Delta & The Cost of Poor Customer Service


The following story illustrates the reality and cost of living in today’s Internet driven information age. The fact is that every business and organization out there cannot afford to forget that any given customer or stakeholder may just be the author of a blog with thousands of readers.

Dean Barnett wrote a blog post titled, “My Valentine to Delta Airlines” and chronicled hour by hour his horrible experience flying on Delta Airlines. I usually don’t have a problem flying on Delta, but then again, I usually fly Southwest–I hate having to fly through Atlanta regardless of where I am going.

Delta obviously missed the “negative earned media” cost of not taking care of its customers.

I find out that for inexplicable reasons the second leg of flight 1546 took off at 8:19, five minutes after we landed on the original Flight 1546. Why didn’t they hold the flight for us? Or why didn’t they fly us to Boston on a mostly empty plane? I assume it was because neither one of these would have been cost effective options for Delta. Customer service seems not to have been a factor in the airline’s crude calculus. As we make our way to the ticket counter, we are a tad annoyed.

When I used to work for a well-known large Colorado Springs non-profit, I used to joke with co-workers to “beware of the brown-badges.” As our security was pretty tight, all employees where required to wear a ID badge, with a picture. Over the years, these tend to fade to a dull brown, hence most employees who had worked there for more than 10 years tended to have brown badges. They where also usually hard-set in their way, are incredibly resistant to innovation and change, and are usually defensive to any sort of criticism.

Beware of the brown-badges Dean.

9:15 p.m. – As we leave the desk under the watchful eye of the supervisor who seems understandably wary of us going postal at any minute, I extend my hand and tell him he’s a good guy doing a hard job. In truth, I didn’t think he was a particularly good guy, at least in his capacity as a Delta customer service representative. I thought he had grown way too comfortable giving customers the shaft. If he had any remorse over being the Delta employee in charge of treating its paying customers so poorly, he hid it carefully. He shakes my hand and smiles. I then give him a shot at redemption and myself a shot at catharsis. While we’re having this tender moment, I ask him in all sincerity, “Do you have any idea how much your airline sucks?” He begins yelling at me that he’s been with Delta for 24 years, and he thinks they’re great. I yell back that California will tumble into the sea and Rosie O’Donnell will win the Miss Universe contest before I fly Delta again. We say our farewells.

There is a price to pay. I’m not really sure why this whole event happened to Dean and the other customers flying Delta that day, but one thing is for sure–someone didn’t include the cost of loosing these customers and the many more they will lose from among the readers of the various blogs spreading the word.

As far as I’m concerned, though, Delta is dead to me. It’s not a brother, not a friend, and I want two days notice when it comes to visit our mother. But that’s no big deal. I’ve loathed Delta for a long time. But my wife is a loyal flyer and a Silver Medallion member. Or should I say “was.” Delta is dead to her, too. When you treat customers like something you stepped in, there will be consequences.

Full disclosure: I am employed by The views expressed on this blog are not necessarily the views of

Update: Glenn Reynolds has a similar negative experience with Delta. It sounds like they have an institutional customer service problem.

…worst of all was the attitude of the Delta employees at the counter that morning. They gave the impression of actually enjoying the process of delivering the bad news — including the supervisor whom I asked to speak with.

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