CPC Training Sets Customer Service Baseline

By Scott Spangler on December 14th, 2010

Customer service, as the AOPA student retention survey recently reaffirmed, plays an important role in the student pilot dropout rate. As anyone who has called or visited more than one flight school can attest, the quality of customer service—good, bad, or mediocre—depends on the school’s owner. 

CPC-logoOver the past couple of decades I’ve visited more than a few of the 270 Cessna Pilot Centers and found their service predictably positive. This didn’t happen by accident, says CPC Manager Julie Filucci. Cessna launched its flight school network  in 1973. Since then it has assessed the practices of its more successful affiliates and shared the  accumulated knowledge through various training programs.

A critical component is “delivering a customer experience commensurate” with the other services Cessna provides, she continues. “As the primary point of contact with students,” to  CPC customers, “flight instructors are the face of Cessna.” To ensure that CFIs put their best face forward, they each receive training that sets a how-to baseline and establishes “the core customer experience.”

Understanding how flight schools compete, Filucci’s predecessors focused on “a few key areas that we knew were differentiators.” Early on, the training was face-to-face, but it is now delivered by a 15-minute video, Checklist for Success.

Teaching the standard CPC customer experience, the video “gives flight school owners a tool, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they hire a new instructor,” she continues. Most CPCs add “flavoring, a special cast of things,” specific to their market.

The video contains no secrets. Good customer service is “not rocket surgery; two key touch points are no-brainers,” first contact with the customer and the “Discovery Flight.” Cessna’s fundamental guidance is no different than that found in hundreds of articles in aviation and business publications.

With no lack of information on how to provide exemplary customer service, the pressing question is why more schools don’t do it? Maybe it’s because no one gives them constructive feedback, which is part of the CPC culture. “Every time I walk in a CPC I’m a professional woman looking for flight training,” says Filucci. “There are times I’m happily impressed, and there are times when I gather talking points for our discussion with the flight school.”

Or maybe it just isn’t clear to flight schools why their students drop out.  Most, perhaps, will mistakenly blame the cost of flying. But consider this:

A school providing good customer service, a school with instructors who relate to students as people, will know when cost is a factor. Good customer service is a tripartite partnership built on trust, with the school serving the student-instructor team as it strives for its shared goal, a successful final  checkride. Unwilling to surrender their dreams, students who trust their teachers will share their cash flow concerns, looking for guidance and assistance, just as they would in a tricky crosswind.

Customers constantly bathed in poor service, on the other hand, just stop scheduling lessons without explanation. Certainly, the causes are many and cumulative. In the end, maybe the cost of flying is the reason they drop out, because few have the resources to make a substantial investment whose return wastes their time and money. –Scott Spangler


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7 Responses to “CPC Training Sets Customer Service Baseline”

  1. Rodney Hall Says:

    Very true not only in flight schools but all manner of businesses. Do you go to the store where they are helpful and treat you courteously or where the people ignore you and send you to someone else? Making a student feel like “John” or “Jane” and not “my 3pm lesson” is important. If a student feels that all you care about is their money they will walk. If they cancel a lesson because they have to work late or thier child is sick don’t berate them about the money you are losing because they didn’t show up and tell them next time you will charge them regardless, (actually happened to me)ask them how the child is feeling or when can they reschedule. If they miss a lesson call them and ask why with the assumption that something is wrong. Show a little care and compassion.
    One statistic I would be interested in is how many students don’t finish flight training at one school but go to another one and finish due to poor instruction and customer service.
    It never hurts to be friendly and nice to people or show a little concern for their progress and state of mind.

  2. Chris Findley Says:

    Good article, but I’d like to know some specifics. Yes, great customer service is key, as is creating a good experience. But how have they managed to do that? What are they doing that makes for good customer service?

  3. Scott Spangler Says:

    As I mentioned in the post, there are hundreds of articles out there on the components of good customer service. In the end, however, it still comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat people like you yourself would like to be treated. When someone calls or walks into a school, stop what you’re doing and greet them like you’re actually happy to see or speak with them. Make eye contact, speak clearly, LISTEN to what they say, and do everything in your honest ability to help them.

  4. AFP Says:

    Good customer service isn’t the key that fixes everything. All other things being equal customer service can be the winning ingredient though. If I can rent a C172 for $90 somewhere that I have to get the plane out, fuel the plane myself on their budget, and put it away when I’m done. I’d still do that over paying $110 somewhere that will do all of that for me. I think the key to all of this is that there isn’t one key to all of this. Cost, customer service, quality of product all play important parts, and the most successful companies are masterful at them all.

  5. Robert T Says:

    It’s sad, but Rodney Halls experience is fairly common. What a way to be treated when your trying to achieve a dream you may have had for years. I guess you could hit a flight school over the head with hammer and tell them customer service means something or just take your money somewhere else. Sometimes that’s to another hobby all together.

    Treat a customer like you would want to be treated. I guess for some flight schools that’s a latest in technology teaching aid.

  6. P. Jerry Lee Says:

    Manufacturers (like Cessna) certainly have the right idea when it comes to moving our industry in an improved direction with respect to increasing the level of customer service in GA flight schools.

    Sadly, the multiple challenges our industry faces with respect to the getting and keeping of customers remains at a pandemic level.

    Over the past year, in the course of our own marketing, weve conducted anonymous market research (aka mystery shopping) of over 150 small-medium sized flight schools nationwide, and measured their ability to do well at the beginning of the sales process.

    Here are a few quick stats and facts that relate to what weve found happens when a new prospective student reaches out to a flight school to get started:

    *In over 85% of the schools we surveyed, the new prospective student was not ever asked their name.

    *Most schools focus very heavily on the content of the programs they offer. For instance, trying to differentiate between 61 and 141 programs. We feel that this is not always relevant to the needs of the inquiring recreational flyer.

    *Often, when CFIs are handling an initial visit with a prospect, they are far more interested in marketing themselves rather than the company as a whole.

    *Many times, the flight school representative did not seek to listen to, or have an appropriate conversation with the new prospective student. The gush factor is often very high.

    *There is often a level of arrogance and condescension offered to those who are not pilots.


    Improving flight school customer service is an important part of the equation. However, its hardly the only piece that can make a real difference for our industry.

    Almost anyone who is medically eligible and has the proper attitude, as well as the proper funding can engage in training towards a rating. Thats a bigger part of the population than most would imagine.

    Flight schools owe it to themselves to have a solid process when someone reaches out to them to learn more about getting started with flying lessons.

    If you want to get a glimpse of an industry that does a consistently solid job of handling new prospects, pop by a Harley-Davidson dealer and see how they treat you when you tell them you want to get started with an entry level bike.

    If you own a flight school, theyre one of your biggest competitors….

  7. Chris Findley Says:

    I agree enthusiastically with all the above. I guess my observation was that “Customer Service” is a very generic term. And the article mentions:

    “To ensure that CFIs put their best face forward, they each receive training that sets a how-to baseline and establishes the core customer experience.

    It’d be interesting to know what that training looks like?

    “Understanding how flight schools compete, Filuccis predecessors focused on a few key areas that we knew were differentiators.

    I was just curious as to what these might be?

    One of the best books on this that I’ve read recently is Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness” which goes beyond customer service to truly attempting to provide a “customer experience”…great book with loads of examples as to how his company (Zappos) has done it. Great applications to aviation.

    Keep up the great work JetWhine!


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