Cessna is doing more than introducing new business jet models. The Wichita airframer is changing the way it does business with its customers.
That is the message from Cindy Halsey, the company’s long-serving vice president of interior design and engineering. Beyond developing the new Citation Ten, M2 and Latitude, Halsey said the company took advantage of the economic downturn to analyze 10 years’ worth of marketing data with a microscope. With the help of Ohio State’s world-renowned marketing department, Cessna mined the data dump for trends and applied lessons learned from the Citation Mustang beginning in 2006.
The Mustang was a major departure for Cessna in the way it presented choices to the customer. Before the Mustang, Cessna customers had to wade through a complex maze of choices for colors, fabrics, veneers, plating and other interior options. It could take a customer days to spec a small CitationJet. The Mustang changed all that, said Halsey.
“It had three different interiors and three different paint striping patterns. At the time people thought it was not going to work. It was blasphemy. The sky was going to fall and no one was going to buy it. Five years later people are still coming in and saying I’ll pick that one and take that one. We just recently upgraded these offerings” (the High Sierra package) and Cessna has sold more than 300 Mustangs. Halsey wanted to see how many other customers would want to work this way, called “low-touch” in the retail vernacular.
“We went in and looked at ten years of purchasing data and there were clear and present trends,” Halsey said. “We were over-delivering to a faction of customers who really just wanted the Easy button. We made them come to Wichita, showed them all we have to offer and forced them to choose.… They had no idea how to put stuff together and it was not a comfortable experience for them.”
But obviously not all of Cessna’s customers are low-touch. There is another category of customer Halsey calls “medium-touch.”
“They’ll look at a mock-up or a picture and say, ‘That’s it. But can you just tweak the carpet a little’ because that little change truly makes the airplane their own.”
Finally, there is a category called “high-touch.”
“You have no problem identifying these customers,” Halsey said. “They let us know the second they walk in the door. They want every minute of our time for weeks on end. They want to fly with us to the veneer manufacturer, [want us to] visit their home to see how they live, and never once ask what it is going to cost. They just want the experience. This is the type of customer who will bring his daughter into the room and say ‘I want the airplane the color of her eyes.’”
Flexible Completions Process
Cessna’s challenge was to develop tools that served all three of those customer types while preserving its lean manufacturing processes. “Obviously it is easier and less expensive to deal with a low-touch customer, but now I have alienated my high-touch customer,” Halsey said. Cessna’s answer is called “the flexible completions process.”
“We are in the process of packaging and presenting this,” Halsey said, adding that it will be “customer-driven.”
“There is training with this and we are halfway through that process, but if we give sales the tools, the customer will pick which way he wants to work,” she said. “Customers can come here or do it over Web-X or we can have a micro [Internet] site. We want to make this flexible so we can do this anywhere in the world. We will give them as much time as they want and they will have more opportunity to buy as much as they want from us.”
The data study also provided Cessna with guidance about cabin layouts and options across its entire product line and suggested ways to make it compatible with lean manufacturing initiatives, including modular design and quick-change cabin components. “We can look at the data and say, ‘Wow, these 400 galley configurations are really six,’” Halsey said.
Halsey said the company is in the process of building more design centers around the world to better accommodate specific regional tastes.
“We plan to have design centers throughout the world and each of these design centers will be armed with this [customer] toolkit. They will have the ability to tailor and design their own look for the different markets. I can sit here all day long and look at what Brazilians typically order and with pretty decent assuredness put together looks for certain markets, but trends change,” she said. “We want boots on the ground in different parts of the world [belonging to design] professionals, who can take that [look] and alter it” to accommodate individual customer tastes, she said.
To that end, Cessna recently announced a substantial increase in its international sales force and is moving to improve the quality of its internal communications at all levels of the company.
In late October the Citation Latitude mock-up made a week-long tour of the factory floor.
“We have employees who have never seen what they build. They have never seen a finished aircraft,” Halsey said. The Latitude tour did more than spark employee enthusiasm about Cessna’s future; it gave line assemblers a chance to think about how to build the airplane years before it will come down the production line. Halsey said her team is also getting better and faster customer data from the sales department, blogs and social media. “We are getting a lot more aggressive with that,” she said.
Overall, Halsey credits Cessna’s new CEO, Scott Ernest, and his new executive team with “really jazzing this company. Bringing in new people always energizes an organization. This is a tough environment we are in, but change is wonderful.”