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Delta Airlines apology letter for flight delay

I experienced a flight delay on February 21, 2011 flying on Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Chicago. The delay was the results of two events:

1. An equipment problem. It was announced as a fuel leak.

2. Weather conditions in the Chicago and the Mid West created flight delays and cancellations across the country.

I believe the total delay was around three hours. All things considered I didn’t think it was too bad. No one was upset to change planes when they heard about the equipment problem and the weather delay was both expected and understandable.

Four days later I received this letter via email:

Please Accept Our Apology
Dear Mr. Williams,

On behalf of Delta Air Lines, I would like to extend my personal apology for the inconvenience you experienced as a result of the delay of Flight DL1412 on February 21, 2011.

In light of the current state of the economy, and in today’s competitive airline industry, travelers expect the best value for their travel dollar. Delta strives to provide this value through a mix of safety, on-time performance, courteous and professional service, and a wide range of destination options. We want to make travel on us a convenient and trouble-free experience for our passengers and I am truly sorry we failed to do so on this occasion.

To demonstrate our commitment to service excellence and as a gesture of apology for our service failure, I am adding 1,000 bonus miles to your SkyMiles account xxxxxxxxxx. These bonus miles and those earned on flights and through hundreds of partners can be used toward award travel on Delta, our 25 partner airlines, and at SkyMiles Marketplace, a new program where you can redeem miles for car rentals, hotel stays, merchandise, and more. Please visit us at www.delta.com/skymiles to verify your mileage balance and to gain access to all of our mileage redemption programs.

It is our goal to provide exceptional service on every occasion, and I hope you will provide us with an opportunity to restore your confidence. Your support is important to Delta, our Connection carriers and our SkyTeam partners. We look forward to your continued patronage and the privilege of serving your air travel needs again soon.


Toby Broberg
Director, Customer Care


Now, I do understand that the airline industry is a consumer favorite for complaints regarding poor customer service. I’ll also admit that I have had a few bad experiences with Delta Airlines over the years.  But I’ll say this. They didn’t have to send this letter of apology and they didn’t have to credit my account with 1,000 miles. I accept their apology and appreciate that a large corporate entity would go to such lengths to send this to individual customers. It’s a nice touch and a good customer focus process. None of use are perfect and it’s nice to see when someone is big enough to send a letter of apology.

Don’t undervalue your services

Several weeks ago I filed a request for an account credit with a strategic partner due to violations with our service level agreement (SLA).  During the previous months, this partner had failed to deliver its contracted service at levels noted in the SLA for availability.  My team and I had access to a website with information, but the information was not updated in a timely manner. undervalue quoteWe use the data from the partner for research and reporting that give us a basis for decision making. The penalty for SLA violations, as is common, is financial in nature and specifies a percentage-off our monthly contracted price for the service.

After reviewing my request for credit, the legal group of the partner organization indicated that they were not in violation of the agreement by the written terms in the SLA.  Essentially they ruled that the SLA stated they were to provide an accessible web site to my company regardless if it contained updated data.  After trying to offer me credit for future services they decided to “compromise” and offer me one month of the service penalty instead of the two I had requested.

Now, I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed with their answer. My response to them was not in anger however. Instead I referenced the mission statement of their organization. I reminded them that my company contracted with them to provide a valuable service that helps us to understand our customers better. By interpreting the SLA as a simple on/off matter they had undervalued their service to the market. You see, if I just needed a company to host a web server and storage I could pick from hundreds of web hosting companies. Their interpretation of the SLA had essentially put their service on par with a web hosting company and their service is much more valuable than that. So I politely told them they should reconsider their response as it didn’t align with the stated objectives of their business.

In the end, I’m happy to write that they agreed with my logic. They will issue a credit in the full requested amount. The bigger lesson here is not about placing blame or finding fault. It’s about not undervaluing your service or products in the Marketplace. It’s about maintaining customer focus above all else.  That’s a great business lesson for all us.

