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Another type of CRM

How one flight school maintains customer relationships

By Jim Pitman 

In aviation CRM stands for crew resource management or cockpit resource management, but there’s another type of CRM you should consider for your business.

In the nonaviation world, CRM stands for customer relationship management. defines this type of CRM as “The practice of building a strong relationship between a business and its customers and potential customers.” For example, when your new prospects finish an introductory flight and say they’re not ready to schedule their next lesson, do you have a system in place to follow up at a prescribed time? What if your pilots in training go too many days without flying—do you have a way to easily identify these customers so you can give a quick call to say you miss seeing them at the flight school?

The practice of keeping in touch, building relationships, and following up with our prospects and customers is important. And as with most things these days, there’s an app for that. Several companies have developed excellent turnkey solutions in the form of CRM programs (often web-based and mobile-friendly) designed to do exactly what we are discussing here.

I recently visited with Sarah Bartush, chief marketing officer at Channel Islands Aviation in Camarillo, California (CMA). The conversation quickly turned to how well Channel Islands’ CRM system is working.

“I used to keep track of everyone on an Excel spreadsheet,” Bartush said. “It worked well enough to get by, but what we are doing now is so much easier and more effective. We started using the Salesforce CRM program shortly after I was introduced to it in 2012 and the results have been amazing.”

The spreadsheet method was fine for keeping notes, “but that was about all it was good for. I was the only one that had access and it was not user-friendly,” Bartush said. “The way it works now is we always have our web-based CRM program up and running. Anytime we interact with a prospect or customer—whether it’s me, the flight school manager, or chief instructor—the notes go in the system. We have notes about every conversation, email, demo flight, everything; even if we only have a first name and phone number.

“The contact might just be ‘Bob’ at a certain phone number who called a week ago to ask about our hourly rate for 172s,” Bartush said. “When Bob calls back, I see his phone number on caller ID and enter it in our CRM program as I answer the phone. As quick as he can say ‘Hi, this is Bob,’ I already see his notes, can thank him for calling back, and start asking follow-up questions related to him renting our 172s. The personalization is great, the people we are talking to recognize that we are organized and professional, and the efficiency of it all is wonderful.”

Knowing that most flight school managers are extremely busy, I asked Bartush to address the concern of how much time it takes to implement and use a system like this.

“It really doesn’t take any extra time at all,” Bartush said. “I’m usually entering notes directly into the system as we talk on the phone. Even if I choose to jot notes down with a pen, it only takes a few minutes to type them in after we hang up. We easily save that time on future phone calls when our person taking the call can see all of the notes and already know who they are talking to, especially when it’s someone we have not interacted with for several months or more.”

Another benefit of a good CRM program is the ability to send targeted email campaigns and other types of outbound marketing to specific groups. “Yes, I also love that feature of our system,” Bartush said. “Say we’re planning a special event for veterans. I can easily search our CRM program, find everyone who is a veteran, and directly connect that list to our Constant Contact email system to send invitations and schedule follow-up reminders. It’s quick and easy.”

When I asked her to share more about the reminder system, Bartush said, “The program we use is designed to integrate with various mainstream calendar systems, but I prefer to simply view and manage the reminders within our CRM program itself. One of the first things I do every workday is pull up the list of reminders. The program tells me who I need to call, email, or otherwise follow up with. Of course, all of the notes and other pertinent information about that contact are just a click or two away. I can complete the tasks myself, or assign them to other team members. It’s simple and efficient, but what I really like is knowing that we are not letting people be forgotten and fall through the cracks. I put a lot of value on that peace of mind.”

An organized flight syllabus is the best place to keep technical notes on how customers are progressing in their training, but a good CRM program is the place for other important details such as family and work information, preferred training days/times, customer concerns, and important events such as first solo and checkrides. “Our flight school manager, Del Kienholz, personally meets with each instructor on a monthly basis to discuss his or her flight training customers,” Bartush said.

“It’s often just a quick meeting to check that everything is on track, but sometimes there are important questions or concerns that the instructors and/or customers need help with. All of those notes go into our CRM program where the entire management team can see them. This simple procedure often helps us to address small issues before they become big problems. And our CRM program is the tool that brings it all together,” she said.

Channel Islands Aviation uses Salesforce, but that is just one of many CRM solutions available for business use. PC Mag published a comprehensive review of CRM programs in May 2017. Read the article here.

CRM programs range from simple to complex and from free to several hundred dollars per year for a single user. It’s not so important which one you use. The important thing is to choose one and put it to work for your flight school sooner rather than later. You can always start small and build your system as needed.

More information about Channel Islands Aviation is available online. Sarah Bartush can be contacted at 805/987-1301 or online.


Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website. 

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