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Service excellence FROM A to Z

Ask Starlink/Signature YUL president/CEO Glen Lynch to draw up the recipe for success


September 10, 2012
By Matt Nicholls and Rob Seaman

Topics

Ask Starlink/Signature YUL president/CEO Glen Lynch to draw up the recipe for success for his fixed-based operation (FBO) at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and he’ll head straight to the end of the alphabet.

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PHOTO: MATT NICHOLLS


That would of course be Z which in this case stands for chief operating officer Zoran Bratuljevic, the man Lynch contends is the heart and soul of the operation. Bratuljevic and his team of top-notch service providers keep customers coming back and are key reasons why the Montreal-based FBO has been selected once again as the top vote getter in Wings’ second annual survey to identify the most impressive FBOs in Canada. Professionalism, impeccable customer service and attention to detail are all key elements that make up a winning FBO and Starlink/Signature YUL provides it in spades.

“Winning the recognition for two years in a row is special,” Lynch told Wings during an exclusive interview in early August. “The first year of a survey, you look at the results and say, ‘We’re very proud, but it’s a first year. The second year, you see that the customers have spoken again and that’s really a tremendous honour. As a CEO you get the chance to stand up and take the recognition for a whole bunch of work you didn’t do. We have a tremendous team because this place is running 24 hours day, seven days a week. Our business depends on the commitment of our staff who are out there in good weather and bad, trying to manage when things aren’t going right. The relationships they build with the customers make all the difference.”

Nurturing relationships and building just the right team starts with Bratuljevic and the commitment he brings to his role on a daily basis. His team shares the same attitude – they do sweat the small stuff. As Lynch notes, at Starlink/Signature YUL every element of the business is a drive to provide the very best – from the initial greeting of pilots/crew/passengers arriving to their individual care while waiting for flights.

“With us, it’s personal,” Lynch says. “We’ll walk through the lobby and it has become normal for us to – even if we are engaged in a conversation with someone else – to make sure we stop and pay attention to all customers.”

Bratuljevic concurs, adding essentially customers are friends. “If you have a customer coming here once a week or twice a week for the past year, we still have a CSR greeting an airplane,” he says. “Why do we do that? Because we’re the only FBO where someone [of corporate influence] actually comes out to greet you – you have a decision maker right there,” he says. “And even after the 500th time, we’re still there. Not because we have to – they know their way around the premises. But we are relentless on meeting every client no matter how many times he or she comes here.”

Method to the madness
A relentless commitment to customers’ needs is one of the key drivers that connects all winners in this year’s report – but it’s just one of the elements that determines a winning FBO. Wings annual survey is unique in that it gives readers a chance to select which facilities, fuel brands and charge/credit cards provide the best service for their aviation needs. Unlike other major North American FBO reports, this survey focuses specifically on the Canadian market. Results are based solely on respondent recall without prompting – readers select their favourite FBO based on personal experiences without the help of a cheat sheet or list. This method allows the survey not only to focus on Canadian service and support providers, but fosters the inclusion of more airports and service hubs nationwide.

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Selecting just the right people to join the Starlink team is imperative for the company’s long-term success. COO Starlink/Signature Zoran Bratuljevic is a key driver of the company’s objectives. PHOTO: Matt Nicholls


The methodology of the survey is straightforward – respondents are allowed to select up to five FBOs and answer a series of questions for each that provides a ranking on everything from service, pricing, to the bricks-and-mortar aspects of the site. Respondents are asked for a rating on each section using a scale of one through 10 for such attributes. The survey also asks, by prompted question, for a choice of branded chain fuel providers, individual preferred fuel brand and charge card options. We also asked participants to indicate how important pricing and customer service are in their choice of FBO.

The survey was conducted online for six weeks from mid-June through July and final scores reveal how selected FBOs rated in their markets. Winners were selected based on region and one overall winner, Starlink/Signature YUL, was determined based on the total number of votes cast and related scores.

By the numbers
Wings’ 2012 FBO survey provides credible third-party ratings of how domestic facilities and their support services rank in the minds of clients who actually use them. Some 62 individual FBOs – up from the 40 named last year – were nominated and rated across Canada. The impressive increase  illustrates that customers do remember service experiences; they may even feel loyal enough to comment.
Winners in their respective categories include:

  • Best FBO in Canada: Starlink/Signature YUL
  • Best FBO in Western Canada (B.C., Alta., Y.T., N.W.T.): Skyservice YYC – new winner this year
  • Best FBO is Central Canada (Sask., Man., Nunavut): Kelly Western Jet Centre YWG – repeat winner
  • Best FBO in Ontario: Skyservice YYZ – repeat winner
  • Best FBO in Quebec: Starlink/Signature YUL – repeat winner
  • Best FBO in Atlantic Canada (N.B., N.L., N.S., P.E.I.): Shell Aerocentre YYT – repeat winner

Fuelling up
In terms of fuel cards, FBOs today need to accept a variety of cards and charge services to remain competitive and responsive. There have been some significant changes in the market this year with some brands pulling back or even out of the business altogether and others changing or modifying their corporate identity. For this part of the survey, the prominent card/charge service providers were once again listed with corrections to the new and/or current branding. Survey participants were asked to indicate which they used – in order of preference. Winners include:

