Skift Take

Airlines often focus on their on-time performance. But a journey of a thousand miles often starts at an airport with a lot of friction. Kudos to Delta for attempting to smooth out some of the typical hassles.

Delta Air Lines has been directing more investment at enhancing what its customers experience at airports, and it relies on customer sentiment surveys to guide its progress.

“We’re obsessed with NPS [net promoter score],” said Allison Ausband, executive vice president and chief customer experience officer, on Wednesday at Skift Aviation Forum at Dallas-Fort Worth. “It’s our way of knowing what’s sticking.”

Ausband oversees about 60,000 customer-facing and design employees in Delta’s airport customer service, in-flight service, and reservations and customer care divisions. Their key measure of performance is net promoter score, which is heavily made up of surveys asking customers how likely they are to recommend the company to other people.

“Every day… we know by market, by aircraft, by cabin, by customer base, what [customers] are saying and what they’re feeling about Delta’s service,” Ausband said. Delta has recently begun letting customers leave video feedback.

Using Digital to Improve the Airport Experience

Shaving off seconds from the airport process is a key goal for the carrier, Ausband said. Providing safe, clean, on-time flights accounts for roughly half of the company’s customer ratings. That leaves the rest of a customer’s journey as an opportunity for improvement.

Ausband noted that the carrier is deploying technologies like biometric identification across airports to speed up flyers’ journeys. In Detroit, for instance, Delta customers can use their passport number and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership as a digital ID to let them drop off luggage and pass through security without needing to take slower, manual steps to verify identities.

Delta is also testing in Detroit “parallel reality,” which is a digital sign that allows multiple customers standing next to each other in an airport terminal to each see personalized flight information tailored to their unique trip.

“The sign might say, ‘You’re a diamond medallion with Delta Airlines. You’re at gate two. You’ve got 2 minutes to get to your gate,” Ausband said in a conversation with Brian Sumers, Editor-at-Large, Skift. “It’s an amazing technology that we want to deploy throughout the airport.”

Other airports are getting investments, too. In Los Angeles, Delta aims to offer Joby’s electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, essentially air taxis, by “the end 2024 or early 2025” Ausband said.

Delta’s Food and Lounges

Airline food is rarely anything to call home about in a positive way, but Delta has worked to improve its in-flight offerings. Ausband said the company underwent a catering transformation in recent years, first by diversifying its caterers from more than just two.

The company’s lounges have been another area of investment. Ausband said that the carrier had improved its Sky Club lounges so much that it now has more demand than it is always able to manage at peak times.

“We’ve asked retirees to come back to be hospitality hosts in our Sky Clubs for the holidays,” Ausband said. The carrier has also added lounge wait time estimates to its app.

At the height of the pandemic, Delta’s customer satisfaction scores outpaced those achieved in the years prior by 30 points or more, and the carrier’s workers catapulted it to the top spot in the J.D. Power 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.

Delta strives to meet its customer experience goals while being the least unionized airline in the world, Ausband said.

“We carry 500,000 customers a day,” Ausband said. “That’s 500,000 opportunities to create a great experience for our customers. So we’ve got to be listening to them.”

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Tags: customer experience, delta, delta air lines, loyalty, saf2022, skift live

Photo credit: Delta's Allison Ausband, executive vice president and chief customer experience officer, talks at Skift Aviation Forum 2022 in Dallas-Fort Worth. Source: Skift. Skift

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