Turning Service Into Culture

LAS VEGAS — Consultant Bob Hobbi, president and facilitator for Scottsdale-based ServiceElements, calls it the other case for customer service. It's the concept of using customer service as the catalyst for a renewed, vigorous culture that in time can lead to vested employees, reduced turnover, and happier customers. The vicious circle that starts with high turnover rates, says Hobbi, can be remedied when a company has clearly defined goals and objectives, and an oft-stated corporate commitment.

Explains Hobbi, “One of the biggest challenges in today’s organization is the high degree of turnover. It’s a situation where because of the high turnover, it’s very difficult to have an organization that has a clear, concise set of goals and objectives, because of all this change.

“It’s tough to keep people on the same goals, the same page.”

Pay scales for line positions, he concedes, are an obstacle, but the lure of aviation which translates to job satisfaction, and having a culture in which people enjoy working, can significantly reduce the turnover issue, helping the business.

Companies first need to address causes for turnover, besides pay. The entry level line position is usually viewed as a temporary job, or a stepping stone, says Hobbi, to which almost immediately new hires become disinterested. “When they view us this way,” he says, “and the organization doesn’t have a focus, fueling airplanes and processing credit cards become very mechanical for these people. And they absolutely do not care.”

Worse, says Hobbi, is that attitude transfers to the customer experience; it detaches them. “That leads to the customer not caring about the FBO (fixed base operation) and then it all comes down to, How cheap can I get my fuel? They don’t care about the lobby, the coffee, the meeting rooms, the hi-speed Internet.”

Bring customer service into the company as a cultural event, he advises. Talk about it; meet about it; define goals. Ensure one shift is talking with the next to ensure consistency. And, adds Hobbi, set the example and the bar.

“If as the leader of an organization you’re constantly pointing out when employees demonstrate going beyond the norm, you’re also letting everyone in the organization know what impresses you as the leader.”

’Thinking and Agreeing’

“What you want,” explains Hobbi, “is to get people thinking about customer service, what it is, and agreeing on it. By having it as the main focus, you showing you have a goal: taking care of customers. To do that, you need employees to be talking with one another; talking to each other at a shift change about airplanes that need to be made ready. We don’t want the pilots to show up and find their aircraft buried in the back of the hangar.”

Detached employees have as their goal getting the paycheck, says Hobbi, with little interest in going above and beyond what’s expected.

Once leadership commits to creating the customer service culture, the next step is to drum a steady beat of the goals to employees, says Hobbi. “It’s newsletters; championing people who are going the extra mile for customers; patting them on the back publicly. Not just focusing on the mechanics of the job,” he explains.

“We’re competing with other lower paying jobs, but we have that aviation aura that still has a certain level of sexiness to it, especially for entry level people. It’s not like getting a job at a gas station or flipping hamburgers. We’re getting young folks who can get really excited about being around airplanes. It’s a thing we don’t always use. For a kid in college, coming to the airport and watching these operations going on, it’s an exciting place.”

More than money, people have to enjoy what they do, says Hobbi. The fact that customer service in itself can seem an abstract concept can be a benefit — management can define it in a way that is flexible but appropriate for the clientele.

Says Hobbi, “An orientation toward customer service makes good business sense; it helps your bottom line by retaining employees who are going to serve your customers better. Plus, you create an environment that’s upbeat and fun. Most successful organizations you see today are ones in which employees are having fun first. They feel attached to it; it becomes personal.

“And customer service is easily definable, even for an entry level employee. Everybody has an idea of what customer service means when it comes to themselves.” Once you’ve created an environment in which employees are constantly asking and evaluating customer service levels, it becomes self-defining.

When hiring, Hobbi says to look first for people with “personalities,” who feel comfortable interacting with others and enjoy their company. “I’d rather have someone with the positive attitude,” says Hobbi, “I can teach them how to pump fuel. And if you get someone who is positive they’re easier to train.”

Expectations, Experiences

The other reason for implementing a customer service culture at an aviation service company, explains Hobbi, is because of the nature of the constituency. People buy experiences, says Hobbi, from Ritz-Carlton to Chuck ‘E Cheese. With business aviation clientele, the bar on the experience is raised, he says.

Explains Hobbi, “A book we reference is The Experience Economy; in it the authors talk about a birthday cake. In the 1950s, Grandma made it from scratch. Betty Crocker comes along, sells the mix in a box, and you make it quickly. Even that became too much, so people start buying services — a bakery; Baskin & Robbins. They make it for you and you pick it up on the way home.”

“Our customers — the pilots, the crews, the passengers — have the purchasing power to buy experiences. Their experiences are expensive; these are the people who buy the Ritz-Carlton experience. To them, it’s not just a hotel, it’s an environment.

“So this is the next reason for customer service: our constituency and their buying habits and expectations. They’re continually being raised by other industries; they bring that expectation to us.”

Passengers are spending thousands of dollars per hour and bring an expectation level. “If we don’t think they have high expectations,” says Hobbi, “we’re going to hurt ourselves.”

Bob Hobbi can be reached at www.serviceelements.com.