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.


10 Responses to Delta Reservations and the Twitter Movement

  1. Airline reservation agents aren’t what they used to be. Airlines were not giving full training to agents as in the past so they never knew how to think for themselves, look up an answer or even understand the question. When travel agents and customers know more about the airline then the employees, that shows airlines were saving money by not training phone agents. So sending agents in for retraining will mean having to train them for what they should have been knowing all along.

    Good to hear they want to bring call center agents back to the USA. It gets really annoying these days with any business trying to get ‘Bill’, ‘Betty’, and ‘Linda’ all with Indian accents to understand what you want.

  2. Brett, you have given many good and detailed reports on many aspects of your visit to DELTA. I am sure that it has been beneficial to many of us in trying to understand the many problems that exist with and within DELTA. Additionally it is nice to hear that they recognize some of their short commings and will try to fix them Time will tell.

    It would be of great interest and fairness to us if you could manage to get an informational trip to AMERICAN, ALASKA/HORIZON, and other domestic airlines with similar levels of details and streams of reports similar to your DELTA effort. These reports can help us Frequent Flyers better understand and compare similar issues and how each airline intends to address them.

    Thanks for your excellent efforts in keeping us all updated in all matters of interest to us FF.

    • CF says:

      I’d be happy to do this with other airlines over time, but I’m not sure how many would actually be open to the idea. We’ll see.

  3. My initial question regarding DeltaAssist is one of privacy — the agents seemed very willing to interact with you regarding a “client” reservation based upon the snippit you posted. Yet, when a customer comes to the airport with a printed copy of another customer’s itinerary (including the confirmation # and much more), the airport agents are not allowed to provide that “meeter and greeter” flight info about another travelers itinerary for privacy reasons (or so they are always told). I’m not arguing for or against any specific privacy measures, just noting that it seems that there’s an inconsistency here…?

    • CF says:

      Fair question. At Cranky Concierge, we only contact airlines when we have specific permission from the client, and we never do anything that can have a negative impact. So you won’t see us asking for something to be canceled or changed – that’s up to the client. In this case, the customers were stuck on a plane that was looking like it would cancel, so they moved them on to the later flight. If the earlier flight did go, the clients could take it. If not, then they would be protected on the later flight. So there was no potential negative impact, only positive.

      Now it could also be that they saw the Twitter handle and treated me differently than if just some random person wrote in. I have no idea.

    • Stephen says:

      I was the client. The situation was, plane boarded but stuck @ gate with mechanical issue. DL engineers trying to decide if plane should fly. Passengers allowed to deboard – many did, to try find alternate later flights or whatever.

      As a CrankyConcierge client, Brett did the research on availability of later flights, communicating via SMS with me. It was great that he was able to secure the seats on the later flight just in case.

      What then happened, was they reboarded the plane, telling everyone it would go. Then the captain apologized, immediately deboarded, and sent us to another gate (in another terminal!) where a fresh plane had been secured.

      It was important for me to get to Tampa that night, as I had to retrieve items there, pack and return to Atlanta the next day for a flight to Dubai. So Brett’s being able to secure those last 2 alternate seats without me having to deboard and try and deal with gate agents was priceless.

      As it turned out, all went well and we reached Tampa 2 hours late.

  4. I love the @deltaassist twitter address. They haven’t helped me resolve any issues (haven’t needed to), but they are johnny on the spot when I mention Delta in my tweets — both positive and negative. I think Delta is definitely doing the right thing with their social presence — both Facebook and Twitter — and hope they continue. It’s a winner in my book.

  5. On the topic of twitter customer service, I’ve been impressed by it too.
    Virgin Mobile provide exceptionally horrible telephone service, but the twitter response is top notch!
    Apparently Comcast are not too bad at it either…

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