Many people who either live in or visit the Middle East rave about the service levels in the region's retail industry.
When it comes to chartering a private jet, you would expect the level of service to be unsurpassed. However, the reality is that, as with any industry or sector, service levels can vary dramatically from country to country and from company to company. With the average cost of chartering a private jet hitting tens of thousands of dollars, you would think the level of service could not be questioned, but there are instances where this is not the case. When you decide to charter a jet or helicopter, you want to make sure the experience is as hassle-free as possible.
Aviation is full of technical and specialist details that, as a buyer, you should not be expected to know about. Therefore, the customer service process starts right at the beginning when the first approach to a charter provider is made and must cover some basic points.
For example, is your supplier quick to respond? If the company does not get back to you within an hour with information or an idea of the cost of your charter, why not?
Does the provider have experienced staff who not only understand what you are looking for but can also assess your needs and suggest solutions? Can they explain the differences between these solutions in layman's terms so you can be sure you are chartering the right aircraft at the right price?
It is all very well having an aggressive sales person at the end of the phone telling you they have the best price in the market for an aircraft and convincing you to charter it, but do they know what the inside of the aircraft looks like? Do they know whether the aircraft can operate without having to make several stops on the way for fuel? Do they know how much luggage the aircraft can take – or are you going to have to leave some behind on the day?
All these problems have been encountered in the Middle East due to the lack of experienced staff. Granted it is a problem to find experienced staff in an immature sector such as business aviation, but this is where good training should come in.
As a consumer about to spend thousands of dollars, don't be afraid to question your supplier about its training initiatives and also question the experience of the person you are dealing with.
Even if you manage to deal with someone who seems fairly knowledgeable about the aircraft that they are proposing to supply, the big question is what happens when something goes wrong, as often happens in aviation – and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Take-off times can change, aircraft can experience technical difficulties and weather can cause delays. How does your supplier deal with such issues? Is the company able to explain these problems well and resolve them satisfactorily? Is it able to find solutions or make the situation less fraught? This all takes experience and a sensible approach to customer service.
Once you have committed to a contract there are many other "touch points" you should experience as a customer, for example have you been asked about your requirements on board? Is there someone from the company there when you check in to make sure everything is as you have requested? Have you been given a full flight brief by the company confirming your requests and where you must check in? How do you ensure you are dealing with the right company and the right account manager for your request? This is always tricky, but a good indication is to check how long the company has been in business. Is it a one-man-band or a large organisation with effective procedures and high quality standards? What is the ratio between experienced aviation staff and new, inexperienced staff? Does the company have a reputable brand backing it? Don't forget you are potentially spending a lot of money with these companies and the good ones should respect that and deliver good customer service all round.
The business aviation market has changed over the last 18 months and levels of business are still depressed compared the pre-recession period. Many suppliers feel the only way to retain and attract customers in today's market is to slash prices and go for volume. However, these days competitive prices are no longer just an attraction – they are a given. To stand out from the rest, companies must provide good customer service, which must go hand-in-hand with competitive pricing.
- The author is Director of Middle East and Asia, Air Partner. The views expressed are his own
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