Wings Magazine

Straight from the top

Creating just the right corporate culture to consistently deliver outstanding customer service not only takes dedication, commitment and an intense appreciation for detail, it’s also a message that needs to be actively shared from the top right on down the line.

September 4, 2015  By Matt Nicholls

A varied array of amenities at Skyservice Montreal keeps clients coming back. Creating just the right corporate culture to consistently deliver outstanding customer service

The leaders of the proverbial band must not only write the sheet music for the CSR, line service and maintenance teams to follow, they must also dance when the band starts playing. At Canada’s top fixed base operations (FBOs), delivering red carpet service and staying in rhythm is precisely what separates the chart toppers from the one hit wonders. It’s the type of commitment that gets clients coming back again and again and again.

Such service and commitment to excellence is precisely the recipe for success in Wings Canadian FBO report – our annual survey highlighting the most popular and respected FBOs according to their customers. This year, 37 individual FBO properties were identified by their clients, a strong illustration of service excellence from coast-to-coast.

And when the final tallies came in after six weeks of online voting in June and July, a new winner graced the podium: Skyservice YUL (Montreal). A trio of Skyservice properties finished first in their respective categories this year (including Toronto and Calgary), an impressive statement illustrating how a brand-wide commitment to a top service philosophy resonates with clients in a big way. (For complete survey results see, “And the winners are, pg. 28)

“I have been doing the happy dance in my office for several days and my staff were starting to wonder what was going on,” Lyne Barbeau, Skyservice Montreal’s vice-president for the eastern region told Wings “It has been a disappointment for my team in the past (not to win) because I know how much they put into their level of customer service and the feedback that they get back. This is really a nice honour for them.”


Skyservice Montreal has done well in previous surveys, finishing near the top of the survey nationally and in Quebec the past five years. A key reason contends Richard Mailhot, Skyservice Montreal FBO manager, is its strong dedicated team of professionals who take tremendous pride in every thing they do. Another key ingredient? Passion. Without it, Mailhot notes, service excellence would be unattainable.

“I think it’s all about consistency,” he said. “It’s being able to deliver a wide range of services with quality and safety in mind. Clients expect Skyservice to be able to fulfill their requirements that they may have, including the special ones. And when you talk about amenities such as hangar services, we want to make sure we always have a solution to our client’s problems. Obviously, if you come to Montreal or any Canadian city in the winter, a quality hangar is a priority for an operator. We will certainly find the space for you.”

The hangar space at Skyservice YUL is just one of the FBO’s most important amenities clients identified in the survey. The Skyservice hangar is the largest in Montreal, with two bays and more than 96,000 sq. ft. of space. The property also boasts a roomy, bright, relaxing passenger lounge, quiet meeting rooms and more. And if you love great coffee, you can certainly find it here. Starbucks is the coffee of choice at Skyservice, which is another key draw with clients.

“It’s one of the things people talk about all the time,” Mailhot said. “But we also have an enclosed area for the VIP cars, so we know that when the customer is giving us the keys to their car, it is in a secure area. We have concierge service that is outstanding and a wonderful welcoming committee for passengers. When they are in transition from their aircraft, you want to make sure the concierge can properly support that transition.”

Establishing a strong work culture is critical to Skyservice Montreal’s success and Mailhot is well aware of how important it is to lead by example. At YUL, and across all Skyservice properties, this sentiment stands out – a team of professionals, upper management included, are trained to establish the highest standards possible.

“It is not necessarily what needs to be displayed to the customer, it is what the employees strive for,” Mailhot said. “So often you see the customer agent and they are the front line. However, it goes further than that. It goes right through to everyone in the organization from the frontline service, to the CSRs to the maintenance people, and all of the support staff. You can sell something
. . . everyone that has a job has something to do and it impacts the customer. Whether it is an accountant talking to a customer, or a supplier regarding an invoice or regarding a bill, the way that those people conduct themselves helps support the culture of service. We are all in this together.”

So how does red carpet service come to be and how is it maintained and exceeded every year? Training is essential and establishing comprehensive training processes is imperative, Mailhot contends. Every member of the team gets recurrent training and must follow the highest standards at all times – there are no shortcuts.

“There is no gap between management and the rest of the team when it comes to the commitment to service,” Mailhot said. “I have been with the organization a long time and we have always had the support of the organization, the senior management. But we started in Montreal with five employees. And now, it is quite a large organization. There have been growing pains, yes, but now we are a strong organization. We have the support of everyone on board.”

