Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It's so hard to make an effort with people sometimes.

You wonder whether tending to all the human, airy-fairy, non-quantifiable touches in your business actually brings any results.

Your CFO insists that it doesn't. Your CEO vexes over how expensive being nice to people can be.

Some airlines, though, believe it works. Southwest and JetBlue, for example. And, among the legacy airlines, Delta too.

Last week, Delta tried to show employees it appreciates their efforts.

Actually it all involved a little boasting, as a tweet from Gary Peterson, International VP of the Transport Workers Union, made delightfully clear.

Delta employees, all 86,000 of them, got bonuses of 14 percent their base salary. 

Some might think that's not a bad result for your work. At least it shows that putting in the human work might yield some monetary joy. 

Here, though, is the real joy for Peterson -- and, perhaps, for a few Delta employees.

Delta's bonus represented 10 times more dollars than that given to American Airlines employees. 

While Delta dedicated $1.4 billion for bonuses, American managed a mere $175 million. In essence, then, American mathed out at 1.4 percent of base salary per employee.

That wasn't all. Delta also gave its employees a paid day to perform some sort of volunteer community service.

Human gestures generally go down well, don't they?

While we're here, let's offer another contrast.

Southwest had its employees share $544 million, which was somewhere close to a 10.8 percent bonus.

United slipped $344 million into its bonus pool. This meant 4 percent for pilots and 3 percent for everyone else.

It's odd, isn't it, that the more customer service-oriented airlines offer bigger bonuses.

Which isn't to say that everyone at Delta is insanely cheery. Nor that their jobs are necessarily safer than those at American.

While American employees enjoy unions, only pilots and dispatchers at Delta have similar representation.

Yet when your airline appears to be well-managed, when your staff generally feel quite good about working for it, that can help in the way they treat customers. 

When they see and understand the airline's strategy, they're at least a little more likely to go the extra air mile to represent it.

I asked American for its comment and will update, should I hear.

American simply hasn't manage to create a persuasive customer service experience.

Some might suggest this is partly -- or even largely -- to do with its overt emphasis on moneymaking at the expense of the little things.

CEO Doug Parker, for example, believes that getting the customers to their destinations on time is by far the most important thing.

However, stuffing more and more seats onto planes so that the airline can make more money seems to be the most important thing for Parker.

At the end of last year, American's EVP for People, Elise Eberwein, flew Delta and, in her tweeted review, seemed unable to find anything to criticize.

Which wasn't the case when she flew United.

Even more recently, she expressed the belief that it may take at least five years for American's customer service to reach acceptable levels of excellence. 

I wonder if, in five years' time, American's employees can look forward to 10 times the bonus they got this year.

Published on: Feb 16, 2019
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