An AOPA member survey completed in August has found that customer service in general aviation sales and maintenance does not yet meet the expectations of today's GA aircraft buyers, despite improvement efforts.
AOPA President Phil Boyer reported the results of the study on Tuesday, August 28, to about 160 New Piper Aircraft dealers from around the world and other Piper employees attending the New Piper Mid-Year Dealer Meeting in Vero Beach, Florida. That venue was chosen to unveil the study in part because New Piper Aircraft has launched an ambitious program to improve customer service.
"The men and women who can afford to buy new GA aircraft are not your father's customers," Boyer told the dealers. "Upscale auto dealers caught on to the higher expectations of these new buyers several years ago, but many in the GA business have not. For those GA dealers and shops who haven't, it's time to wake up and smell the cappuccino."
Overall, on a 1-10 scale with 1 representing "poor" and 10 representing "excellent," AOPA members gave their automobile customer service experiences an 8.01, while customer satisfaction with aircraft dealers overall was rated at just 6.72.
New Piper dealers, who have been working with New Piper Aircraft on a new Standards of Excellence manual for improved customer service, earned an overall 7.66.
The new AOPA survey asked members to compare their customer-service experiences in buying and maintaining a new aircraft with experiences in buying and maintaining a new (usually upscale) automobile. A total of 274 AOPA members who had purchased both in the past five years were polled.
The typical individual purchaser of new general aviation aircraft is a high-income, successful individual who has come to expect superior customer service in purchasing and maintaining (usually) high-end automobiles and other luxuries.
Boyer told the dealers, "The good news is that there are AOPA members capable of buying your products, but only if the GA buying experience meets their expectations."
He detailed results of the comprehensive survey, with a representative sample of AOPA members who participated in the survey voicing both praise and complaints via short video clips embedded in the fast-paced PowerPoint show.
Not unexpectedly, nearly 94 percent of AOPA members surveyed reported that good customer service was either "very important" or "essential" in their buying decisions, and almost the same percentage said poor customer service would be enough reason to seriously consider changing aircraft dealers or repair stations or, in a few cases, even leaving general aviation all together.
More significantly, AOPA asked members how "close to the edge" of acceptable customer service they found auto dealerships, compared to GA aircraft dealerships. Overall, more than three quarters of those surveyed rated their auto dealerships as "well above" the minimum acceptable level of customer service, while fewer than half (45 percent) were as happy with their treatment at GA aircraft dealers.
On the other end of the scale, customer satisfaction rankings of either "at the minimum" or "below the minimum, I'm switching now" were assigned to GA aircraft dealers at a rate three times that of auto dealers.
"AOPA obviously has an interest in seeing GA grow and thrive," Boyer told the New Piper dealers. "Our members are your customers, and we hope you'll accept these judgments of our members—your customers—as a useful tool in your continuing efforts to improve GA customer service."
He added that the New Piper's Standards of Excellence plan addresses nearly all elements identified by AOPA members as components of excellent customer service.
With 375,000 members, AOPA represents well over half of all active pilots in the United States and is the world's largest membership group devoted to aviation. Founded in 1939, the association is dedicated to keeping GA flying fun, safe, and affordable.