Earlier today my wife took her car into the shop for a new battery. This was necessary as the prior battery had gone dead. Not so dead that it wouldn’t power a few lights or the radio. The various warning lights still lit up on the dash. Turning the key resulted in nothing, however. Not even a noticeable click from the starter relay.
Maintenance was required.
She took it to the same garage where I get my oil changes done. They replaced the battery. They vacuumed the car. They tossed out the trash in the little plastic bag she keeps on the shift lever. In short, they took great care of her, charged her a reasonable rate for work well done, and told her to come on back if she ever needed anything taken care of in the future.
That’s customer service. Good customer service. That’s the kind of place I’m happy to spend my money, because I get something I value in return.
It’s just a casual observation, but I don’t get the impression car repair shops that provide this level of service are having much trouble these days.
General aviation is an entirely different story. It breaks my heart to see the level of non-service so many outfits offer.
Not intentionally, of course. Nobody sets out to provide lousy customer service. But they lose their mojo. They get bored. Distraction sets in. Customer service becomes the last thing on their mind.
Sometimes it gets so bad the provider actually begins to think of the customer, or the potential customer, as a nuisance.
When I encounter such an experience, it validates my understanding of why the drop-out rate for primary flight training is nudging up against 80%.
Do you think 80% of the people who visit my chosen garage leave in disgust, never to return for new tires, a replacement battery, or an oil change? Not hardly. I imagine the number of folks who leave disheartened are in the single digits. Well under 5%.
A recent visit to an independent flight school provided stark contrast to the level of service that garage provides whenever I wander through their door. The CFI on duty sat in a reclined position, rocking his chair slightly throughout our entire, very brief, thoroughly unsatisfying encounter.
I came in to ask a question, but he didn’t know that. I might have been there to buy a chart from the pilot shop or a new headset. I might have come by to ask about financing primary flight training for one of my kids. I might have wanted a rental check-out, or to get information about earning an advanced rating.
He’ll never know. Because he couldn’t be bothered to get out of his chair to greet me or listen to me. He never even looked directly at me.
It would not surprise me to learn this particular CFI is not flying as much as he wishes he was. He’s not sporting a full schedule of students. His cash register is not seeing as many dollars come in as he’d like. And I’ll bet that he’s under the impression that’s somebody else’s fault.
Consider how that experience might have changed if he’d taken a page from my garage’s book of customer service. He would have gotten out of his chair when I came through his door. He’d have initiated the conversation with a cheery, “Welcome to XYZ Aviation (not the actual name of the school). What can I do to help you this morning?”
That would have set a very different tone. And even though that effort wouldn’t have changed his financial future, since I only had a simple question to ask, making that sort of greeting a standard part of the interaction with anyone and everyone who walks through his door would undoubtedly result in more sales, more flight time, and more dollars landing in his till.
The reason I use the garage I do is because the owners and their staff stand up. They stand up to greet their customers. They stand up for their pride in the work they do. They stand up to show a certain level of respect and readiness to serve when they deal with customers or potential customers. They stand up for themselves.
That CFI may be laboring under the misapprehension that his lofty status as a professional pilot gives him special dispensation to hold court while on the job and only really make an effort when an undeniably serious customer attracts his attention, the ones who break out a big fat wallet holding a gold card. The ones who drive up in a luxury car or wear a watch that costs more than the down payment on my house.
He is wrong. I hope he changes his methodology. I hope he realizes that what he’s doing — or more accurately, what he’s not doing — isn’t just harming his business. It’s crippling the aviation industry as a whole.
Good customer service shouldn’t be an add-on that requires an up-charge. It should be included with the standard package. It should be the baseline any successful business is built on.
Thankfully, it’s easy to implement. It costs no more to offer excellent customer service than it does to offer lousy customer service. Smiles and eye contact are free.
If you’re a CFI, or a dispatcher, or a kid working at the desk of the local FBO on a part-time basis, try these three small things as an experiment for just one week and see if it doesn’t help your bottom line.
- Stand up.
- Greet every person who walks through the door whether you know them or not.
- Ask the owner of every new face how you can help.
Just doing that would be a great start. It really would.
