that can really make someone’s day. We all have a role to play in making sure that people continue to see Schiphol as a friendly, helpful and approachable place. And we can only make a difference if we all work together. So think beyond your own team, and think about the whole airport. That’s what I would like to encourage people to do!’
Want to get in touch with Robbert? Click here.
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