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Delta Air Lines Has a Secret Weapon for Delighting Customers

I know that most people don't think highly of having to talk to customer service. That's true for almost every type of company, though I suspect that--generally speaking--airlines are near the top of the list, right below cable companies.

Part of the problem is that if you're calling customer support, it's probably because something has gone wrong with your trip. It's probably because your flight has been canceled and you're stuck in an airport somewhere instead of lying on the beach, as you intended.

For a long time, if you were flying Delta, the best way to handle a situation like this wasn't to pick up a phone to call. Even if you're a frequent flyer with access to special phone numbers, there was a better way. That's because one of the most underrated customer service experiences was sending a direct message to Delta Air Lines' Twitter account.

I've told the story before of being on a flight with a maintenance issue that was going to delay us enough that I'd likely miss my connecting flight. Seated next to me was someone with Delta's highest status, known as Delta 360. The gentleman was on the phone with some of the airline's best customer service representatives trying to be rebooked.

I, on the other hand, did not have such status, but I did have a secret weapon. I knew that I could DM Delta's Twitter account and that they were some of the best customer service agents, anywhere. Before the gentleman with uber-high status was able to complete his phone conversation, I had been successfully rebooked on another flight, all using Twitter.

During the pandemic, however, Delta's social media support disappeared almost entirely--or, at least, that's how it seemed. If you sent a direct message, you'd receive an automated response to reach out to the company using one of its other channels. The problem was, those channels were not nearly as fast, and often not as helpful.

Yes, it was convenient that you could chat via Messages on your iPhone, but as people started traveling again, it wasn't uncommon to have very long wait times to get help. It makes sense that the company would need to consolidate its support staff into the channels most people were using, but the unfortunate effect was that one of the best customer service experiences anywhere turned into one of the worst.

A Delta spokesperson told Inc. that "during the pandemic, we made strategic adjustments to our resources across all customer care channels to best support our customers and people. While we never fully stopped offering support on social channels, we have focused on strengthening our social customer care team with a vast set of knowledge so that we can serve customers on their preferred channel and offer the welcoming and caring service they expect from Delta."

It's also true that during the pandemic--like a lot of companies--Delta offered employees early retirement in an effort to reduce staff expenses at a time when people were staying at home, without having to go through layoffs. One unfortunate side effect is that you often lose some of your best and most experienced people when that happens.

Now, however, Delta has quietly been helping customers on social media again. The airline has a team of 30 or so agents that monitor social channels for @mentions and are able to respond and handle issues. Many of them have previous experience in various areas of Delta's support organization and receive additional training. As a result, the company is able to both fix problems and make people happy on a platform otherwise known for doom scrolling.

Look, Twitter is still mostly a dumpster fire, but if you look past the arguing over whether Elon Musk should make his dog the CEO, it's actually a very useful platform for connecting with companies and brands. It's especially useful for customer support. Brands tend to be very conscious of how they are represented on social media. No company wants lots of unanswered complaints hanging out there on the internet, so they tend to pay attention when people post things publicly. The lesson here, however, is that instead of just paying people to monitor and offer generic replies, staff your social media team with the very best of the best.

Unlike other support channels, like email, messaging, or call centers, what happens on social media is public and is one of the most important representations of your brand. It's worth the investment to make it a world-class experience for your customers. That's exactly what Delta has done, and it's very good news for all of us.

This article originally appeared on Inc.

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