Port of Helsinki
29.05.2018 //
Kari Martiala
Timo Porthan

“We listen to our customers closely”

The Port of Helsinki’s new CEO, Ville Haapasaari, emphasises the importance of customer satisfaction. 

We meet Ville Haapasaari, the CEO of the Port of Helsinki, in the new West Terminal. Eckerö Line’s M/S Finlandia is just slipping away as we arrive in the terminal. The Tallink M/S Megastar can be seen in the distance, approaching the port. Even on an ordinary weekday, the terminal is swarming with people eagerly waiting to board their ferry.

Haapasaari believes that the most important thing for the Port of Helsinki is to maintain an excellent relationship with its customers and to engage in collaboration to improve its activities.

“We always keep our word. This goes for all our activities, whether they involve our customers, partners or staff,” Haapasaari says.

Continuous development

The construction work at Haapasaari’s previous place of work, Helsinki Airport, is still under way. This investment of almost a billion euros has seen good progress, which is why the man in charge of it felt he could take on a new challenge.

“Of course, I would have gladly seen the airport finished, but in the end an airport is very similar to a port in that it is never finished. There will be new projects to take on here at the port too,” he says.

Airline traffic has increased a great deal over the last few years both in Helsinki and the rest of the world. 

“Typically air traffic increases when the economy is good. When times are not so good, people travel more by sea. So far this year, passenger numbers in shipping have been much more moderate than in air travel.”

Excellent prerequisites for the job

Haapasaari says he feels a particular affinity to seafaring. Before Helsinki Airport, he worked for Finnlines for 14 years and saw shipping from many different points of view: first in project tasks selling transport solutions for the forest industry, then managing freight sales for the whole area of Finland and finally in Baltic Sea shipping.

“I got so carried away by my job at the Helsinki Airport for the last six years that I have some work to do to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. There have been a lot of developments in shipping in that time. But I’ve been very pleased to notice that I still have a lot of the same, great contacts in this sector and I’ve had a very warm welcome back to shipping.” 

Another factor that influenced Haapasaari’s decision to change jobs was the prospect of fascinating new development projects at the Port of Helsinki. These include, for example, examining how customer satisfaction in the passenger ports could be further improved, whether more services could be added to the terminal and whether there would be a demand for these. 

“We want to improve customer satisfaction, right from booking a cruise to returning home,” he explains.

Getting to know the port’s activities 

Haapasaari describes himself as a down-to-earth and approachable manager.

“I want to keep the threshold low for approachability of all kinds. Our staff is always on the front line serving customers, whatever the type of collaboration. We must also have skilful and cooperative staff who work excellently as a team too. This will translate as great results both for the company and more broadly for all our customers,” Haapasaari says. 

During his first weeks as CEO, Haapasaari intends to approach the port’s customers and listen carefully to their impressions about the port’s performance.

“At the same time, I want to get to know our employees and listen to them too. A key focus is to make sure that, as the operating environment changes, our staff will continue to have the right kind of skills and know-how.”

Developing a sustainable strategy

“Over this spring and summer, we are building a strategy for the coming years for the Port of Helsinki. We are carefully considering what our focus areas are and what our key projects will be over the coming years. When creating our strategy, we will listen to both our customers and our staff extensively to ensure that we will be able to meet their expectations better than ever.” 

One of the focus areas is the improvement of the passenger experience. Knowing the end customer better, charting customer satisfaction and expectations and developing services on the basis of these will form the framework of the future development programme. 

As regards freight traffic, the key theme for the coming years consists of strengthening the port’s market position and efficiency, both in terms of space utilisation and the flow of information, among other things.

“In this area, especially, we will work in close cooperation with our customers,” Haapasaari says. 

The third theme is the development of the traffic arrangements in the passenger ports together with the City of Helsinki in order to ensure that the port will be able to support growing traffic flows in the future. 

“This is part of the total benefit that marine transport of both freight and passengers will bring to the city and the entire national economy.” 

“The challenge with strategies is how to translate them into concrete actions. After defining the strategy at the top level, our aim is to create a concrete plan of action for each key project. The starting point is that our customers will feel the effects of the first concrete steps already this autumn.” 

Digitalisation boosts development

Utilising digital services and data is a cross-cutting theme for the Port of Helsinki in the implementation of its strategy. For example in passenger services, the traditional check-in is more and more making way for online check-in, which has to work seamlessly also in the terminals. At the same time, mobile applications must be available to make travelling as easy as possible, from check-in to boarding. 

When deciding what digital services to provide passengers, it is essential to consider the channels through which they can best be reached. The best alternative is not necessarily an application or website belonging to the Port of Helsinki; instead, it may be a channel belonging to a partner or customer. 

“A great deal of excellent developments have taken place on the freight side of our operations. The biggest consideration for further development is how to better utilise shared data between all the operators. Data can be used to streamline logistics, for example, when collecting units from the port and when offering up-to-date information,” Haapasaari says.

Alongside digitalisation, environmental protection is a continuously developing sector for the port.

“Reducing emissions is an issue we all need to take seriously, and any improvements in this area are, of course, positive. I believe that in 20 years, vessels will employ a great variety of different technologies to reduce emissions. We should also be asking ourselves how the port can help to make this happen.” 

“All the port’s activities must be responsible in every way, because this is how we redeem our right to operate in a geographically central location and in the market in the first place. We must be a leader in these issues in order to compete.”