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A reason to stayA reason to stay

Why do your students stay? If you’re like most training providers, you probably haven’t thought much about this. You simply take it for granted. Maybe we should take a cue from a growing movement in human resources that says knowing the reasons for staying is more important than knowing the ones for leaving.

If you’ve ever worked in—and left—a corporate job you are familiar with the infamous exit interview. This ritual meeting happens around the last day in the office, when someone from HR asks probing questions about what you liked and didn’t like about the job, why you’re leaving, and so on. Today, employers are looking more to the present and asking employees why they continue to stay. There is a lesson here for training providers. Understanding what your students like—or don’t—about your school can help you improve the experience long before they decide to take their business elsewhere.

To implement the stay interview you’ll need to make three decisions—what you want to know, when you want to know it, and what you are going to do with the information. The what in this process is probably the most difficult. Since you want the process to be quick and painless for the student, be judicious in choosing questions, focusing on those that can result in an action. They can be serious or silly, so long as they are sincere. Here are a few examples:

  • What’s your favorite airplane in the fleet and why?
  • What do you love about training? What do you hate?
  • What does your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend think about your training?
  • What’s your favorite flying destination?
  • What’s your favorite time to fly?
  • Why do you keep coming for lessons?
  • What’s your dream flight?
  • What do you want to do with your certificate?
  • If money were no object, in what airplane would you learn to fly?

It’s a cliché, but the possibilities really are endless. It all boils down to what you want to know and how actionable the information is.

Deciding when to conduct the interview has impact as well. Do it right after the first solo and you’ll likely get all happy answers. Ask for feedback 15 hours later when most students are on their mid-training plateaus, and things will be a little different. Personally, that time after solo and before the cross-country phase seems perfect. You know they are invested, they’ve had big highs and frustrating lows, and they have some context by which to make judgments.

Regardless of when you conduct the interview, try to remain consistent among all the students. Just like an exit interview is done when the employee is almost out the door, a stay interview should be the same period for all students.

Most importantly you have to do something with the information. Although it’s a casual conversation, you should absolutely take notes and study the feedback. Smaller fixes can be acted upon immediately for quick wins, larger trends can be identified, and opportunities can be seized over time.

It may seem pedantic to ask someone seemingly obvious questions about why the person continues to fly with you. But there is no other way to know exactly what your customers think while at the same time giving them a great forum to get to know you.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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