Customer Feedback: There Is No Other Way

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

Whether in private industry or government, success for any organization and the people working in the organization depends upon keeping in touch with their customers. For businesses, neglecting to interact with customers frequently results in providing a service or product for which there is no demand. This means failure for the business.

While obviously not exactly the same, there are parallels for government. For example, failure to interact with customers can result in reduced governmental effectiveness through a lack of understanding of the customers’ needs. Without seeing matters from the customers’ perspectives, government can inflict undue discomfort and economic hardship. The end result may well be customer rebellion and noncompliance. For an agency such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), this has great importance, since matters of aviation safety are at stake.

The FAA, including the Office of Aerospace Medicine, has a clear policy of pursuing good customer service and, to promote this, interacting with our customers at all levels. For this reason, I encourage employees throughout the organization to establish and maintain as much personal contact with our airman customers as possible. Our professional and educational support staffs from the Washington headquarters office, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, and the regional medical divisions are heavily involved in customer outreach and education programs.

Those of you who attended the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA’s) fly-in and airshow at Oshkosh this year would have noticed the strong presence of the Office of Aerospace Medicine. I was there, along with staff members from the Washington office, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, and the Great Lakes Region office. We participated in medical forums sponsored by both the FAA and EAA, maintained an information booth for purposes of disseminating aeromedical information and personalized advice to airmen, and operated two spatial disorientation simulators to provide physiological training for airmen.

This contact with airmen at the “grass roots” level gives us the opportunity not only to individually assist airmen who are having problems working their way through the complexities of our certification system, but also to get feedback on what is — and what is not working for them. Through our participation in the open forums, airmen can ask hard questions about the “whys” and “wherefores” of certification policies and even air their own personal experiences with the certification program.

In dealing with these questions, I find that, while airmen are not always pleased with our answers, they appreciate the opportunity to be heard and to be responded to with candor. Not only have we been able to soften for the airmen our “image” of being cold and unfeeling, we have often gone away from these meetings with new thoughts and ideas about how we can improve the certification system — not only for the airmen but for ourselves as well.

Sometimes it’s difficult for managers, whether in business or in the government, to interact with customers – we don’t always hear what we’d like to hear, either about ourselves or our organizations. I’m convinced, however, that to be fully successful, there is no other way.