  • Preferred Fuel Chain/Brand: UVAir – new winner
  • Most Preferred Fuel/Charge Card: Visa – new winner

Other companies mentioned in order of preference:

  • Multiservice – no change from last year
  • Colt – no change from last year
  • AMEX – no change from last year
  • MasterCard – no change from last year
  • AVCARD – dropped from first last year
  • UVAIR, AirBP/Epic – mixed/blended rating from new and old cards
  • VFUEL – up one rating from last year
  • Airworld – down one rating from last year
  • Ascend – no change from last year

The winning formula
There were several determining factors that propelled each of our top FBO winners in their specific regions and impeccable customer service was again a determining factor. When asked how important customer service is in selecting an FBO, 65 per cent of our respondents indicated this was a significant deciding factor, a jump from 44 per cent a year ago.

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The Signature brand is the strongest FBO chain in the world, and has made a commitment to be as competitive as possible. Living up to that billing every day is something intrinsic to every employee, says Starlink/Signature YUL president/CEO Glen Lynch. PHOTO: Matt Nicholls


 

Price is also a key con-sideration: 31 per cent of respondents indicated this is an important element compared to just 24 per cent a year ago. When combining the two in the decision-making process, 96 per cent of respondents indicate a combination of price and service is the ideal recipe for making the right choice. This marks a marked increase over last year when only 68 per cent of respondents felt the two items helped decide which FBO to use.

Lynch says the crux of delivering top-notch service starts with the empowerment of the employer – an ironclad commitment to training and instilling the right perspective in every employee. “Empowerment was a buzzword for years, but what it really is in our case is the customer experience that is not cookie cutter,” he says.

“It’s a group of people who have been trained to anticipate and adapt to the changing needs of customers and try and make it interesting. It’s like a friendship. When you have a customer coming back again and again, you try to address their specific wants. If they were coming to your home, you try to serve them meals that they like – it’s the same thing here.”

Starlink/Signature has created a thorough training program that helps employees learn to be attentive to a customer’s needs, large or small. It’s a program that predates the company’s involvement with Signature, which has its own Leading Edge training program.

“When you talk about top-level service worldwide you have names like the Ritz-Carlton and Walt Disney. So, all of our VPs have been trained at the Ritz-Carlton,” Lynch says. “We developed a training program in-house that was inspired by Ritz-Carlton and tailored to our industry – we solicited outside help to do that. I led the original customer service training program five years ago and trained every member of our staff. Today, that program is run frequently enough to teach new employees – and occasionally there is an employee who is on duty for a couple of months in a job-shadowing environment that has not been trained, but we run courses frequently enough to ensure our staff are trained both initial and recurrent. And it’s always run at a minimum by a vice-president. It stresses the significance of that priority. It’s a top-down thing.”

Lynch has had several conversations about service excellence with Bob Hobbi, president/CEO of Service Elements International, whose firm developed a Ritz-Carlton-style program aimed specifically at the aviation industry. Says Lynch: “At the end of the day, who do you work for? You don’t really work for your board. They may put a guy like me in an office, but if Zoran and I look at our roles, our primary role is to support our own staff to ensure they have the tools necessary to service our customers every day. Our mission in life is to keep these people coming. They have a choice, you hear that all the time, but it’s the truth.”

Sherry Butt, marketing and sales manager with Total Aerospace Services International/ Provincial Airlines, the operators of Shell Aerocentre YYT, agrees that the recipe for success starts with the commitment from staff to exceed expectations at all times. “We are efficient and try our very best to anticipate our customers’ needs before they can even ask,” says Butt, who is a little guarded when asked to reveal specific company secrets. “Let’s just say that we offer the little perks that our competitors don’t. Our facilities are designed to make all our clientele feel like VIPs every time they do business with us. We have a lot of hangar space and a full team of aircraft maintenance technicians and specialists.”

As president of Winnipeg’s Kelly Western Centre, Gordon Peters maintains his role is to provide a top-quality product at all times – and he’s quick to point out it’s the strength of his staff that makes it all happen.

“We value our dedicated staff and are committed to providing a safe, challenging and rewarding work environment that encourages personal growth and is compensated fairly,” he says. “Staff are provided the same concern, respect and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Kelly Western customer . . . We believe in and accept our responsibility as corporate citizens.

‘Corporate responsibility’ means a business operating in a manner that meets or exceeds the ethical, legal and commercial expectations that society has of business.”

Peters says there’s one statement every staff member can never say to a customer: “No, we don’t provide that service.” Says Peters: “If we can’t do it, we have a whole city that provides a variety of services and surely we can find that service and arrange for our customer needs.”

Going out of your way to serve a customer’s needs and never say, “No, we can’t do that.” It’s the calling card for every successful company on Wings top FBO leaderboard and will continue to be the goal all Canadian operations will strive to attain.

So, looking ahead to next year’s report, how can companies coast to coast maintain their position or find their way onto the prestigious Top FBO list? Starlink/Signature YUL’s Bratuljevic aptly points out the answer is simple: head back to the alphabet and think of the letter S – as in “Keep sweating the small stuff.”