A couple of months after Brian Rohloff moved into his new role as Textron Aviation’s senior v-p of customer support, the manufacturer of Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft found itself wrestling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like its OEM peers, the airframer responded to the almost-overnight shift of travel restrictions and quarantines by emptying its corporate offices in southwest Wichita and furloughing thousands of its workers on a staggered basis.
Despite that, Rohloff’s organization has had to keep those service and support employees who weren’t on furlough healthy while maintaining its operational tempo to keep its global Citation and King Air fleets flying, more than 70 mobile service units available for AOG events, and 1Call support and 20 global service centers running.
“The whole Covid-19 situation has really consumed a lot of our time and we’ve had to make sure we do not interrupt our customers’ expectations,” he told AIN. “We cannot afford to miss one single item or issue for our customers. We want this to be seamless for them as we work through the whole Covid-19 issue and the dynamics it has brought on.”
Even while managing an organization through a pandemic, Rohloff, who took on the customer support role from Kriya Shortt in January, is focused on a number of efforts to improve customer support and make his part of Textron Aviation’s business more efficient. That includes overseeing efforts to decrease aircraft downtimes, adjusting maintenance costs on some Citation models, and making service scheduling more palatable for customers.
Acknowledging that the company was previously “kind of very rigid” when it came to scheduling a customer’s airplane for service, the implementation of new software has enabled Textron Aviation “to change as the customer changes,” he said. “We have many different customers that…sometimes their schedules change overnight. And with the scheduling software we have today, we can move it from facility to facility, we can change the input date, and it really allows us to meet the customer's expectations, as well as meeting our own operational expectations and efficiencies so that we don’t cause any issues in the shop.”
Textron Aviation also is in a continuing process of evaluating flat-rate hours on a variety of Citation inspections, which in some cases has resulted in fewer hours and thus lower maintenance costs for Citation customers. “We just recently finished the XLS, XL, and XLS+ series and we’re working on the next series,” Rohloff said. “So basically we evaluate these flat rates and that value that we find, we're sharing that on to the customer with a much more competitive proposition.”
Likewise, reducing the time a customer’s airplane is in for inspections is also a priority for Rohloff. Some “significant changes” at the company’s Wichita service center has allowed it to have 24/7 technician coverage with the same number of staff. In turn, that means it can turn some inspections more quickly. “For our customers, time is money and if you can reduce their duration, they get excited,” he said. “So if you've got a normal inspection, it's going to take five, six, seven, eight days, and we can say we can do it in four, that's a winner, right? It’s an absolute winner. So our customers will experience throughout the network an increased focus on changing the way we do our business and it’s really working on the duration side of things.”
Rohloff added the company’s service centers have been keeping busy with scheduled maintenance because of the downtime created from the pandemic. But other services are a little soft. “From the mod and upgrades perspective, it could be a little more robust,” he explained. However, a financing program launched in late April for upgrades such as Garmin G5000 avionics and Gogo’s Avance L5 or L3 connectivity on the Citation Excel and XLS has helped to spur some additional service center activity.
“We’ve had some wins off of that and we're trying to get people’s minds wrapped around not just taking advantage of this downtime for scheduled maintenance, but also taking a look at G5000 on an Excel, paint, interior refurbs, and things like that,” Rohloff added. “For the most part, we remain steady and we continue to find new ways to reach out to customers and help them take advantage of this time.”
According to Rohloff, success in the customer service and support business comes down to being “consistently consistent. Then we become predictable. And that predictability factor really makes a difference for the customer base. When they come in here, they know they’re going to get the same level of service each and every time. That’s powerful. And that’s really what we need to continue to focus on.”