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Not-So-Friendly Skies

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A couple of months ago I had a poor experience with Delta Air Lines. Long story short, after Delta canceled a flight out of Newark Airport to Atlanta (causing me to miss my connection to Sao Paulo), I was rerouted to JFK, only to be told at the gate (some six hours later) that the flight was overbooked and my paid business-class ticket would not be honored. I would also have to fly coach on the 10-hour flight to Brazil.

Being a self-entitled, type-A road warrior, I was pissed. And so (with a hat tip to Jeff Jarvis and "Dell Hell"), I created "Delta Skelter" and posted this account of my sojourn into the nether regions of coach on my blog. Here's an excerpt:

"I'm writing from a cramped 16E on Delta's 10-hour Flight 21 from JFK to Sao Paulo. The tray table is so small I'm using my PC as its name suggests: on top of my lap. I'll write until the battery runs out, as there's no seat charger. Around me are scenes from a horror movie: people curled in embryonic positions; people sleeping on the floor; others doing things with their bodies I didn't think were possible."

As a Platinum Medallion member I felt I had to speak up. Even though American Airlines is a crayon client, I needed to represent myself as an individual. I also created a Facebook group (1,000,000 Voices Against Poor Customer Service) and a YouTube video. And I told Delta what I wanted as compensation, over and above the obvious refunding the difference between business and coach, and/or token miles, were two first-class, round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world.
 
Several readers missed the point completely (customers taking a proactive stance with customer service and problem resolution) and got stuck on the magnitude of my request. Did I expect Delta to give me what I asked for? No. I had hoped for a conversation. Truth be told, I would have accepted one ticket. I would also have accepted several other solutions (hat tip to my readers for some of these suggestions), such as Platinum Medallion status for three to five years.

What I got was the one-dimensional playbook and a halfhearted attempt to deal with what became a much bigger problem for the airline.

Here's what Delta did do: commented on my blog within 24 hours -- to rebuke me for not reading the minutia terms and conditions on its blog's FAQs; and an executive assistant to its head of customer service contacted me within 24 hours and, after four days of phone tag, offered me a $300 voucher and a couple of upgrades that could be used if I purchased an upgradable ticket. I told them I would mull this over. I've never heard back from Delta, nor have I received my voucher or upgrades.

Due to my post, I've received countless comments and e-mails from people who have chosen a competitor over Delta on various flights. I've since stopped using my Platinum SkyMiles credit card. I have not flown on the airline since.

Some may say, "Shame Joe, leave 'em alone. They're going through tough times." Shouldn't they then be treating their returning customers with white gloves?
Here's what I've learned through this live and public example of customer disservice:

1.) Every misstep from Delta is exponentially magnified. It's the reverse effect of awareness. And I continue to hear from people about other problems with Delta.

2.) Some conversation is not always better than no conversation. Delta dipped its toes in the water of reaching out to a disgruntled customer, but when it didn't like the temperature, it ran away. I could almost sense the exact moment Delta closed ranks and made me persona non grata. It appears that Delta tried to outwait (outwit?) me and hoped by ignoring me, I'd go away.

3.) Customer service is not a game of chicken. Delta waited for me to blink when it should have met me halfway and made this go away.

4.) Customer service is not a standardized playbook. The argument, "If we do this for you, we'll have to do this for everyone" is flawed. It wouldn't have to do this again if it used this opportunity to learn from and ensure it never happened again.

5.) Ultimately, Delta's longer-term "loss" (bad will, revenue foregone) far outweighs any short-term cost associated with two first-class, round-trip tickets. When it comes to word of mouth and customer activism, this is always the case.

The opportunity cost was a customer-and his community-lost.

"We know you have a choice when flying" couldn't ring more true.

Have a nice flight.

Joseph Jaffe is president and chief interruptor at crayon. He blogs at jaffejuice.com and can be reached at jaffe@crayonville.com.