I have been a pilot for years and have dealt with bad flight schools / instructors and some really good schools/instructors that really seem to care about you as a customer.
It’s my belief that beyond this article if we really want to make a change in general aviation. We need to step up as general aviation pilots and do what we can to promote aviation. Whether it be sharing our love of flying by offering a local flight to a starry eyed kid. Or how about as pilots, saying hello to future wanna-be pilots who walk in the door of the local FBO looking for info or maybe a quick peek at what is on the inside of the hangar.
I can’t tell you the amount of times a lost looking soul has come into an FBO only to be ignored totally by the flight school and fellow pilots alike. It’s time we step up as pilots and share our passion for aviation with others.
Jim Hackman says
Jamie, All too true but a waste of our time. It shall ever be thus. I’ve spent a career trying to improve the situation. Hopeless.
How do you find the entrance to the Flight School? It’s where the employee cars are parked! Not funny!
In the 70’s AOPA made a great customer service video with Ralph Hood. Gave it away. Failed ! In the early 90’s “Be A Pilot” spent millions on ads to generate “leads”. Formed an ‘Infrastructure Committee” to deal with poor signage and the customer service issues you identify. Failed! BAP sent leads and most schools did nothing with them. Cessna came back in 97 with the CPC revitalization. Failed.
We had co=op advertising that reimbursed the CPC for marketing efforts they were already doing. A one page form to get the money. Failed. Most schools just couldn’t find the time to fill out the form. It must be something in the water at the airports? Hey there are exceptions. The BAP/CPC leads were sent by zip code. Screw up sent east coast leads to California. Irate calls came from schools getting “bad leads”. CPC in Fullerton took the east coast leads and sent emails inviting them to come to sunny CA. Offered flight training at “the closest airport to Disneyland”. Bill Griggs was no dummy. he actually got two customers who came to KFUL and spent some money!
Want good customer service? Go to Waffle House or a Chick-Fil-A. John and Martha claim the worst customer service is the doctors office. Sign in, sit down and wait! No hello, no free coffee. So the flight school comes in second. The airplanes not back yet, just have a seat. I gotta quit this is raising my BP.
Rod Beck says
Hi Jim; loke you said – a wastwaof time!
Maurice S. says
Jamie, I read your article, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Very astute observation and description of the problem. If you enjoy what you are doing it shows, a little enthusiasm goes along way. Unfortunately, I have had similar experiences at a few of our local flight schools. You would think that they would go out of business, but they don’t, they just languish on. Survival of the fittest.
Well – what you see is what you get. I managed a GA airport in Arizona for several tears. We were often told that we offered the best service any where just because we had a lineman meet every transient
aircraft, offer a cold bottle of water, and ask what we could do to be helpful. We were also the fuel supplier, and had many ask for a topoff as a means of saying thanks. Word got around pretty fast and our traffic almost doubled in a year. No, that cost us no more, but it took about six months to weed out the nay sayers in our ranks (plus an occasional hearing before the local civil service board.) It all starts with the management. Poor management always results in poor service. Look to see if the management is actively involved. A yes answer results in good or better service. A no results in mediocrity. Nuf said.
Ron Jette says
Those who offer poor service in any industry were simply not given a proper job description when they were hired.
Oh, sure, they may have been told their job is to sell headsets, answer questions or fill out the proper paperwork when someone books a rental, but that is not their real job.That may describe what they DO, but their real job description should read: “Make the customer feel special/wanted/important/valuable (you pick).”
It’s not hard, really. Be nice, be respectful, be helpful, be a problem solver and do it all in a way that makes it look like you enjoy doing being there. (If you don’t, do us all a favour and move on.)
Training someone to do this isn’t hard, either. Sure, show them how to fill out the paper work and sell headsets, but also teach them what is important: the customer!
You are absolutely right, Jamie. Take care of the customer and the till will take care of itself.
Before I go, a word to Miami Mike. Yes, awful customer service is everywhere. That’s why it’s so easy to soar above the crowd in business. Just be good at what you do, be helpful and be nice. Nobody can compete!
Manny Puerta says
Sadly, society today is rampant with a lack of regard for customer service, employee service and company service. I’m happy to be retired and capable of changing my own car and airplane batteries, etc. It pains me when I have to buy service.