Three tenets of customer focus competency for organizations

Another satisfied customer

Another satisfied customer

I’m not a customer service professional by title, but I write a good bit about “customer focus” and its importance to a business.  As I interact with businesses in my personal and professional life, I’m always looking for those that exhibit world class customer focus. A marketing professor once told me that everyone is a salesman and marketer in their organization regardless of their title. His point was that whether your customers are internal to the organization or external you have a job to satisfy a need in order to complete a transaction. That’s the role of a marketer. As I think about this, you could easily apply this model to customer service as well. We are all customer service professionals for something within our business. We have responsibilities to interact with our customers, to listen to them, and to meet their needs. External customers base decisions of loyalty or continued use of our products on the customer service they receive. Internal to an organization, people based opinions and collaboration decisions for peers based on how well they exhibit customer service traits. Think about who you know that you have labeled “the go to guy”. This person has earned that title in your mind based on repeated acts of customer focus in the past.

Studies have shown that a secret to repeat business is customer service that that totally satisfies the customer and goes beyond their expectations.  That’s not easy to do. How do get more than a ‘satisfied’ rating with your service? To answer this, I looked through my own experiences and research and created the three tenets of customer focus competency for organizations. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but I wanted to capture elements of the service system that are a basis for the core building blocks.

#1 Create a memorable experience

What better way to establish an emotional connection with the customer than to create a memorable experience for them with your product or service. To do this your staff has to understand that their “work” is creating an experience. Some great examples of this are Disney theme park workers, performers at a Cirque Du Soleil, and a CNN anchor. These workers are trained to in the art of creating an experience.

The idea here that all workers in an organization need to understand that all their interactions with a customer create an experience. The question is, will they make it a good memorable experience, a forgettable one, or a negative one? Think about this. It puts the CEO of an organization on the same playing field as a front-line line worker  such as bagger at a grocery store or a cashier at a fast food restaurant. Will the customer remember you because you created an experience they must have again?

#2 Get engaged in the community

Traditionally organizations that earn the respect of people are involved in their community. They’ve done this by getting involved in their local area through avenues such as acts of service, sponsorships and employing residents.

In the last several years the definition of community has expanded because of the ease of user generated content. The online community doesn’t have geographic boundaries and suddenly customer service agents and marketers have come in immediate connection with their customers. You’ve heard of this right? Social Media?  We are in the age of peer testimony and customer reviews. These bits of words written on your online sites may hold more weight than your carefully spent advertising dollars.  Organizations are are now trying to reach customers through social media sites like twitter, Facebook, and blogs. They want to be part of the conversation online, part of the friendships, part of the community.

How does this tie into customer service? It’s part of the experience from the first tenet. Organizations are composed of people. Its the staff that must be involved in the community, creating relationships, and providing value to people. Customers that are able to interact with your brand feel like they are part of your brand. Now that, is a memorable experience.

#3 Customer Interviews

Depending on your business, it may not be possible to do entry and exit interviews with all customers.  The idea is to interview customers when they start as a new customer and if they leave ( Just like you do for employees).  Ask new customers how they found about your business to get a read on the advertising and promotion success of the company. This will show you which channels are the most effective. Also asked them why they wanted to try your product or service to get an understanding of their decision making process. What are the needs or problems that your products and services are solving? You’ll want to focus on those in the future.

If they leave you, try to find the real issue. Often times this is more than pricing, its related to service. It’s easy for the customer to say they found a lower price somewhere else, so you need someone that can carefully navigate this conversation. Remember, you’re trying to find out if there are issues with your customer focus and servicing. This is how your organization improves!

For more information…
The Customers Revenge by Dan Ariely. Harvard Business Review December 2007.
Designing and executing memorable service experiences: Lights, camera, experiment, integrate, action! by F. Ian Stuart. Indiana University Kelley School of Business. 2006.
Why Satisfied Customers Defect by Thomas O. Jones and W. Earl Sasser, Jr. President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1995.

Photo Credit : http://www.flickr.com/photos/xanboozled/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0