Barbeau concurs and shares a small example of an employee who perfectly illustrates the Skyservice way. A client came in and was in a frantic rush because he needed to get flowers and milk for his wife. It was not a huge request by any means, though it certainly was a little out of the norm for usual FBO CSR duties. Not a problem. Even though it wasn’t part of the job description, the task was carried out without a thought.

“When you do something like this, taking on this responsibility and being attentive to what the customer is going to work for them on a particular day, it illustrates perfectly what we are trying to accomplish,” Barbeau said. “Sometimes it is very little, sometimes it can be astronomical. It’s whatever it is that makes them feel they were in the right place at the right day.”

Up highway 401 at Skyservice YYZ (Toronto), the Skyservice team has gone to great lengths to present clients with a similar strong service commitment. Marshall Myles, president of Skyservice Toronto, says the formation of a strong corporate culture is predicated on finding just the right individuals with passion, a strong work ethic and enthusiasm. Skyservice Toronto is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year and many employees are celebrating 10, 15, and even 25-year anniversaries this year.

“These are hardworking people that embrace change, growth and development,” Myles said. “The success of a great FBO is a combination of many things but it starts with people, the facilities, the infrastructure and plenty of passion and dedication to exceed client’s expectations.”

Offering new products and altering business models in spite of past successes are also key in capturing a client’s business. Skyservice Toronto continues to work at offering plenty of new amenities and services. For example, as in Montreal, so many clients are American, so they wanted Starbucks coffee, Myles notes. Check. Skyservice also became the exclusive dealer for HondaJet, the innovative BizAv jet poised to become a strong player in the light BizJet category.

The company has also partnered with Gulfstream to become the only warranty facility outside of its own centres and the exclusive one for Canada. And then there is the upcoming expansion of the facility, which will happen in the very near future. This commitment to change works to entice and show staff that stagnation will not be tolerated. Add in a comprehensive employee incentive program, and no wonder employee retention at Skyservice has never been a problem.

“We consistently spend all of our free cash on improving the facility; we are renovating all the time,” Myles said. “We put on and host charity events, we take care of our clients, we do fun events here for people. It’s a great environment to be motivated because there is always something new, we are building and constructing, we are looking for growth and looking ahead to the future, it creates growth and opportunity. So, that is a key motivator and this is what keeps people excited.”

One more new element for all Skyservice properties is an agreement signed last year with Signature to join the growing Signature FBO network. All three Skyservice FBO winners – Calgary, Toronto and Montreal – will soon be joining the growing Signature network, giving clients everything the Signature FBO brand offers. This will also mean there will be two Signature FBOs in Montreal, joining former Wings FBO top vote-getter for four years, Starlink/Signature Montreal.

“It’s going to be fun to have two Signature properties there,” Myles said. “We will both have separate clients, everything will work itself out. There are certainly other examples in the U.S. of two FBO properties on the same field at an airport.”

And while the growing Signature footprint in Canada will certainly change the landscape in many ways, what won’t change are the key components that entice clients to stay with a particular FBO. To remain a successful FBO, it’s about cultivating the right culture, retaining passionate people who “get it” and never standing pat, offering new amenities, enhancing training, creating a safe operating environment and more.

“To stay on top, you don’t have much of an option not to be creative and innovative,” Barbeau said. “You have to be proactive all the time – and never stop nurturing the team to be the best it can be.”


In Their Words
What makes a great FBO? Here’s what it takes

Mentor, mentor, mentor
“An employee is an investment. You invest a lot of time and energy in getting the training done, and as a manager, you need to sit back and say what are you not delivering to them so they understand where you are going.”
– Darryl Golbeck, general manager, Skyservice Calgary

 Cut the B.S. – give them real goods always
“People’s B.S. meter seems to be more attune these days. It’s our culture. When you walk in here there’s an energy . . . they treat every customer like we were all childhood buddies. It’s all about authenticity. Everyone pulls on the same rope, it doesn’t matter who it is.”
– Wes Ramsay, chief operating officer, KREOS Aviation

Never, ever play favourites
“Even as a small independent FBO, we are being recognized for our red carpet service for each and every flight. You can come in a 172 and can get the same service as someone in their G5.”
– Sarah Stewart, FBO manager, Gateway Halifax

A Strong Front: Dynamics
The Wings’ annual FBO survey was designed to identify properties that deliver on these important value propositions. For the fifth consecutive year, we asked readers to identify their top Canadian FBOs, fuel brands, and charge or credit cards.

The methodology for the survey was straightforward. 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 bricks-and-mortar 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.


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