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A pilot who passes his or her checkride is automatically a happy customer, right? It might not be that easy. Just because a student had a successful outcome with your school, it's an automatic bet that he or she was also a happy customer. To know that, you have to ask.

Implementing the survey is the easy part. What you must first decide is what you want to know. Surveys should be used to answer a question or be used as a data to help make a decision to take an action. While you certainly could question ad nauseum about every facet of the training process, you’ll get diminishing returns on the quality of and quantity of responses. So before you go any farther, first decide exactly what it is you want to know, and once you do know it, what you will do with the information.

For example, you could ask, “How satisfied were you with the training process?” Knowing that could be helpful for general purposes (or marketing for that matter), but you are going to get a lot more information out of a slightly different question. Instead ask how much they agree, based on a numerical scale of the following: “I received good value for the cost of my training.” A poor number here will indicate a root problem of either cost or quality of training. Follow this method throughout your survey to get the best information you can, always questioning yourself on whether or not you can or will act on the answer.

A major consideration of any survey is length. Too long and the response rate and quality will taper off significantly. Too short and you’ll get no useful information. A good rough guide is to write the survey on a blank word processing document. Keep it to once legible page—no six point type allowed. If you want more information, survey more often. In fact, it could be very useful to survey right before or after a stage check to compare the answers with those right after a checkride.

Your best answers, however, will likely come from those students who have dropped out. Getting them to be candid could bring a wealth of information about where your school is falling short. Any true scientific survey would have to include this population of students, but more importantly, you want information that will help you improve.

Getting to the lapsed students could be difficult, but you should have an email and physical address for each. The choice of paper or electronic is still undecided amongst survey experts. Each has an inherent bias. Electronic users are typically younger. Physical users typically older. You’ll get more responses with an electronic survey (Google free online survey providers), and crunching the results will be easier. But a handshake with an envelope containing a survey to your new pilot presents a good opportunity for a final connection. You could also mail the survey a month or so after the student is finished, including a coupon for 15 percent off pilot supplies, a free hour of ground in your G1000-equipped airplane, or a free syllabus and study guide to the instrument rating course. Either way, don’t miss the opportunity to reconnect with your students.

Individual surveys constitute a fixed point in time, but the survey process should be ongoing. If you made changes as a result of a previous survey, make sure to let your customers know. They’ll appreciate that you listen to their input. And resurvey some point in the future to make sure your changes are working.�

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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