Delta Reservations and the Twitter Movement

Next stop on the Delta tour? Reservations. I was particulary excited about talking to Allison Ausband, who runs the reservations team, because Delta is doing some really interesting things. Besides using some more unique flexible work schedules, Delta is also bringing together social media with reservations to create some spectacularDelta Delta Delta Can I Help Ya Help Ya Help Ya results.

There are about 5,000 reservations agents at Delta, and they’re scattered around several call centers around the world. Well, at least 4,000 of them are. The rest are actually home-based, similar to what JetBlue does with its agents and the team is humming right along. Right now, there are also call centers in South Africa and Jamaica that take calls from the US, but the long term plan is to bring that all back in-house. Yep, that’s right. Love it.

But of all those agents, there are eight that are particularly interesting to me. Those eight (and growing) make up the DeltaAssist team, the group that manages @DeltaAssist on Twitter. Though the group started off handling issues only during business hours in Atlanta (something I criticized here), it has already been expanded to work on weekends. It will eventually become a 24×7 operation, and that’s where it needs to be. And really, it needs to be there very soon. You can’t have part-time coverage for a 24 hour operation.

The agents on this team are given wide-ranging power to resolve any issues that arise, and if they can’t, they contact whomever needs to fix it. Ultimately, Allison views this team as just another line of business, like the reservations sales team.

Though the benefit this team brings seems obvious to me, I asked Allison how Delta was measuring success. Her first answer was this.

What we’re reading makes it worthwhile. Even if it’s not a favorable comment, it’s real-time learning.

While I agree with that, I can’t imagine that’s how they measure success, so I pressed on and she gave me two answers.

  1. Fewer complaints
  2. Fewer calls into the reservations center

Allison explained that the response has been phenomenal. The group tells customers that “someone’s listening in cyberspace and there’s a human behind it.” In other words, it gives a human face to a generally impersonal process.

While Delta hasn’t fully fleshed out its metrics yet, it likes the trends that it’s seeing. DeltaAssist agents can respond more quickly to customers when they’re in trouble. Since it’s not on the phone, the agents can multi-task and be more productive. And best of all (in my opinion)? Twitter limits you to 140 characters, so it makes customers get to the point. That lets the team help more people with less time. In fact, I had the chance to use it this week for a Cranky Concierge client, and I think that highlights how efficient this is.

crankyflier: looks like flt 63 ATL TPA may cxl – trying to help [client confirmation #] – is it possible to reaccom even if no cxl yet?
DeltaAssist: We can, although the only flight with 2 seats still open is leaving @ 10:50p. ^WG
crankyflier: Well, can we grab those seats and then they can still hang around 63 to see if it goes earlier?
DeltaAssist: All set. ^WG

Fantastic. No need to call anyone, and you have to explain it very concisely. The problem, of course, is that some might abuse the system, and I asked if they’d seen that so far. In her Southern accent, Allison slyly notes, “We have some regulars.” And that’s a constant issue for the airline – figuring out how to help people and when. Allison knows that Delta can’t respond to everything in cyberspace, so the airline is turning toward technology to help find what needs urgent assistance and what might not.

DeltaAssist will never take over the job of reservation agents completely, but it will be a strong complement. Regardless of the channel that people use, all agents are now being reminded that there are rules, but they aren’t in stone.

“We want agents to know, they’re listening to the customer. They need to do what’s right.”

That sort of empowerment isn’t something that we’ve seen at legacy airlines in recent times, and I hope it doesn’t ring hollow in this case. Granted, after my recent guest post from a former Delta reservations agent, it does make you wonder how easy it will be to make this change in empowerment stick. When I was there, they were sending reservations agents into recurrent training to make it clear that they had more power to make things right.

It also helps that there is complete support from senior management.

“We wouldn’t have been able to get all these resources if [the execs] didn’t believe in what we were doing.”

That’s true, and it’s certainly welcome.

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