Through Service Comes Loyalty

Oct. 26, 2007
Consultant outlines key components of a successful service regimen.

According to, loyalty is a feeling or attitude of devoted attachment or affection. When you think about it, that is a pretty strong emotion. Don’t you want to build that level of attachment for your company, where customers only think of your fixed base operation or airport when it comes to servicing their needs? Following are some considerations for implementing a strong customer service program.

Most companies strive for customer loyalty. After all, with a loyal customer base comes the satisfaction that you are doing things properly and, hopefully, making money. When you think of companies that have a devoted or loyal customer base, several come to mind: Starbucks, Apple, Disney, and Harley Davidson, to name a few. These are companies that through creativity, initiative, a focused plan, and legendary customer service are very profitable and have built a great reputation in their markets. These companies charge a premium for their services because of the value and experience they represent.

So, how do you achieve the same type of success? First, you must realize that merely satisfying customers is no longer good enough. Satisfied customers don’t necessarily translate to loyal customers.

According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, as many as 80 percent of customers who leave one company for a competitor report being satisfied with the previous company. Traditionally, most companies strive for satisfied customers, but what you really need are customers who are delighted with their experience and would gladly recommend your services. That means creating a customer experience that is second to none.

Building a legendary customer service culture is not easy. It is a transformation that takes time, money, commitment, and patience. However, the payoff is significant. Let’s examine a few things an airport-based business or airport can do to help impact customer service and the overall experience you provide.

Examine customer contact points
Review how you are interacting with your customers. For example, look at your line operations, and set standards with the customer in mind. How long does it take to greet an aircraft? How is the customer being greeted?

Another example: Look at the company’s customer service representatives. How are they answering the phone? What is the impression they provide the caller? What do they do to capture the business?

All these contact points have an impact on the customer’s impression and ultimately impact revenues. The more specific a company is in setting guidelines and standards for these interactions, the more likely these will be positive impressions.

In my experience, FBOs who have implemented specific standards have seen a more focused staff, which helps drive the customer service and sales aspect of business. Employees simply need to know what is expected.

Train employees
Changing a customer service culture will require a training investment and commitment. This training must be reinforced and measured. Employees will need the tools and skills to perform at a high level. It will be difficult to achieve that consistency without each employee at an airport or FBO receiving the same message. Train employees to start thinking like customers.

Set the tone
Managers need to set the example for legendary customer service. Too many airport industry managers exhaust their days in offices and don’t interact with their customers, or coach or develop their staff. It is essential you spend time with your customers and employees.

Don’t assume employees know what you expect and how to do it. The front line drives the bottom line. Therefore, make certain the front-line personnel know how important it is to service customers in a legendary manner.

Build relationships with customers
It’s difficult (maybe impossible) to develop loyalty if you do not have a relationship with the customer. You would be surprised at how often airport and FBO employees have entire conversations with customers without ever asking their name. How can you build a relationship without knowing someone’s name? If you were speaking with a potential new colleague or friend, you would surely ask their name. Think of customers in the same way. Remember, staff needs to be engaging and positive, no matter if their interactions are in person or over the phone. Strong relationships are the centerpiece of a loyal customer base.

Feedback, measurement, encouragement
If you want to impact behavior and raise the bar on the service you provide, your training must be reinforced and continually developed.

One method our company has found highly effective is mystery shopping. We’ll call a fixed base operator after a training session and pretend we are a customer inquiring about fuel costs. We expect the customer service representative to apply the skills we teach in training, such as getting the caller’s name, building a relationship, and asking for the reservation. In other words, we want them to do more than just quote the fuel price. Anyone can do that.

Since we record the mystery shops (and then evaluate them), local management is able to use specific examples to further coach the staff. The measurement is objective and the feedback is timely and relevant.

Companies we’ve worked with have seen a considerable impact in the skills that we measure on these calls. Employees are gathering the necessary information, providing value to callers, and asking for the reservation. These improvements impact reputation and ultimately revenues.

We encourage companies to reward their employees when they do well on these calls. This positive feedback goes a long way in developing your culture.

Don’t compromise
You want to be the best airport or FBO in your market. You want to build a loyal and devoted customer base. That will be more difficult if you compromise your customer service standards. Train your employees, set the right example, and expect the best.

A Bain & Company survey reveals that in studying 362 companies, 80 percent believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. But when asking their customers, only eight percent thought these companies were delivering a superior experience. It is easy for a company to feel it is providing a legendary level of customer service. However, the only perception that counts is that of the customer.

Another study by the Harvard Business Review reports that 97 percent of customers who report being loyal to a company never leave. They are customers for life.

And, a study from Maritz, Inc. says that more than 68 percent of American consumers wanted to or took their business elsewhere after a bad customer experience. Of those who left, 43 percent cited their service experience as the main reason; 83 percent of those who left due to poor service told others of their negative experience.

Many companies assume their employees are taking care of their customers. But, is that something you want to assume? FBOs and airports are competitive, and if you want to create a competitive advantage, then consider creating a culture where legendary service is the norm. You want to set the standard in your market and have other airport-based businesses compare their service to yours.