Performing at a new level
Coming home to the safety, security and comfort of your grandmother’s house. If there’s one analogy that best illustrates the way fixed based operators (FBOs) in Canada strive to meet the needs of their customers, this just might be it. At least that’s the take of Wes Ramsay, chief operating officer of Saskatoon, Sask.-based Kreos Aviation.
September 19, 2016 By Matt Nicholls
Ramsay knows of what he speaks. Kreos is one of the lucky recipients of a 2016 Wings magazine FBO award as the top FBO in Central Canada (see “Leading the charge,” page 22).
The immaculate, quaint oasis at the Saskatoon International Airport has captured the Central Canada award before and obviously the team has a sound grasp of what grandma’s house is all about.
“To me, it’s a great analogy,” Ramsay told Wings. “People will always remember how you made them feel. When they walk into Kreos, this is how I want our clients to feel. We have the opportunity to make them feel like it’s Grandma’s house – and that is pretty cool. You know why customers keep coming back? It’s because there is always apple pie at the end of the road.”
Standards are exceedingly high in the FBO business, where even the smallest details are recognized, scrutinized and demanded by the pilots, crew and, of course, the many high wealth individuals and business executives who prefer the unique confines and services an FBO provides over the hassles and cattle calls of commercial travel. In business aviation, time is money, and convenience, service excellence and attention to detail keeps clients coming back for more. Of course, a little apple pie doesn’t hurt either.
It takes a special kind of employee to deliver consistent service excellence, and as Ramsay points out, all the training in the world can’t instill the right attitude and commitment that is needed – the right “Kreos employee” just seems to get it.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to find the right people for this kind of a role,” Ramsay said. “Every person that works in our industry or specifically at Kreos has an effect on every other person and all of our stakeholders. It sounds cliché, but they have to be the right fit – committed to top service and really add value.”
Sherry Franks, FBO manager for Kreos Aviation, says the key is to cross-train and fully understand the nuances of the business. From ramp duties to maintenance to fuel needs and more, a diverse knowledge base is extremely valued. That knowledge comes from asking questions, going above and beyond the said responsibilities, essentially committing to a higher level of dedication that can’t be taught.
“A lot of our employees don’t have an aviation background or experience,” Franks said. “It’s knowing what clients want and being consistent in wanting to know them on a personal level. We do not have a consistent turnover, and I think that reflects on what we are achieving here. The question becomes, how can we develop that person in a personal and a professional way. It is more about continual development, not starting training from the beginning.”
The Skyservice way: a successful way
Refining the training process and working with employees to develop essential skills unique to the FBO environment has helped Skyservice Business Aviation continually deliver top service to its clients at all of its Canadian FBO properties. Once again this year, Skyservice dominated the Wings FBO survey, garnering a plethora of top awards.
Three Skyservice properties – Skyservice Calgary (Western Canada), Skyservice Toronto (Ontario) and Skysevice Montreal (Quebec) – captured regional honours, with the latter property winning the prize of top FBO in Canada for the second straight year. And yes, the award was enough to prompt Skyservice vice-president, Eastern Region, Lyne Barbeau to break into her happy dance.
“It’s nice because the team works so hard in a market that is not always easy. This goes a long way for thanking the team for their hard work, and thanking our customers as well,” Barbeau said.
While winning the top honour in the FBO report is a great achievement for her team, Barbeau is quick to point out that resting on their laurels is hardly something that enters into the equation. The team is always trying to refine processes to ensure clients receive maximum attention and service excellence. “We never take anything for granted,” Barbeau said. “It’s a constant effort to ensure that you are delivering the best for your clients. We are always looking for new ways to wow them.”
So, how does Barbeau up the ante for her customers? Ironically, it comes down to a little help from her friends. Barbeau routinely visits other FBOs and related hospitality management properties to borrow ideas that might make her property a little bit more appealing.
“I was recently at another FBO and I noticed the baggage carts – what they were using, how they present themselves,” she said. “They have much more of the boutique hotel feel then just this large ramp. So, when you start thinking about that boutique feel and how do you bring it to your day-to-day operations . . . it’s something really simple, but this is a great idea.”
Marshall Myles, president and director of Skyservice Business Aviation, noted that while Barbeau’s efforts to innovate and change things up at her FBO are impressive, the true secret to consistent client satisfaction starts and ends with people. Yes, price, value, amenities are critical, but the bottom line is always the people providing the service. Skyservice has a variety of long-term, established FBO employees at all properties who make the process that much easier.
