Delta’s Ausband: “Customer service is the core of what we do”

I met Allison Ausband, Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservations sales and customer care, earlier this year in Atlanta after she’d taken over for Perry Cantarutti. I followed up with her earlier this week to see how her new job was going. Here’s our interview.

The Transportation Department is considering an ambitious set of new rules that would, among other things, require airlines to disclose fees and strengthen consumer protections. Do you think new rules or legislation is necessary to ensure good customer service, or is this something that airlines can provide without prompting from the government?

Delta’s fees are clearly outlined on delta.com. If you simply type fees into the search function you pull up a page that summarizes our fees. That’s pretty transparent, and we opted to make that information easily accessible because we knew it would be beneficial to our customers.

How do you think Delta is doing, when it comes to customer service?

Customer service is the core of what we do. We’re proud of the Delta culture of customer service and are always working to improve it every single day.

Since you’ve started in your position, how has the customer service experienced changed for the average passenger?

Probably one of the most positive steps we have taken over the last few months is the creation of two new options for our customers to get their feedback to us in a faster, easier way. We’ve launched @DeltaAssist, a customer service focused Twitter handle, and recently revamped the delta.com homepage to allow customers to address travel issues and offer suggestions with a link directly from the landing page.

How about your elite-level customers?

We’ve introduced a “one call concept” for our elite customers. This direct line will connect our Sky Priority customers to Reservation Agents that can provide assistance before, during and after travel. This concept launched in the spring of this year and we are continuing to introduce new options and tools to support our elite customers.

Last year, when I interviewed your predecessor, he mentioned several customer-service programs that were being phased in. They included the reintroduction of “First Point of Contact” which allows flight crews, airport staff and reservations agents to compensate passengers on the spot. How is that going, and how to you measure the effectiveness of such a program?

As customer service professionals, Delta fight crews, airport staff and Reservation Agents want to be able to resolve issues for our customers as quickly as possible. The “First Point of Contact” program is working well, although we aren’t perfect. As a result, we are fine tuning the program and will continue to gauge success through customer feedback.

Ultimately, our belief is that addressing issues on the spot, and understanding that there are circumstances that call for flexibility and unique solutions will put Delta and its employees at the head of the pack when it comes to customer service.

One of the other things Perry told me about was the introduction of Delta’s “Red Coats” who can offer assistance in airports. How is the deployment of the Red Coats going, and again, how can you measure the effectiveness of this initiative?

Customers tell us the reintroduction of Delta’s Red Coats has improved their travel experience. To support this, we are continuing to invest in resources to share best practices from a variety of industries and are offering both Red Coats and our Airport Customer Service Agents frequent training. We have also recently introduced a similar concept with our Reservations team.

Are there any new customer-service initiatives that you have planned for the future?

We’re developing new performance measurement tools for agents to track their success in resolving customer issues. We’re also enhancing technology related to our Customer Notification System, which alerts customers of unscheduled changes to their travel plans.

We’re introducing a system that allows customers to request a call back instead of remaining on hold when we are experiencing high call volume. And we’re continuing upgrades to delta.com, aimed at making the travel booking process seamless.

I want to ask you a hypothetical question, since this subject has come up a few times in recent weeks. I know many of your call center conversations are recorded. Have you ever considered sending an MP3 recording of the conversation back to the customer after a transaction is over, as a courtesy? Do you think customers should be able to hear their call-center conversation, or do you feel that’s proprietary information?

A certain percentage of calls with customers are recorded for training purposes. Offering these recordings to customers would be time consuming and extremely costly. As a matter of practice, agents’ transactions during a call are maintained in our customers’ travel records, so customers that need information regarding their reservation can ask any agent.

I’ve had no recent complaints about Delta’s call centers, which is kind of surprising. Have you changed anything? Are you still using overseas call centers?

As a global company, Delta has call centers all over the world including locations in Singapore, Moscow, and Tokyo. Many of these call centers support those customers whose first language might not be English. Over the last year, we have shifted our efforts towards strengthening our assets and a number of reservation jobs have been created as a result. Today, we are using outside companies on a very limited basis.

What can air travelers do to get the best possible customer experience from an airline like Delta?

Whether they are planning travel, in the middle of a trip or arriving at their destination, customers have many tools available to them some of which include up to the minute information on delta.com, text message flight status alerts and our new iPhone app. Delta continues to invest in technology to support our customers’ travel experience, and our Reservations, @DeltaAssist and Customer Care team is always here to assist.

(Photo: Frisco cali/Flickr Creative Commons)

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