My wife and I recently bought a house. It’s an old, wood-frame place that sags a bit, has more than a few cracks in the elderly plaster walls, and creaks louder than my own knees. But we love it.
One of the early changes we knew we’d have to make was to the windows. They’re at least 60 years old. Single pane, aluminum frame windows were all the rage in Florida during the middle of the last century.
But that was a long time ago. Before the glass was cracked. Back when the mechanisms actually allowed our windows to open and close. A few of ours are slightly open now and can’t be closed no matter how hard I try. That’s not the ideal condition when trying to contain air-conditioning costs in the sub-tropics.
The window provider we chose sent a salesman. His pitch was ruled by tunnel vision, as he only showed us a single window replacement. I would have liked a wider range of options, but the window he recommended is undeniably of better quality and more efficient than those we have now. We signed on the dotted line and prepared for our first major upgrade to the new/old place.
A gentleman showed up a few weeks later to measure the windows. They’re all custom sizes. He pulled into the driveway and I stepped out onto the porch to greet him. Before we made it to the front door he announced with a grimace, “This is going to cost more.”
“I beg your pardon?” I wasn’t sure he’d said what I thought he’d said.
“This is going to cost more,” he repeated. “This siding is going to be a problem…”
He proceeded to list a series of concerns he claimed were going to require a considerable increase to the original quote. He was adamant. There was no way his company would be able to do the job for the original price, but luckily for me they could make adjustments, and with an appropriate increase in the price, I could have my windows.
I nodded that I understood, asked a couple follow-up questions, and was assured there was absolutely no way they could do the job for the price we’d originally agreed to.
“Let’s just cancel the job then,” I said.
The window installer looked stunned. “Well, we can do it. There’s no need to cancel.”
I held my ground. If the agreed upon price wasn’t going to be honored by both parties, then I see no reason to proceed. The installer never made it into the house.
The next day a supervisor arrived to apologize and assure me the original price would be honored.
It’s worth noting that expression can cut both ways. The provider should be just as wary as the customer when doing business.
In my case a creative installer nearly lost his company a large sale by trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of the customer — a customer who can easily go to another provider to get a substantially similar product or service without undue inconvenience.
There is an aviation equivalent to this story, of course.
I recently met a young man at a gathering of friends who was tremendously frustrated with the flight school he had chosen. He’d been there on a full-time basis for months, having relocated specifically to attend flight school and earn his certificates and ratings as quickly as possible.
Yet in the many weeks he’d been enrolled and visiting the airport daily, he hadn’t yet amassed enough hours or completed his training to earn even his private certificate. Time and money were slipping away and he was plagued with aircraft down for maintenance, flight instructors who came and went like they were being shoved through a revolving door and, worse yet, a lack of record-keeping that ensured each new instructor came to him cold, with no idea what he’d accomplished or what he still needed to work on.
The consensus among those gathered friends was nearly unanimous. Find a new flight school. Maintenance issues may be unavoidable at times, but lousy record-keeping is a sign of laziness, bad management, and a sense of disrespect for the students who walk through the door.
You’re the consumer, if you’re not getting what you paid for, move on to another provider who can deliver.
I got an email from him a few weeks later. He’d switched schools, earned his private pilot certificate within two weeks, and was well into his instrument training. Success!
With nearly 80% of new students failing to earn their sport or private pilot certificate, it’s worth us looking inward to consider how we might serve our customers better and grow the general aviation market in the process. Numbers like that say far more about our inability or unwillingness to serve the customer than they do about the quality of the customers we’re attracting.
Just as we might evaluate service providers at home, our aviation-oriented customers are doing the same thing. And they should. We owe them an exceptional experience in an environment that feels safe and fosters success.
This brings to mind another old expression we might benefit from hearing again: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
There is no better time to step up our game than today. There is no better reason to ramp up our customer service efforts than to save a significant number of otherwise lost sales.
We may well be on the cusp of the true Golden Age of Aviation. Safety numbers are good, the market is allowing upward movement of pilots and mechanics at an unprecedented pace, and entry level pay is attractive.
Let’s make the most of the opportunities the fates have given us. General aviation will be better for it, our customers will be more satisfied, and so will each of us who owns, operates, or is employed by a GA business.