To Whom it may concern: I only know how to speak the Kings English. I guess that shows how politically incorrect I am. Could someone ask Rod Beck to speak same, that way all of us heathens would know what he is talking about. “Hugs and Kisses.”
rod beck says
to Mr. JEFF? “a/k/a “smart ass” I was aware of the “errors” after I returned my reply. For your, and others, It was dark when I wrote them! Rod Beck
rod beck says
Hey Mike; you got it “Wright”! Well articulated! Please keep in mind MOST CFI’s aren’t interested in “customer service” – Only building up enough time to qualify for a “right seat job” with some commuter airline at $15-20K per year!
Jamie Beckett says
I know you have a deep affection for looking on the dark side of life, Rod, but you might want to go outside now and then. Airlines, even commuters, are paying signing bonuses of $10k and higher these days. That’s been the case for years. Their wages aren’t in six-figures for new hires, but they’re considerably higher than you portray them to be.
Life in aviation is good. It takes real determination to find the negative in this industry. But I respect your right to be a grump about it. I only ask that you be accurate. Use numbers from this century, not the previous one.
Rod Beck says
In all do respect; im living in a workd of R÷LIRY – and you?
I work in the FBO flight school and Air-Taxi business. An initial positive contact with the person walking through the door or calling on the phone is make or break. Businesses that make money and expand emphasis this basic customer service practice.
Sometimes an instructor or counter agent forgets this important ‘Positive Attitude’ professional customer conversation practice. Instead they share their frustrations with the over regulated and complicated Aviation industry problems.
Guess what??? All of the transportation industry is over regulated and complicated. Get over it and be more inviting.
Become an UBER, LYFT, truck, bus, ferry or even railroad driver and you’ll see Aviation’s positives real quick. In my conversation with future pilots I will express that “you must ‘LOVE to travel’ or don’t get into the transportation business”. Many people that get into commercial transportation just want to be operators and later learn to hate travel then become miserable and negative.
Jamie Beckett says
Rod, I have to admit, I don’t have a clue what your misspellings and unique abbreviations mean. Is there any chance you could communicate your thoughts in standard English? If I knew what you meant we might have a more rewarding interaction.
Rod Beck says
Ok;,like I said many moons ago; you have the “wrong” people in GA! Check to see HOW your local dealership (auto) managed there business! FACT;with onl
y about 1 in 1,400/500 of the pipulation have an interest in flying -what the hell is losing a “prospect” or two?
Rick Roe says
I had the exact same experience at two flight schools. One couldn’t be bothered to look at me and the other took another bite of his sandwich and pointed. The absolute worst was taking my son and his college friend to Sun’nFun to expand their interest in learning to fly.Asking about touring the Warbird flightline we were directed to speak to an older woman (maybe Helen something?) Absolutely the rudest reply and treatment I’ve ever experienced in any venue. Wonder why aviation isn’t growing as hoped for? I don’t
My Son and his friend took their money and purchased high end motorcycles and had a great summer.
I have visited a number of Aviation events that General Aviation News had a booth. Either no one was there or they give the potential readers a canned comment and hand them a paper newspaper.
Jamie, if you want to have more readers under the age of 65 read this article. Stand at your booth and greet people with a smile. Come to think of it, join in to this conversation and give a little “Reader Service”.
Many of us become absolutely overwhelmed when the writer reads the comment section and do back flips when the writer response to a question…… so yes, I know exactly what you mean in this article.
P.S. The Instructor in the story is in airline customer service training :).
Jamie Beckett says
Thanks for the input, Klaus. I’m always appreciative of reader comments, whether they agree, disagree, or have a totally unique take on the topic of the day. We’re all in this together, so we might as well listen to one another and carefully consider the viewpoints we’re presented with.
For my part, I’ll continue to reply to comments when it’s appropriate, or when I have something of value to offer. For your part, just keep reading General Aviation News and letting us know how you think the industry can help grow and prosper.
I hope we get to meet in person one day.
Thanks for the quick response. Nothing in my comment is given with strong emotion just frustration with opinion commentary in general. I like reading commentary and giving my comments. Most times the conversation at the bottom of the page creates better understanding of the topic.
