Executive Jet goes to class with suppliers to enhance overall service
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
COLUMBUS, OH — EJ101 was held here on Dec. 1, 1999, at the Radisson Airport Hotel. Paul Schweitzer, whose responsibility is to interface with service providers to Executive Jet, coordinated the meeting and invited AIRPORT BUSINESS to participate.
In attendance were some 40 representatives from FBOs, FAR Part 135 charter operators, and Carey Limousine — all extensions of EJ's delivery of service to the customer in the back of a fractional jet. Executive Jet employees were also in attendance to learn and to answer questions, explains Schweitzer.
The one-day seminar is regularly put on for companies that provide services to EJ aircraft and customers. It is led by EJ employees from various departments who provide insights into how they operate and how they need to interface with service providers to create a seamless level of customer service. Seminars are slated to be held monthly in CY2000.
EJ's basic premise is this: More than selling fractional shares in corporate jets (NetJets program), the company is selling customers on the concept of business aviation. That is what they are really buying. As such, the customer's experience at every step of each flying experience must be first class. However, EJ provides the aircraft and the crews. Most everything else related to the experience comes from outside service providers.
Regarding the impact EJ is having on the service community, EJ projects that in CY2000 it will purchase some 61 million gallons of fuel, with an average uplift of 508 gallons. EJ also says it will purchase some $70 million in charter services.
Says Schweitzer: "We look at everything through the eyes of the NetJets owners. It's all about the NetJets owners.
"I personally think that vendors willing to participate in this class carry a certain quality that EJ is looking for.
"Our greatest concern is the vendor community. The FBO is kind of the heartbeat of the whole transaction." That said, Schweitzer admits that the company's number one challenge is improving the process for notifying an FBO that an EJ customer is arriving. In other words, communication.
As a result, EJ instituted the 101 class as well as a "contract" which FBOs agree to if they want to be preferred service providers. A customer can choose his/her own FBO at any time/location, but these are the preferred companies, explains Schweitzer. In effect, EJ is also attempting to raise the bar regarding service levels throughout the FBO business in the U.S. and offshore.
RELIANCE ON VENDORS
Executive Jet is a company that today is built around the revolutionary concept of fractional ownership of corporate jets — a concept it created and nurtured. It is a global company, with branches in Europe and the Middle East.
The second tier — made up of outside service providers — must be right in step or the EJ system could collapse. And, there is no lack of competitors waiting to grab any disgruntled customers.
AN OPEN MARKET
AIRPORT BUSINESS was invited to sit in on a company staff meeting prior to the day-long seminar at EJ headquarters. Here, department managers take some 20 minutes to go over the previous day's squawks systemwide — from mechanical problems to problems at FBOs to a customer being driven to the wrong convention center in Louisville. Success is in the details, and the details must be corrected when they become problems.
A couple of FBOs had asked to sit in on the staff meeting. All were given the same handouts of squawks, with company names/locations, and told to take them and use as one pleased. Schweitzer says that EJ officials aren't concerned about sharing such information because they believe they can sell/keep the customer due to their overriding commitment to service.
From EJ's Scott Liston, senior vice president of standards and corporate development: "Why are you here today? I think the answer is to grow your business. That's great, because that's what we want to do."
One emphasis Schweitzer would make later in the day was this: To get to know EJ , go to Columbus. If you have a problem or question, ask them — don't get answers secondhand. That's how they operate, he says. If EJ wants to know about an FBO's or 135's level of service, they get on an airplane and fly to visit the company firsthand, he says.
EJ's internal corporate structure is primarily centered around aircraft types — i.e., one department tracks and serves Citation X customers only, etc. It's an approach that was instituted earlier this year amid some internal skepticism it would work. However, says Schweitzer, it seems to be working well.
Liston boasts that EJ has and will change the way business aviation operates. There are going to be 1,000 fractionals in the industry in a few years, he says, and that's the equivalent of 3,000 (in terms of flight hours, overall business impact).
"We welcome competition," he says. "This venue is all about us opening our doors and exposing ourselves to you. And, hopefully, you'll generate business here today amongst yourselves. Please do that. Make it work to your advantage."
Adds Schweitzer: The biggest concern that Scott Liston has is that the vendor community cannot keep up with our growth. It's not a question of are you a good business operator, but rather can you keep up?"
But, he adds, considering EJ's growth in recent years, "Can we keep up?" EJ has grown so fast in recent years that an impression is that everyone is scrambling at all times. Four years ago, it had some 200 employees; today it is approaching 2,000.
In its attempt to keep up, the company made the decision some time back that its primary means of communication would be electronic — e-mails and its Web page (www.netjets.com). It even has a special Web site for vendors and sees this growing so that it develops into an ongoing way to maintain an interrelationship with vendors.
EJ has also instituted a series of "gateway" locations where an employee is based at a particular airport/FBO to coordinate activities there. It affords the opportunity to establish closer relationships with key FBOs, and, from the FBO's perspective, it allows for a more traditional relationship with the customer.