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Where do your customers come from?Where do your customers come from?

Do you know where your customers come from? Most likely you don’t, but that’s understandable. Short of making everyone fill out a card asking where the person heard about you, there’s no way to really know where your prospects are coming from.

As part of AOPA’s research into the optimal flight training experience the question was asked how the person came to find his or her flight school. What came through were some interesting lessons into the nature of consumers, but more importantly, the strong social connection of flight training.

Here are the four biggest sources:

  • Online: If you’ve ever wanted a single reason to have a strong website, Web advertising, and Facebook and Twitter presence, this is it. The research found that 17 percent of those surveyed found their flight instructor and school on the Internet.
  • Friend/family/colleague: This is a classic word-of-mouth situation. A close second at 16 percent, it’s clear that prospective students hold personal recommendations in high regard. This should come as no surprise. Because most students are completely unfamiliar with aviation, having a trusted person give a good recommendation puts the prospect at ease and gives him or her direction. Doing everything you can to foster those positive recommendations should be obvious.
  • Local airport: Surprisingly, 16 percent of people said they found their school simply by driving by the airport or hanging out at the airport. Given that so many locals probably have no idea the airport exists, this is a statistic that can be acted upon. Areas to watch airplanes, clear signage, an inviting building, and easy access all increase your chances of capitalizing on these walk-ins.
  • School/community college: If there is one shocker on the list, this is it. Fifteen percent said they found their flight school through their teacher, public school, or community college. Get an aviation club going at your local schools, offer free ground school for students, or advertise in school newspapers. Whatever you do, target this easily identifiable demographic.

Because responses came from an open-ended question, many categories overlapped. A major sub-plot to this survey is that when you add up categories with similar themes, word-of-mouth referrals came in significantly higher than anything else at 57 percent. That means despite all the advertising, outreach, websites, airport days, and everything else you do, how you treat your current customers directly influences more than half of your future customer base.

Depending on how well you perform in this area, the number is either a golden opportunity or a major concern. The only way to ensure you are in the former category is to be absolutely sure you know how your customers feel about your school. A golden rule is that if you have doubt in your mind how a customer would respond if asked about your school, then chances are their response won’t be to your liking.

The most direct way to do this is through a survey. Don’t miss the opportunity to know exactly how your customers feel by asking them to fill out a survey when the training is over. No survey is effective without action, so make sure to make significant and lasting changes based on the feedback.

Better yet, don’t wait until the student is done with his course. Get to know him, ask him how the training is progressing while it’s ongoing, and again, take action when things aren’t to your satisfaction or his.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

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

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