This is a very relative topic and I learned many years ago when the words ‘customer service’ are spoke to look inwards. I ask myself “am I giving my customers the best service?” Then note to myself “don’t do what this person is doing”.
The media industry as a whole is having trouble with customer service these days and not much any of us can do about them. However, we in this very very small Aviation world can do something about our little community. That one thing is communicate and inform each other about the status of Aviation. Deepening the article’s topic in the comment section is just one very effective way.
Expanding the next article on the subject for deeper discussion yet, then becomes even more informative and interesting. Other words, don’t feel this topic is a bad direction and drop it. Your customers have a lot they want to add and suggestions from positive experiences.
Looking forward to meeting you also and hope some of your colleagues read this.
Incorrect. It costs more to offer good service versus bad service. Why? Because the better level comes from better people and you have to compensate higher quality people or you won’t get them. The same applies to goods…
Ron Rapp says
I’ve found this to be true. Good customer service may not directly cost more, but it takes a lot more effort and must be maintained every single day.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t all work toward that end. We should. But a hundred good customer experiences can be blotted out by a single bad one, especially if the person who had the negative experience is motivated enough to let others know about their impression via social media.
These days, instructors are in high demand and can sometimes get away without high quality customer service skills as a result. Nevertheless, as much as it pains me to say it, I think Jamie’s experience is, sadly, the rule rather than the exception.
If it makes you feel any better, I’ve had poor experiences as a student even at high end training events which cost $30-40k. This is definitely an industry wide issue.
Tom Vinson says
I respectfully disagree. Compensation is only part of job satisfaction, and not even the largest part. I work for a large theme park that’s widely recognized for providing superior customer service. We pay a competitive wage, but not particularly higher. We do, however, have a strong corporate culture that resonates throughout our organization. Give an employee a great work environment and strong sense of purpose, and the customer service will follow.
KT Budde-Jones says
Another great article, Jamie! Stallion 51 has a unique offering, flight experiences and training in the P-51 Mustang and T-6 Texan. Our first goal is safety, followed very closely by customer service. People entrust us with their flying dreams and we want to make sure we not only meet them but exceed them. That goes for people who just stop in to see the Mustangs up close and get a photo or those who actually share the cockpit with us. We want everyone to feel welcome at Stallion 51 because that is the right thing to do. Thank you for pointing out the right thing to do in your article.
Jeff Sloan says
To Miami Mike: Right on, You hit the nail on the head! I wonder if any of the folks that work for these organizations read this stuff. Probably not, but it’s a nice thought.
Miami Mike says
“We have met the enemy and they are us.”
I’ve been in business for myself for half a century and involved in aviation for almost 40 years. I absolutely cringe when I have to do business with the majority of aviation related companies. With a few exceptions, the concept of making customers happy so they’ll come back and give you more money in the future is utterly and totally alien to them.
In all fairness, aviation isn’t the only area in which the phrase “customer service” is an oxymoron. When was the last time you came away happy from an interaction with ANY bank, ANY cable company, ANY cell phone company (or AT&T land line), computer tech support, a car dealer, a credit bureau, a credit card company, the DMV (that one is too easy, sorry), your local government, an airline, any major internet retailer, an appliance dealer? (The list just goes on and on and on.)
I have a list of the few (too few) companies who treat me right, who at least sound like they give a darn about my repeat business, and as a result, I buy a LOT of their goods and their services, time and time again. I’m the best customer any business could hope for, reasonable, not demanding, able to afford their product and willing to write a check, I try to be nice to work with (because I remember that this is a two-way street), and I always start out with a smile. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to make much difference to many businesses.
If I were to grade “customer service” as a general category, I’d be generous and give most places an F minus, or in a more contemporary idiom, zero stars (unless you can give negative stars).
And as Jamie says, these are the people who complain that they have no business. Dudes! Wake up! You have to EARN business, and you earn it by being nice to your customers. If you are nice to your customers, they’ll give you money, and that is why you are in business in the first place. If you are an employee, being lousy at customer service means the company you work for will eventually go out of business, and then you’ll get a REAL dose of crappy customer service from the food stamp and unemployment offices.