Delta Says It Wants a Better Online Purchasing Experience for Customers

I’m back from “vacation” (which I put in quotes, because I just ended up working on longer term projects the whole time instead of actually relaxing), and it’s time to get back to my Delta visit. First up this week is my discussion with Bob Kupbens, the man who runs eCommerce for the airline. Yes, that includes the website, which many of you know and hate. But there’s good news for you. Delta actually does know what’s wrong and it’s going to be fixed. (Don’t worry, they can’t fix everything, so I’m sure there will still be something to complain about.)

Delta Award Calendar

Bob actually comes to Delta from Target where he most recently ran Having that big-retailer experience gives Delta a fresh set of eyes to help get things in order at the airline. But Bob isn’t just running He’s in charge of other digital channels like Facebook, mobile, kiosks, inflight entertainment content, wireless internet, and yes, Sky magazine (it’s only a matter of time before it goes digital in some form).

The homepage redesign (which I positively reviewed here) was just the start, but it was an important start. What you see on the homepage is going to be the base for design for other channels.

Bob said one of the biggest issues out there is design-related. All the different channels look different and that’s because, as Bob said, they were all designed by different groups. No more; it’s going to be harmonized so that Delta customers will be able to know where things are and how to find them much easier.

But that’s only part of it, and there are still some defects from the merger integration that they’re still working through. Most of those major ones have been completed, and they can start turning their efforts to more work on enhancements.

I brought up the award calendar and he nodded his head. The team is well aware that people are not happy with it, and some improvements are already there. But more is coming, he promises. Then he started talking about things that I find more exciting.

I brought up the issue of how tickets are booked and how poorly information is laid out. He agreed, and said that “when you’re booking, we want to tell you what you’re buying.” That will include things like internet and TV. But it’s also simple things like making the seat map more descriptive. “There’s no reason each seat should show up as a square.” You should be able to see what you’re getting.

It’s that kind of thinking that can make setting expectations much easier. That’s really important for an airline that seems to have a different BusinessElite seat on every other airplane.

We also talked about the new Facebook booking channel. (“A lot of our customers are on Facebook, it’s the most visited site on inflight wifi, so we need to be there.”) I highly doubt anyone is going to use that thing, and Bob realizes that it’s not going to be “the” place where people go to book. They really like that new functionality, however, for its flexibility. For example, if Delta’s people update the Delta Facebook status to show that a fare sale has launched, they can embed the booking engine right there for people to use. They haven’t fully explored what it can do, but they’re excited to try it out. Ok, I can see how that might be interesting, but I’m still not convinced it’s going to matter.

Interestingly, Bob isn’t really focusing on Twitter at this point. That’s a focus for customer service and communication, but it’s not really an eCommerce effort now. The team, which Bob explained is quite lean in numbers compared to his old Target digs, is focusing on Facebook for now.

Then it was on to wifi. General feedback, outside of Virgin America, is that very few people are using it and it’s going to take some time for it to build. Bob sounded no differenet. He explained that the take rates are increasing but they aren’t where they want them to be just yet. Still, wifi is valuable for the airline.

He believes that now that Delta has nearly fully outfitted the fleet, it is a customer expectation and it’s a differentiator. They need to do more experimenting with pricepoints and packaging (which is ultimately controlled by AirCell, the wifi provider), but he’s confident this will be important. It’s already proven to have great value from a customer perspective, something I’ll discuss later this week.

With all of these things on the table, I asked the inevitable question that makes many cringe. How are they going to monetize this? Would they look at advertising sales and things like that? The answer might shock you.

He said that while they will look at some additional opportunites to make money, much of this “could just be a differentiator.” There he goes again on building the brand as different from others. That’s the kind of thing I like to hear, and I’m eagerly awaiting some of the changes in the next year to see if it ends up being as good as it sounds.

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