How Delta Airlines Can Differentiate Itself From The Competition

On December 17th, I flew home to visit my parents who live in Atlanta. It was my first trip on Delta Airlines in more than seven years.

Both ground and flight crews were polite, courteous, and efficient. A special shout out goes to the pilot or co-pilot on flight 453 on December 21 who made the smoothest landing of any flight I’ve ever been on.  

Delta is in a very competitive situation with the other majors. According to USA Today, the six US network majors will trim their flights in January due to rising fuel costs and the need to upgrade their aircraft.


With demand nearly exceeding supply, many managers wouldn’t make customer service a priority. But that would be a mistake. Many of Delta’s customers are business travelers who don’t place a lot of importance on price. Rather they’re concerned about getting there on time and having their needs, both on the ground and in the air, met while enroute.


Remember what the late CEO of Coca-Cola, Robert Goizueta, once said, “In real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location.’” In business, it’s ‘differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.’”


How can Delta differentiate itself from others? By taking a lesson from Southwest Airlines and instilling a Positively Outrageous Customer Service attitude.


Many passengers feel like the airlines treat them like cattle. If Delta wants to stand out among the competition, it should put more emphasis on providing legendary customer service.


This won’t be easy and it won’t be fast. The first thing that needs to happen is that management adopts this as a permanent change to the corporate culture. Then change its hiring, reward, and recognition policies to reflect the “new normal.”


I’m not talking about serving better crackers (although getting the entire soft drink can would be nice.) I’m talking about encouraging the frontline staff to be friendlier to customers during the entire time the customer is engaged with the airline. Above I said that the employees were “polite and efficient.” The next higher step is to become “friendly and memorable.”


Allow the flight attendants to joke around as Southwest’s attendants do. On a SW Airlines flight to Orlando, the flight crew held a trivia contest with the prizes being bag tags with the SW logo on it. Of course the same crew had a few “fun” wrinkles to add to the usual emergency announcements.


Bottom line: Make the flights fun. That will differentiate Delta from every other carrier that doesn’t put a high priority on customer service. Then, when the traveler chooses his or her next flight, perhaps they’ll remember the fun they had on Delta and choose them over American or Continental.


What do you need to do to make your customers’ experiences fun and memorable?


Happy New Year!