Our industry is beginning to take a much closer look at reducing student pilot attrition rates, as well as how to get more customers in the door while spending less time, money, and effort in the process.
With these ideas in mind, one of the items at the top of your checklist as a flight school owner/operator should be to embark on gaining a full understanding of just how invested your CFI staff is in making sure that you get and keep as many students and customers as you can.
Many school owners realize (or suspect) that their CFI staff may be overextended when it comes to the areas of sales and customer retention within the business. Conversely, some owner/operators simply believe that “this kind of problem isn’t happening (or can’t) happen to me.” Heard that attitude before? It’s one of the five hazardous attitudes the FAA tells us to avoid, and it sums up much of what’s going on in flight training today.
Let’s look at some areas of your business where the most common problems with CFI-customer interaction are, and how you can begin to correct them.
A prospective new student calls your school or walks in
Are CFIs answering the phone or greeting these people at the door? What are they saying to them? Are they giving them their undivided attention? Have you trained them what to say or ask, and how to say it?
In market research Mach 1 Consultants has conducted, we’ve learned that instructors who are speaking to new prospects love to gush about everything and anything; most of which goes right over the head of the new prospect. Flight instructors do this gushing mostly because they have no idea what to say, or more importantly, how to listen well to the new prospect and get them to ask questions about training or renting.
What’s the remedy? Set realistic expectations and coach your CFIs on what to say and how to listen to new prospects. Use scenario-based training (role playing) to work through getting them up to speed with this important part of their job.
Students depart, and no one knows why
“Sandy must’ve run out of money. I haven’t seen her here in three months.” “Jim makes excuses on why he can’t come to training. I wasn’t sure he was cut out for this, and I guess I was right.”
Whether it’s the economy or a student’s aptitude, the excuses for why students leave is endless. In some cases the excuses are correct. But financial ups and downs and lack of aptitude don’t add up to a nearly 80 percent dropout rate in our industry. Not even close. Where are more than half of your dropouts going? Do you really know? Do your CFIs know?
What’s the remedy? Hopefully you’ve taken the time to hire competent, safe, and high quality CFIs. If most of your training and rental revenue comes from the flight training portion of your business, then the training they give is your primary product. The CFI and his interaction with your customers is something you can’t leave to chance. You must have structured interaction outside of programmed testing that is built for the sole purpose of ensuring your students are happy and your CFIs are performing properly.
As head of the flight school, the buck stops with you. Early on in the relationship with the customer, you must to establish a working rapport with each student, or delegate this to someone other than their main CFI. Set the expectation early-on that you’ll be talking with them often and gauging things like quality of training, compatibility with their main CFI, and level of enjoyment with their training, and that this kind of interaction with you or your designee is part of how you do things in your business. In other words, have a conversation with your customers and take the time to ensure they are happy.
At the end of the day this is a people business more than anything else. CFIs often don’t come to you with a lot of sales and customer service training. They need guidance, support, and direction if they’re going to become better at getting and keeping customers for you.
P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.