Relationship Marketing on Public Social Software Platforms in the Airport Industry: The Case of Facebook

Relationship Marketing on Public Social Software Platforms in the Airport Industry: The Case of Facebook

Marion Tenge (University of Latvia, Latvia & University of Applied Sciences Kufstein, Austria)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6547-7.ch011


The European airport industry has experienced an extensive transformation over the last decade. Air traffic liberalization, airport privatization, and corporatization required airports to become more commercially focused. In response to competitive pressure to attract airlines and passengers, airports needed to take a genuine customer-centric approach to airport service quality. The advent of public Social Software Platforms (SSP), such as the online social network Facebook, provided airports with the opportunity to build a relationship with their passengers and leverage rich knowledge about passenger needs and requirements. The purpose of the chapter is to propose and test a theoretical framework on how the motivation of passengers to volunteer information on the corporate Facebook pages of airports can be increased. The framework draws on the “need-satisfier” approach of economist Max-Neef and insights from self-determination theory. Self-determination theory considers the satisfaction of socio-psychological human needs as motivator of behavior. Finally, the chapter suggests success factors for harnessing the Relationship Marketing potential of SSP.
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In the last decades German airport industry has undergone a lot of changes due to commercialization, privatization and liberalization. The traditional role of airports as providers of infrastructure serving macro-economic purposes is changing and gives way to a more market-oriented understanding. Airport service quality and the ability to constantly innovate are important variables that contribute to overall airport attractiveness in addition to location, price, destination portfolio and flight scheduling (Fodness & Murray, 2007).

For years airports never thought of passengers as their customers, the airlines were. … Airports have to … reach a level of engagement that passengers start, whenever possible and practical, to think in terms of selecting flights on the basis of which is a better airport to fly from or connect through. (Salah, 2011)

Being responsive to service quality expectations of passengers is paramount for achieving customer satisfaction and retention. The quality of a service depends on the attitude of a customer with regard to his perception of the way the service is performed in contrast to his service expectations (Bolton & Drew, 1991; Grönroos, 1984; Parasuraman, Berry Leonard L., & Zeithaml, 1991; Zeithaml, Berry Leonard L., & Parasuraman, 1988). By introducing the concept of perceived service qualityGrönroos (1984) integrated quality also into a marketing-related context. A good perceived service quality leads to customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction can be seen as a driver of profitability. Satisfied customers are likely to establish a strong relationship to a service provider resulting in customer loyalty (Storbacka, Strandvik, & Grönroos, 1994).

Understanding service quality expectations of passengers is vital for providing competitive airport services. However, airports are complex business relationship networks that lack genuine passenger insights. While no airport would exist without passengers, the passenger relationship and data base is owned by airlines and tour operators. Complexity is added by fact that numerous airport services are not provided directly by the airport to the passenger, but through airport concessionaires or tenants. Current instruments for measuring airport service quality, such as frequent passenger satisfaction surveys, are useful for benchmarking purposes, but do not reveal the true customer perspective. Typical passenger pain points are waiting times at check-in and baggage drop-off counters, lack of cleanliness of airport facilities or orientation in terminal buildings. Reducing the passenger to a statistical number while measuring the obvious might take the form of both operational weaknesses as well as limitations on customer-centric services. Passenger insights are a precondition for airports to carefully determine necessary investments in airport service quality. All quality improvement efforts need to be financially accountable. Based on customer feedback some potential improvements might be evaluated as being ineffective, as they have no impact on overall customer satisfaction (Rust, Zahorik, & Keiningham, 1995). As innovative airport services of today may quickly become the minimum expectations of tomorrow, it is also important for airports to timely notice shifting customer expectation to sustain stable revenues for themselves and their business partners (airlines, handling agents, shopping outlets, restaurants etc.). By supporting their business partners to increase passenger-related revenues, airport organizations increase the competitive strength of the airport organism as a whole.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Facebook: Globally most adopted online social network founded in 2004 by Harvard student Marc Zuckerberg (see also Social Software Platforms).

Social Business: Network-oriented relationship-strategy of an organization to internal and external business processes. The strategy is based on a collaborative conversation with and among employees, customers and business partners to create sustainable social relations and reciprocal value.

Perceived Airport Service Quality: Attitude of the customer on the overall excellence of the airport service offerings depending on the gap between service expectations and actual airport service experience.

Twitter: Micro-blogging service with the basic characteristic that messages are limited to a maximum of 140 characters. Messages are referred to as tweets. Twitter is widely used by organizations to communicate with their customers in real-time. The communication channel has been proven useful especially in terms of crisis management (see also Social Software Platforms).

Relationship Marketing: Marketing based on interactions within a relationship network with the purpose to create reciprocal value.

Social Capital: Maintenance of network ties with other individuals, groups or organizations with the purpose of leveraging the social support of others to attain ones own goals. Social capital is most commonly divided in bonding social capital (strong network ties with family and close friends) and bridging social capital (weak networks ties governed by norms of reciprocity).

Social Software Platforms: Web-based services, such as Twitter or Facebook, that allow users to set up a profile, virtually connect to other users and share information, videos, photos etc. with their network of connections based on privacy settings.

Yelp: Online platform hosting user-generated reviews of local businesses (hotels, shops, restaurants etc.).

Fundamental Human Needs: A) physiological need for subsistence, b) psychological need for self-determination, competence/recognition, relatedness and meaning. Psychological needs are not considered to be hierarchically structured, but to co-exist simultaneously. The relevance of needs might vary depending on circumstances or situation.

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