It may surprise you, but turning some prospective customers away is good for your business. It is better to do business with right-fit than the wrong-fit customers, even if this means having fewer customers. The reasons are simple: Right-fit customers will be easier to work with and make fewer unrealistic demands, resulting in a lower dropout rate.
Creating a series of interview questions can help you identify which of your prospective customers are either the right or wrong fit for your business. A helpful method of coming up with pre-qualifying interview questions is first to make a customer profile table with a list of the key elements and characteristics that correspond to your best customers.
Here are five elements and corresponding questions we’ve used at our Part 61 flight school for this purpose. While not giving a perfectly accurate measure of fittingness, these questions do give us a better than average indication. Moreover, they help our prospective customers decide if we are a suitable school for them.
Question: For the next six to 12 months what are you planning on removing from your weekly schedule so you will have time for flight training?
The reason for this question is we find time, not money, to be the biggest deterrent for our customers’ path of learning. Most people believe they are going to be adding learning to fly onto their already busy life’s schedule, like adding a tennis lesson. But in truth, the time required and intellectual commitment for any kind of flight training isn’t like showing up for a tennis lesson. Asking our prospective customers what they are going to be removing in order to make room for flying opens the door for discussion of whether or not their desire matches the realities imposed on them by daily work and living.
People new to aviation have difficulty relating the estimated number of flight hours a certificate or rating requires to the number of hours in a day or week that those lessons will encompass. Since any kind of flight training needs consistent practice and study, if they cannot devote a portion of their weekly life’s schedule to this new endeavor or they will have gaps imposed because of business travel, children’s soccer games, and other similar reasons, then they will be prone to greater skill regression, which means more training time, and this can result in dwindling motivation to continue. By asking this question, we have a more accurate idea of our prospective customer’s willingness, and more importantly, ability to substitute some part of their current schedule with flight training.
Element: Family support
Question: How does your family or significant other feel about this?
How many times have you heard a prospective customer say, “My spouse isn’t excited about this but he has finally said I can do it,” or something similar?
The buy-in and support from family and friends is vital. We have actually had prospective customers say they don’t plan on telling their spouse until they finish. I can tell you that their little “secret” won’t be a secret for long, and then what?
Question: Do you have the budget right now to do this?
This is as straightforward as it gets. Our company’s decision is to work with those who will not be fundamentally stressed or financially stretched by the cost of training. Yes, we can offer some resources for financing options but for the most part, our ideal customer isn’t strapped for money. This is a core business decision that means we don’t sell our services on price alone.
Element: Personality and individual characteristics
Question: What was the last new skill or hobby you started and how did that go?
We want to learn more about our prospective customer’s personality traits. Mechanical ability, perception skills, logic skills, memory, communication, and multitasking skills are fundamental to piloting. Some of these can be learned, while others may be inherently more difficult for certain kinds of people. Hobbies and vocations are good indicators of piloting potential.
For example, there are linear-thinking (very structured thinkers) and nonlinear thinking individuals. We have found that individuals at either end of these spectrums can have difficulty with developing piloting skills. Highly linear, very structured thinking individuals seem to have more problems with multitasking or reacting quickly enough to a new situation, one that may not be an “exact duplicate” of what they have previously practiced in training before. And, a very nonlinear thinking person, what we refer to as a roamer, can be difficult to keep on task, gets side tracked easily, and often have more of the dreamer than the doer personality.
Question: Here is the FAA medical history form. Are there any medical questions on this form that you can answer with a “yes”?
Since FAA medical requirements can sideline a wannabe pilot, it’s important to get this information out in the open. By handing our prospective customer a copy of the FAA’s form 8500-8 we can help determine if there is a potential issue before going any further.
Ultimately it is up to you to know the kind of customers that are the best fit for your training facility. Using prequalifying questions is one way of learning who is a right-fit customer and who isn’t. Finding the right customers for your school ultimately means learning to say no to some. The benefits come with greater profitability and having more time and mental energy to give to your good clients.
Dorothy Schick is the owner of a flight school based in Oregon.