Delta Says It Wants a Better Online Purchasing Experience for Customers

Delta, Distribution

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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23 comments on “Delta Says It Wants a Better Online Purchasing Experience for Customers

  1. Just a quick note. Sky Magazine is available online in digital format and you can even have notifications sent when the new one is out:

    Great other pieces of info to chew on. Surprise that IFE falls under Bob’s purview. Did he have any comments about why it’s taking so long to finish the outfitting of the pre-merger DL 737 & 757 fleet.

    1. Considering the quantity of fleet mod work they’ve been up to since the merger closed (between wifi, PTV installs, and NWA rebranding), all the while during a period when traffic began to rebound and birds were retired, I’d say they have moved INCREDIBLY FAST!

      1. I’d disagree completely. They haven’t done any interior mods or conversions recently and there’s still a hefty number of 757’s and 737’s that, in my bad luck, have been flying from Florida to West Coast / NorthEast.

        Having a 737 w/o PTV’s on MCO-LAX (one of the longest domestic flights) just sucks.

    2. Bob is more of a content guy, so I don’t think he’s the right one to talk to about aircraft refitting. But I do agree with Scott that Delta has been very aggressive. The fleet is almost complete with wifi (just a couple stragglers out there), so even if the TVs aren’t there (which take much longer to install), you will have wifi on both the DL and ex-NW fleets. Could it move faster? I’m sure. But it costs a lot to pull those planes out of service so it has to be carefully thought through.

    1. There wasn’t any published hard dates for me, but there should be major changes within the next year. It’s not going to happen all at once.

  2. Did you notice the numerous times Delta ran ads during NFL games this week? They out ran Southwest 5 to 1! I guess they are trying to do damage control for there immage.

  3. So far, I’ve been VERY disappointed. I had (and still have to some degree) high hope for “the new Delta” in this space and even recently they have let me down. Their Web home page redesign and iPhone app are both featureless, and while they may be a “step in the right direction” it still leaves Delta miles behind their brand promise of being the world’s #1 airline. I also think their strategy (or lack thereof) of rolling-out these essentially worthless incremental improvements is a poor PR/marketing approach–wait until you have the goods before opening-up the store. This approach is a recipie for unmet expectations. Progress and promises aren’t really relevant when I expect them to already be miles ahead of where they are — which is also WAY behind the competition.

  4. In my opinion Mr. Bob Kupbens should FIRST focus on the DELTA basics in order to address the customer’s highest concerns; 1) Customer Service, 2) the lousy SKYMILES program and 3) The Hub from Hell – ATLANTA. Improving profits from the DELTA departmemt store publication IS NOT a priority for this airline. DELTA definitely has more pressing customer concerns.

    1. Mike, you must not work for a large corporation (and must be a former Red Tailer..) where one person manages their silo of responsibility, not every aspect of an operation?

      His purview wouldn’t cover 1, 2 or 3 would they? He’s in charge of: along with other digital channels like Facebook, mobile, kiosks, inflight entertainment content, wireless internet, and Sky magazine.

      1. Chris, of coarse you are correct. I guess my remarks should have been directed at DELTA Management, i.e.; Marketing, Flight Scheduling, etc. DELTA needs to focus and update OTHER areas first. Do you disagree?

        1. As a longtime Delta flyer, I would disagree and here’s why:

          1 – ACS is steadily improving and, from my experience, far better than most of the legacy carriers, especially for the higher value customer.

          2 – SkyMiles isn’t getting “fixed” until AMEX is out of the picture. For lack of a better term, DL is AMEX’s bitch. When you are so indebted to a credit card company for your financials, you aren’t going to have any luck fixing the SkyPesos issue. HOWEVER they are reintroducing some positives of the NW program (Award ticket upgrades & perk choice) which will bring back some value.

          The real problem is the management consultant/bean counter running the SkyPesos show. He’s not seeing the door because of the BILLIONS that he brought in from AMEX. They can rest on the laurels of being the current biggest airline but that won’t last for long…

          3 – ATL isn’t that bad… if you use it often. They need the 5th runway they are considering and to add some additional ground staff so you aren’t sitting on the tarmac for a while waiting for a new gate… but it’s a complex puzzle to put the pieces into.

          1. Chris, thanks for your detailed input. Very interesting.

            However, identifying the problems is one this, moving to correct them is another.

            I disagree with you on your opinion on DELTA. I believe that AMERICAN has surpassed DELTA on ALL fronts. After getting trapped in Atlanta many times over the last few years by bad weather, backed up air traffic and, yes, stuck on the runway, I do everything I can to avoid any airline or connection using Atlanta. Chris, how many times do you have to get bitten before you change your opinion?

            There is no comparison of the AA AADVANTAGE program and SKYMILES. You can actually use your reward miles on AMERICAN! That’s just for a starter.

            After being a frequent flyer on DELTA for many years I am using that airline LESS every year due to my above concerns. It will take a long time for me (perhaps many others) to have a positive opinion or confidence in DELTA again. I may not live long enough to EVER see that overdue improvement.

            Well, Chris, that is my honest opinion.

    2. 2) the lousy SKYMILES program

      Don’t feel bad Mike, I’m still waiting for DL to give me my Western Airlines miles from when they merged, and that was over 20 years ago now…….LOL

      1. David, I sure miss WESTERN – “THE ONLY WAY TO FLY”.

        Too bad about your missing miles. It doesn’t surprise me though. I cannot remember a time when SKYMILES was ever taken seriously by DELTA. I think it was created as an after thought and has NEVER moved beyond that.

  5. Kudos to Delta for getting on the integrated marketing communications bandwagon. I wonder how many other airlines have their checkin kiosks under the same folks that do the website?

    1. It’s a great question, and I imagine that it’s more the outlier than the norm. I bet most airlines have it under their airport customer service groups while the website is under marketing or a different .com group entirely.

  6. I agree with the comments on how bad the SkyMiles program has become. I recently tried to book a domestic award ticket with flexible dates, and there were only seats available for 80,000 miles. I checked for the same ticket on Continental and voila! Multiple tickets available for 50,000. As a two-million miler, I now avoid Delta whenever possible.

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