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Seaman: Business seems good, but…

You need to build regular clients rather than treat people as occasional customers.


September 27, 2007
By Rob Seaman

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The world of corporate aviation support looks pretty good these days.
The ramps at the FBOs are busy. FBO lounges are being built, expanded
and redecorated. Hangars are full and new ones are being built or
planned. Recent data from the US show record orders for new aircraft in
the first quarter of this year. And airports are expanding to meet
overall demand. Not to mention that every time something in the
commercial aviation world goes off the rails, folks discover the
corporate aviation charter market – which is also busy to capacity and
beyond.

So
everything should be all smiles and happiness. Well – look at the faces
of the folks who work the ramps, manage the front desk, answer the
phones or even in some cases provide the actual flight service and
maintenance. Many appear grumpy, wear sullen looks of despair and seem
tired. Some days it is really hard to find someone who is outwardly
happy in their work and life around the airport.

That’s really a
shame, because things aren’t so bad now for our industry – and the
people who spend the money for corporate or private aircraft really
want to see a smile.

One of the sad realities about any service
industry – and aviation in particular – is that customer service is
something that tends to be preached when times are tough and
competition tight. Remember, there are really only two things that will
distinguish one service experience from another – price and quality of
service. And in many cases, folks will happily overlook price if the
service experience is worth it to them.

Years ago, when I was
working for a major fuel firm, we had a dealer who told us that his was
the highest price on the field – and he had three competitors. Yet his
FBO commanded the majority of the business, because he was
serviceobsessed. And independent surveys confirmed what he thought. If
you build it, they will come – but only if you give them a reason, and
in this case service was the reason. His was not the best looking
facility. His was not the largest. And it was not the newest. But his
staff really went out of their way to do the job people expected – and
then some.

One of the simple truths in aviation is this – you
really cannot justify a corporate or private aircraft as a means of
transportation vs. the cost. Seriously – you can’t (an accountant told
me this, and we all know how they think). The point is that commercial
air travel, for all its faults, does the job of getting you from point
A to B for a reasonable buck – especially when compared to a private
option. Anything else is personal choice, convenience, ego and
self-gratification. So for those who have the means and access, the
service had better be worth the outlay.

The difference between
good service and bad has always been a fine line – especially when
everything is time-sensitive and image-dependent. The slips and miscues
that can cost a client are innocent enough. In one recent case that I
heard about, a new potential client decided to give an FBO a shot at
his business. He had received the sales pitch from business development
and was eager to let them give him a memorable experience. Well,
memorable it was – when he called to book his arrival and convey his
needs, he was told that they were all full and that he would have to
book any service at their facility several days before the trip! So all
the time and effort – and cost – to find and coax this client to the
door was swept away by unthinking and silly comments from whoever was
on the other end of the phone.

In another instance (at a
different location), the flight crew attending to a charter client on a
very hot summer day were forced to unload a cab and take the client’s
bags to the aircraft – because the line crew claimed it was too hot to
do this. So while the line crew stayed in their airconditioned office,
the pilot and flight attendant helped the passenger at curbside. To add
insult to injury, there was still a charge for ramp handling service
added to the bill. That is one charter operator who will look for an
alternative next time.

You need to build regular clients rather
than treat people as occasional customers that you might never see
again. And the time to build loyalty is now, not when things get tough.
So it’s time to break out the smiles and clean the red carpets. The
customer you receive today just may be the client you cherish tomorrow.


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