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Help your students avoid missed lessonsHelp your students avoid missed lessons

Last-minute cancellations are usually impossible to fill, so it’s no wonder why one of the most frustrating situations that flight schools face on a routine basis is the no-show student. With a fortune invested in equipment, payroll, and unrelenting fixed costs, even one missed lesson or rental can wreak havoc on your bottom line.

Diplomacy and tact are paramount to resolving this issue; after all, we’ve already worked so hard to get these students in the door that we don’t want them taking their training bucks elsewhere because we’ve gone off on a rant. Posting a reminder on the wall that “cancellations require a minimum of 24 hours notice” is the most common and conspicuously used tactic. But let’s face it, once the client is out the door, chaotic life happens and even the best of us can get sidetracked.

Research shows that negative reinforcement by professionals, such as charging fees for missed appointments, is far more likely to make a client feel degraded and resentful than remorseful, and is usually the catalyst that deteriorates the relationship.

For example, think of your dentist. Like you, the only way he makes money is if there’s a client sitting in his chair. If you show up early, most likely you’ll be filling a seat in the waiting room far past your appointed time, but if you forgot your appointment once you’d be charged for it because his time is valuable. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Don’t put your students in the position of recounting the times they’ve had to wait on CFIs getting back from overdue lessons, squawks being addressed, fueling, computer issues, or even weather. Instead, try employing the following tried and true techniques to help build the type of program that will maintain a friendly atmosphere. Remember, a healthy camaraderie of give-and-take will get you much further, garner mutual respect, and ensure long-term loyalty.

  • Appointment cards: The cheapest form of insurance to get them back on time is a small card with the lesson date and time on it. Get your CFIs or schedulers in the habit of providing one each time. Indicate a spot to be checked next to their name on the schedule showing one was given. These cards can be produced right from your own printer or ordered very inexpensively from places such as Vistaprint.
  • Email reminders: Maintain a healthy contact list of all clients and use that system to everyone’s advantage.
  • Texting reminders: CFIs should check with students to see if they mind receiving text messages; try to use a company-sponsored cell phone, or use a free online service such as Onlinetextmessage.com
  • Call: Making personal contact is still the most reliable and personable method, allowing for immediate rescheduling if needed. CFIs can do this between appointments, using it as an added opportunity to remind students what to be prepared for so their head is in the game upon arrival.

While there may be a few who grumble or beg you to stop reminding them, you’ll most likely receive praise and thanks from most. After getting to know your students you’ll begin to better assess who needs the steady reminders.

If you do encounter that one special client who is consistently late or just generally unreliable despite your best efforts, instead of being critical try a tactical approach in private, such as, “We noticed you’ve missed appointments. Because your training is important to us, we want to find out how we can help you get here on time in the future. Is there a particular time of day that you prefer? What can we do to help you that we aren’t already doing? Could the staff call you with additional reminders?” Or, “If you can’t make an appointment, we’d really appreciate it if you can call as soon as possible. That will let us schedule another student in that time, which helps those on the waiting list get their lesson time in too.”

Of course, occasionally there will be a student who is just too costly to your operation because he or she misses too many appointments. Fees will never help you recoup your actual losses, so you may need to classify them as “Status Only,” meaning they’ll have to call in on the day they absolutely know they can fly to see if there are any openings, and they must be flexible with CFIs. Your staff can call them when last-minute cancellations occur to offer them the time as well. Most will understand and work harder at being consistent if they really want to fly.

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