Originally published by Don Peppers on LinkedIn: A Masterful Innovation in Customer Feedback

On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being definitely "yes," and 1 being definitely "no," how likely would you be to hire the last Delta representative you talked to, if you ran a customer service company?

I kid you not, this was the remarkably interesting survey question posed to me just a few days ago, after I finished a complicated phone interaction with Delta Airlines. What a masterful way to get at the real bottom-line issue of customer service - the people, the human beings, who interact personally with customers.

Not only that, but when I first called in to the toll-free number I was told I could wait on hold to talk with a representative or they would be happy to call me back within 4 to 7 minutes, which is the time they estimated when a representative to be available. Another very pleasant surprise, getting a call back.

I have to say that all the talk about Delta's improved level of service seems to have some real substance to it. As crowded as all the airlines are today (with Delta being no exception), it's refreshing to see at least one carrier taking some innovative approaches to customer service. After all, this industry is (gasp) more than a hundred years old! And apparently not all ideas for service innovation have to come from new entrants.

Probably like many of you reading this now, I am a frequent business traveler. Like you, I've learned that just because you're Platinum on someone doesn't mean their service is flawless. Not at all. Many of the US-based airlines, in my opinion, have gone substantially downhill in the service department over the last few years. Everything from poor gate management to jamming more and more rows into the plane. I used to fly a great deal on American, for instance, but now I try to avoid them. And I was once optimistic about the United-Continental merger, but it seems to me that Continental has sunk to United's level of service rather than United rising to Continental's.

Delta, however, really has stood out. In just about everything. Two years ago the airline dramatically reduced the number of flights it had to cancel, by building more redundancy into its schedule. Bloomberg reported that in June 2014 (summer time, no ice storms) Delta cancelled just 19 flights out of nearly 70,000 operated! That's less than 1/30 of 1%. The next best carrier, Virgin America, canceled flights at a rate three times higher than Delta's, and the worst carrier in terms of flight cancellations that month was Endeavor, one of American Airlines' regional operators, with a rate that was 200 times higher (6.5%). 

Then just last month my wife left her Kindle at her seat on a Delta flight, and she didn't really notice it was missing until the connecting flight was half finished. When she asked the flight attendant about it, she was told her that all lost-and-found items were centrally collected in the Atlanta hub, and she should go online to identify her item by flight and date, after which they'd notify her. Now if you've ever had dealings with an airline's lost-and-found (or for that matter its baggage department), then you know that at most airlines they virtually never call you back. But with Delta, sure enough, very soon my wife got a text message acknowledging her inquiry, then a text message that her Kindle had been found, along with continual, automated updates during the process of returning it to her.

In answering the survey, I told Delta that on a scale of 1 to 5, I definitely would hire that representative to work for my customer service company. 

Good on you, Delta. Keep pushing!

Published on: Apr 14, 2016