Midweek Marketing: Delta Builds Customer Experience One Detail at a Time

image of a magnifying glass hovering over the word: focus“Success is the sum of the details.” Harvey S. Firestone

I’ve been an unapologetic critic of the money losing and seemingly customer hating airline industry for many years. Anyone who has flown a million miles or more has a good view to the workings of this flying bus business (with apologies to bus companies), and the view is mostly unpleasant. (Not always, just mostly.)

Imagine my surprise when I deviated on my return trip from my normal dealings with United, and flew Delta, and I actually enjoyed the experience. I checked my calendar and it wasn’t April Fools Day or Halloween, so all of the truly good-natured, helpful and smiling Delta employees might have actually meant it.

With more than ample time on my hands in two airports, I decided to go on an anthropological expedition of Delta operations. Here’s what I saw:

7 Details that Made the Delta Experience Delightful:

1. Happy, smiling employees serving customers. From gate agents to the flight crews, I didn’t run into a single Delta employee who didn’t smile and offer help. Yes, I used the “s”  and the “h” words here. These people seemed genuinely happy to work with customers. (Related post: Smiles, Sales and Leadership.)

2. A lack of grumpy employees. Yeah I know this is redundant with my first point, but I’m still kind of shocked.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve observed the crews from other airlines (mostly United) bad-mouth their firm when they think no one is listening (sorry, I was walking behind you), or just visibly show the world that they didn’t give a damn. My favorite was the United flight attendant who wore a button that said, and I quote: “This airline sucks.”  While some people accuse me of dreaming that one up, I almost needed to go into therapy after seeing that display of callous disregard for firm, clients and self.

3. Readily available help. Traveler help was everywhere, including an abundance of small kiosks offering: “Missed Your Connection? Scan Your Ticket Here for  Alternatives.”  Getting help when things go bad is one of the more stressful elements of flying, and here was an attempt to ease this burden. Nice.  The ground-agents waiting to greet passengers and offer personal success were always there…and always smiling.

4. Easy access to the necessities of travel life. The world of business travel survives and thrives on plug-ins for power, internet access, good food and clean restrooms. A+ in the Delta terminals for these critical travel comforts.

5. Company Pride on Display! Every Delta plane sported a decal indicating that Delta had been named  one of the World’s Most Admired Corporations (tops in the airline industry) according to Fortune. OK, a little chest thumping is OK if you can back it up.

6. Employee Pride on Display! Every plane had a decal on it under the Fortune banner indicating an employee who had excelled at their job. Nice…what a badge of pride if your name hits the list. (I seem to recall that this is a long-standing practice, and if so, it’s still a good idea.)

7. Pleasant flight crews who seemed to enjoy their jobs. The banter by the pilots seemed extraordinarily friendly and the rest of the flight crew engaged with customers in way that only Southwest seems to have ever cared about.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While I’m not certain that my two terminal/two flight experience offers a valid sample set, the experience with Delta yesterday was noticeably different than the gross majority of my other airline experiences. Someone seems to be paying attention at Delta. It almost sounds like good leadership and excellent marketing… and great execution…concepts sorely lacking in much of the rest of this industry. The great experience is most definitely in the details.

I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to see if I was lucky or if they’re truly good.  And for executives and marketers everywhere, It behooves you to give your employees reasons to smile and serve. The customers are watching.




By | 2016-10-22T17:11:36+00:00 September 28th, 2011|Leadership, Marketing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Patricia Comer September 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    I challenge Glenn Tilton to take an ‘average-Joe’ ride on his own airline!

    And while we are on the anti-United kick…back in 1993, when just a mere lass, I was making one trip a week to Seattle for 5 weeks running on United. On one lucky flight back from Seattle with the seat open next to me, I was able to doze off with my feet curled up facing the aisle. The United flight attendant was a stand-in for an alarm clock (pre cell phones) when her beverage cart nearly severed my foot from the ankle! I gave her a shocked look when jolted upright. Without a moment of hesitation, she candidly replied to me, “You shouldn’t have had your feet in the aisle!” This has been an eighteen year plus problem that I feel is safe to call “chronic” and why I am glad to say I fly Southwest and you can still check your bags for free…what a concept!

    • admin September 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      Pat, glad you still have both feet! Thanks for reading and sharing. -Art

Leave A Comment