By Doug Kennedy
My career as a hotel industry trainer and conference speaker keeps me on the road nearly every week, so I try to take advantage of every available travel perk.
Living in the Ft. Lauderdale / Miami area, I am fortunate to have two major airports within 35 minutes, and with this being a popular tourism destination there is a wide selection of non-stop flights. Therefore, I cannot always remain loyal to just one airline because it’s hard to justify wasting time taking a connecting flight, or perhaps spending an extra night on the road, just to earn miles. As a result, I have premium status with several airlines each year. I’m also a member of loyalty programs offered by most hotel brands and major OTA’s.
Having experienced them all, I can say with confidence that Delta Airlines is one of very few travel companies that truly understands personalized guest engagement and delivers it with amazing consistency.
As I’ve addressed in previous opinion articles for this publication, too many travel companies obsess only on tech-based solutions for personalization. Certainly, Delta excels in the area of “personalized tech experiences” too. They have a top-notch smartphone app with push notifications and a terrific dashboard that makes it easy to find all my essential details. When I revisit their website, my previous searches are saved even if I am not logged-in. There are lots of convenient features when I do log-in, such as easy access to my “Saved Companions.” When I book flights, it provides options for how I will be notified of flight delays.
I also love how they blend “tech and touch” when the time comes that you need a human, such as making it easy to reach a live reservations agent. When I call the 800 number their system matches my phone number with the record locator for my upcoming trip. If there is a major weather incident causing long hold times, I can request a call back instead of holding the phone to my ear.
Travel perks? They personalize that too. When it’s time for my annual status reward they offer several choices ranging from a Skymiles mileage bonus to the ability to “gift” premium status to someone else. Although I have received luggage tags from several other airlines and hotel brands, I have to say that the Delta “Million Miler” luggage tag is by far the coolest and therefore the only one I want to display on my bag.
Beyond the nifty tech-based personalization apps and customized travel perks, what’s truly amazing about Delta is that during every encounter with an airline staff member they always remember to thank me for my business in a sincere and authentic way. It seems that a lot of brands are attempting this, but the “thank’s for your loyalty sir” I get elsewhere is usually disingenuous, feels scripted, and seems insincere.
Somehow, I always get the sense that Delta colleagues are truly sincere when they say in their own ways some version of “Thank you for being a Million Miler Mr. Kennedy, we are grateful for your loyalty to Delta.” When delivered in person such as by a gate agent or flight attendant, they always maintain eye contact long enough to show they mean it. Even more amazing is that their call center agents also say it just as authentically, and I can imagine those working the premium flyer call queue must say it at least 100 times per shift.
Besides the authentic recognition, Delta agents also personalize my experiences by showing a little human kindness and flexibility. There are way too many examples to share here, so I will just provide one story to illustrate. Our daughter, who was at the time a freshman at Fordham University in New York, was booked to fly home on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This is of course the busiest travel day of the year, with New York to South Florida being probably the busiest route of all.
About two weeks out she calls me to say that her professors have cancelled classes for that Wednesday and she wants to come home a day early. Knowing this was going to be too costly and all but impossible, I decided to call Delta anyway. As always, their agent was incredibly empathetic to my situation. Although a change fee of $200 would normally apply, plus the fare difference (and fares had gone way up this close to departure), my agent checked with a supervisor and was able to waive all of these charges. As a result, my daughter got home mid-day Tuesday instead of late Wednesday night! It was wonderful that she accommodated me and even better that she waived the fee, but the best part was that she remarked with empathy something like “I remember how it felt when our kids first left for college too, Mr. Kennedy, so I hope you enjoy having the extra time with your daughter for Thanksgiving.”
Although I do love the travel perks, the luggage tags, the free upgrades to first class and the expedited check-in lines, what I enjoy most about flying on Delta is the sincerity and authenticity of its people. They truly understand that the heart of hospitality is caring “about” as well as caring “for” your customers and guests. While I still fly other airlines when the routing is more efficient for me, given the choice I always pick Delta because of their personalized service. The experience of staying in a hotel is even more intimate than sitting in an airplane seat, and hotel brands would be smart to look beyond tech solutions like Delta has done.