“We are very lucky that the rates of turnover at our organization are very low,” Myles said. “We are always looking for ways to grow the business, so we need people that fit into the culture, that work in a crazy environment, put service first and do so as a team player. They need to be friendly and low key . . . it is such an honest and private business. We want people to become successful and we have worked hard to ensure the turnover rate is low.”
Skyservice Calgary general manager Darryl Golbeck agrees and feels regular team meetings and interaction is important to achieve desired results. It’s all about anticipation and execution.
“The important thing is to challenge people,” Golbeck said. “You need to interact with your customers and anticipate their needs. For example, we have sent so many clients into the mountains to Drumheller to see the dinosaurs. It’s not just about parking their airplane and fuelling it. It’s how can you take their experience beyond that.”
A bold new look and feel
Improving amenities is another way to keep clients coming back. And while challenging economic realities have made this a trickier proposition, Myles notes that “the bucket under the sink” strategy is not the way his company is run – nor will it garner the results Skyservice is trying to achieve.
“Two weeks ago my wife and I were at a really beautiful restaurant,” Myles said. “I go into the washroom and there is a bucket. Dinner is going to cost probably $250 and these guys have a bucket under the sink? I mean, really?”
The impending arrival of World Fuel Services at Skyservice’s Canadian FBOs is a case in point. World Fuel entered into a long-term agreement with Imperial Oil in the spring to become a wholesale distributor for general aviation fuel in Canada and will soon be flying its banner at Skyservice properties.
“World Fuel is a very progressive company. They are looking forward to being in the Canadian market, and we are looking forward to working with them,” Myles said. “Imperial Oil has been a very good landlord and partner over the years, but they are exiting the business. World Fuels would like to grow their business, so their perspective is very different.”
Skyservice also has a number of projects planned for its winning properties over the next several months including getting a new electric tug in Toronto, fixing the roof in Montreal and general repairs and enhancements in Calgary. It’s all aimed at keeping clients comfortable and content.
“If the AC breaks, we fix it,” Myles laughs. “We don’t put the bucket under the sink and let it go for two years.”
Putting safety first
The enhanced commitment to service excellence at the Canadian FBOs also revolves creating as safe an operation as possible. The aviation business is all about risk management and this point is not lost on the leaders of Wings FBO survey winners. At Skyservice, for example, the addition of a comprehensive safety management system (SMS) several years ago has been instrumental in raising the safety envelope. A new health and safety officer has also been added.
“Accidents happen, hangars are full of planes, they’re moving around, there are various pieces of equipment, you are using dangerous equipment all the time, and nothing is more important than safety,” Myles said.
Graham Snell, general manager for Saskatoon and Regina Aerocentres, concurs. Regina Aerocentre captured the “Rising Star” award in this year’s report. “Safety is always going to be a priority and you have a responsibility to ensure you create the safest environment possible for your clients,” Snell said. “It’s about red carpet service for all clients – you treat the little guys the same as the big guys. Treating people with respect – it’s what it’s all about.”
Heady words, indeed but right on the mark. I’m sure Grandma would concur.
Maintaining a strong front: survey dynamics
Service excellence, identifying customer needs, offering flexible price and maintenance points – all are key drivers when it comes to creating an FBO that delivers a high-end experience. The Wings annual FBO survey was designed to identify properties that deliver on these important value propositions. For the seventh consecutive year, we asked readers to identify their top Canadian FBOs, fuel brands, and charge or credit cards. In an industry driven by service impressions as well as price, the survey offers a unique overview of the Canadian market and this market alone.
The survey was conducted online for six weeks in June and July. Respondents were allowed the opportunity to select up to five FBOs and rank them based on everything from service and pricing to the various aspects of the venue. Respondents were asked for a rating on each section using a scale of one through 10 for such attributes.
With the end scores tallied, we then were able to see how the selected FBOs rated overall for their markets – both in the number of times they were selected and in the total scores by attribute. Of the 37 FBOs receiving votes this year, winners were selected region to region across the country – including a “Top 3” and a “Rising Star” award – and an overall winner was determined based on the total votes cast and related scores.
Once again, the survey illustrates that customers do remember their service experience – and when it is good, they feel loyal enough to comment. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!