MAY 2011
                                        
Salvaging Millions
What are your customers saying about you online?

Whenever I think of the importance of the internet to small businesses, I think of a USA Today article I read in November 2009 about start-up airlines.

Kent Craford and his partners started SeaPort Airlines in June 2008. Since the aircraft are small, passengers don’t have to pass through TSA checkpoints.

Instead of going through security at Portland’s PDX and landing at SeaTac, a one-half hour to 45 minute drive south of Seattle, SeaPort’s 9-seater aircraft uses a private air field at PDX and lands at Boeing Field, 6 minutes from downtown Seattle.

Yes, it was a good idea, but let’s face it: USA Today reported that for every company like SeaPort, there are 10 others that fail. Fuel prices, high labor costs and the whim of travelers affect all fledgling airlines.

SeaPort, however, is another story. What began as one round trip a day turned into several air services between Eastern Oregon and the Oregon coast to Portland, and Memphis to four small towns in Arkansas. Rob McKinney, CEO and president, said the company’s commitment to exceptional customer service and internet know-how has boosted the airline to annual sales of $25 million.

It took a while, but eventually the company added e-ticketing, and passengers were able to use online sites such as Expedia and Travelocity to book tickets. SeaPort has built a reputation of providing personal customer service, sometimes holding a flight if a customer is running late. Online reviews left on internet travel sites are monitored closely.

“Service comes first,” McKinney said. “SeaPort focuses on the fact that we are a service that just happens to be an airline. We understand that giving our guests an exceptional experience is what will bring them back as loyal customers.

Every traveler who has had a problem with SeaPort was been personally attended to. Every business’s Google image is so important, McKinney said, most businesses are aware of it – or they should be – so that they can make sure their company’s online image is as good as possible.

McKinney also believes in planning a public relations campaign in advance and sticking to it. While some businesses may be able to plan as far as a year in advance, there are so many fluctuations in the airline industry, he plans a 90-day advance schedule that takes up half his time, and spends the other half dealing with the unexpected.

Earthbound businesses can follow up an online sale with an e-mail request for a review.

Comment cards directing customers to a feedback site can be handed out with checks.

Some businesses offer a chance for a prize on the receipt for people who visit a website to leave feedback. Facebook’s “like” buttons are free to online businesses and provide free advertising on a customer’s news feed and wall.

For those reasons and more, a business’s website is an important tool. Its money well spent in today’s internet environment.

 


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Ron Sturgeon is past owner of AAA Small Car World. In 1999, he sold his six Texas locations, with 140 employees, to Greenleaf. In 2001, he founded North Texas Insurance Auction, which he sold to Copart in 2002. In 2002, his book “Salvaging Millions” was published to help small business owners achieve significant success, and was recently reprinted. In June 2003, he joined the new ownership and management team of GreenLeaf. He also manages his real estate holdings and investments. You can learn more about him at WWW.autosalvageconsultant.com He can be reached at 5940 Eden, Haltom City, TX 76117, rons@rdsinvestments.com or 817-834-3625 ext 6#.