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Does your school 'get' customer service?Does your school 'get' customer service?

So far this year, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. As a result, many of the customer service analogs between the airline industry and the flight school industry are now front and center for me on a weekly basis. I think most airlines are trying on some level to improve things, but most days, the best grade I can usually muster for them is a C-.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto on a Canadian-flagged air carrier that I had never flown with before. Without expecting anything different from this airline, I was pleasantly surprised from the moment I took my seat.

Families with small children boarded first (in case you haven’t flown commercially in a while, this doesn’t always happen with every airline these days). The flight attendants made it a point to sit down next to each family for a brief moment and discuss what services were available on board for them. After everyone was seated, the PIC stood up at the front of the airplane where we all could see him, and took about one minute to introduce himself and his crew to us, and thank us for flying with them.

This was followed by the safety briefing, which was done with rehearsed proficiency, efficiency, and an appropriate amount of humor. The most important thing I noticed was how all of the crew had such a great positive mental attitude and seemed to enjoy their jobs so much. Even if they didn't actually enjoy their jobs in that moment, they did a good job of offering a professional appearance throughout the flight.

I did not see free drinks, snacks, or hot towels being handed out to try to win people over. I didn’t see anything that looked like it cost money, logistical support, or an inordinate amount of time. What I did see was a culture that has invested the time, energy, and effort to make sure that the people flying with them understood that they cared and that they were happy to have their passenger-guests on board with them this day.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

So, what can this Canadian airline teach us about how we interact with our flight school customers?

  • The person at the helm of the ship needs to introduce himself to his customers at least once. It doesn’t need to be a long or elaborate introduction, but it needs to be personal, sincere, and meaningful. How do you do this in your school?
  • There is no excuse for a challenging or unfriendly culture in any flight school. It can often be too easy to say that you have instructors who are “just passing through” on the way to an airline or corporate job and there’s nothing you can do. As the leader in your flight school, you have to make up your mind to insist that your whole team puts on their game face each and every day they come to work for you. If team members are unable or unwilling to display a positive and friendly attitude, then counsel them on your expectations. If they still can’t do it, separate them from your business. No level of individual performance is worth having a bad attitude on your team. For many schools, the most difficult part of this equation is making the commitment to lead by example.
  • Consider as many high-concept, low/no-budget ways that you can think of to make your customers feel welcomed and appreciated. Create a contest within your business to come up with these kinds of ideas, and offer a reward for the employee(s) that comes up with the best low/no-cost idea. Repeat as necessary.

The answer is not always money, even in aviation. Your commitment to “getting it” when it comes to your customers can cost you next to nothing, but pay back huge dividends in terms of customer retention and loyalty.

P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.

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