Imagine walking into a restaurant, sitting down, grabbing a menu, and finding only a single item listed there. One entree, that’s it. And let’s limit it to only one size of that entree. You don’t get to choose between the 6 ounce steak, the 9 ounce, or the 12 ounce. It’s the 12-ounce version or nothing.
What are the odds you’d go back there again?
Now move that same scenario to other businesses you frequent. Consider the clothing store that offers one style of clothing, in one color, and one size. That’s it. It’s a one-size-fits-all store, take it or leave it. I’ll bet most of us would be willing to leave it.
At the home improvement store I frequent there are at least half a dozen hammers of different sizes, with different claw shapes, of differing weights, and various prices. At the coffee shop I get to choose from an almost unimaginably large assortment of beverages, both hot and cold, with added flavors, whipped cream, colorful names, and exotic blends of beans. At the supermarket I can pick my frozen pizza from a freezer stocked with dozens of alternatives. And the beer aisle offers so much choice I often have to spend several minutes deciding which of the brewmasters best to try out this time around. Where ever I go the options are seemingly endless. And so I go to those places to shop and socialize. I’m a customer.
That’s not usually true at the airport. More often than not the airport is a one-size-fits all sort of deal. Sure, there are multiple flight schools, but they all fly pretty much the same aircraft and charge more or less the same rates. If you’re thinking about learning to fly and get it in your head that an intro flight would be worthwhile, the airplane, the cost, and the length of the experience will be essentially the same no matter which counter you saunter up to.
All this makes me wonder why we can’t do a bit better. A little creativity goes a long way when marketing a product, a service, or an idea. So let’s at least consider the possibility of developing some individuality in our approach to offering aviation services. Let’s make the customer the most important variable in play, and amend our price chart to fit their needs rather than the other way around — as we so often do today.
Imagine a customer walking up to the counter with a bit of trepidation. They’ve never flown before but the idea excites them. A friend at work told them they can actually learn to fly if they want to, and they can do it locally at the general aviation airport only a few miles from their house. As the customer approaches the counter, palms damp with anticipation, maybe their mouth is a little dry, they ask the most important question of the day, “Excuse me, do you offer introductory flight lessons here?”
The employee on the other side of the counter is friendly, smiling, neatly dressed and ready for action, “Yes we do. I can help you schedule a flight with one of our flight instructors if you would like.”
This is where the customer asks the most important question of the interaction, “How much does it cost?”
In my perfect totally imaginary world, the employee answers this way, “Well, that depends on what sort of airplane you’d like to fly and how long you’d like to be up there. We have quite a few options. If you’ll walk out onto the ramp with me I can show you the airplanes, familiarize you with your options, and answer any questions you might have.”
Ahhh, now we’re talking customer service. The potential new student has options. In fact, he or she has plenty of options. They’re going to walk out onto the ramp in the company of a trained employee who has made it clear they’re going to try to help the customer make a selection that best fits their budget, and schedule, and dreams. That’s something they’ve probably never experienced before and didn’t envision as a likely outcome of their first visit to the airport. Now we’re talking salesmanship, in the best possible sense of the term.
Too often we hear stories of new potential students who show up at the airport, get a brief and non-negotiable one-size-fits-all answer to their initial few questions, and leave without ever seeing an aircraft up close. We can fix that with a simple attitude adjustment and a few minutes with a calculator. Yes we can.
Ironically, the best and the brightest at this exact type of customer service may be the old guard, the classics, the biplane and taildragger operators. Unlike the average flight school they offer choices that appeal to a broader range of customers.
If they only operate a single aircraft, they offer flights of varying lengths, to accommodate wallets of various thicknesses. If they operate more than one aircraft they make clear distinctions between the rates charged for the Cub as opposed to the Stearman, or the TravelAir, or the New Standard, or the Waco. They customize what they have to offer to meet the hopes and dreams of the customers who come through their door, or tent flap.
As an industry we could learn a thing or two from those folks. Let’s make 2014 the year we dedicate ourselves to doing just that, shall we?