Delta’s Cantarutti: “We don’t have to choose to be profitable versus having happy customers … we can do both”

Perry CantaruttiPerry Cantarutti is the vice president for sales and customer care at Delta Air Lines, the airline’s top customer-service position. I wanted to find out his tips for getting better customer service from an airline — particularly his. So I asked.

Delta used to have a sterling reputation for customer service among legacy carriers. In recent years, you’ve tried to recapture that with internal programs like “First Point of Contact”. How is the customer experience now, in your opinion?

Delta employees are extremely proud of the fact that for a generation we were known as the industry leader in customer service. That’s why our focus today is on delivering a high level of service for customers, but one that is adapted to 21st century expectations.

Deregulation and technology completely changed our industry. Fares are at all-time lows, fuller planes have been required to achieve profitability and customers expect speed and quality that far exceeds what the industry delivered in its early years.

Some of the recent changes we’ve made at Delta to address our current reality have included reintroducing “First Point of Contact” service recovery to allow our flight crews, airport staff and reservations agents to compensate passengers on the spot. We have also reintroduced “Red Coats” to provide assistance in our airports and have added self-service automation to our Web site and airports to eliminate lines and waits during delays.

What areas of customer service are you happy with? And which areas are you working on?

Since joining Delta from Northwest almost a year ago, I have come to appreciate the passion Delta people share with their Northwest counterparts in providing our customers with the highest level of service possible. So the will is there and that is always the hardest part in creating a successful customer service program.

Our challenge now is to ensure that our employees have the tools and programs in place to live up to their potential and provide a consistent experience for our customers. Technology is helping in this area and we are continuing to identify solutions that can advance these efforts and further support our employees’ efforts.

Speaking of technology, what’s the best way of contacting Delta when you have a problem with a flight?

It depends on where the customer is during the travel experience. Prior to travel, you should contact our reservations line at 800-221-1212 and ask for a customer service representative. If the customer is at the airport, they should seek assistance from the nearest customer service agent. If travel has been completed, contact customer care via delta.com by selecting “contact us”.

Can you offer any tips for getting a speedy resolution to a customer service problem, in the unlikely event that one occurs with Delta?

The best thing a passenger can do is to have all of their information on hand when they contact us. This includes date of travel, SkyMiles membership information, confirmation and ticket numbers, passengers’ full names and flight schedule.

Summarizing concerns in a clear and concise manner will allow our employees to effectively and efficiently handle concerns. We train our agents to work with customers dealing with extenuating circumstances, as well as those that haven’t received the level of customer service we are committed to providing. Each situation is unique and we ask our customer service agents to treat it as such.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion among airline passengers about H1N1 and change fees. It’s my understanding that Delta has taken a flexible attitude toward changes, even on nonrefundable tickets. Can you describe your current policy?

We do work to offer some flexibility. In situations where a passenger is unable to travel because of an illness, a doctor’s note may be required to waive change fees for non-refundable tickets.

I get an average of two or three requests a day from Delta passengers, asking me to intervene with the airline to bend a rule for refunds or changes. Can you help my readers understand why airlines like Delta have rules regarding ticket changes and refunds?

When purchasing a ticket, similar to other airlines, a passenger enters into an agreement with us to provide them with travel services. We refer to this as the contract of carriage and make it available at delta.com for review by our passengers. The contract of carriage establishes guidelines to ensure that we live up to our end of the contract and helps to establish the expectations the passenger should have in terms of our service.

These rules are important because the product we sell is a perishable one, meaning that once a flight has taken off we can no longer sell those specific seats to that destination. As a result, for each flight we offer variety of fare classes that provide a mix of cost and level of flexibility for changes and refunds.

The various types of fare classes allow passengers to determine what kind of flexibility they require for their travel at what price. The amount of risk the passenger is comfortable with in the unfortunate event that their plans change needs to be considered when they purchase various fare types.

How has the merger with Northwest Airlines affected service?

The merger with Northwest has made Delta a stronger carrier in a number of areas, but particularly in some of our customer facing functions. Combined we have created a best-in-class frequent flyer program and leveraged many customer related benefits. These benefits include information technology applications to further improve Delta’s customer experience from the time they check-in until they arrive at their final destination.

Some examples include enhanced meal services, check-in technology improvements, online itinerary change options during inclement weather and the introduction of Delta signature Red Coats at former Northwest hubs.

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

As the head of Delta’s customer service efforts, I’m sure you can imagine I get asked this quite often. I always tell customers that the best thing they can do is report an issue as soon as possible. Track down one of our agents and explain your situation at the airport. Our newly introduced Red Coats are also a great resource for customer service related issues and can be easily identified by their signature Red Coat.

For baggage issues, although occurrences of delayed and damaged baggage are extremely rare, I encourage passengers to report such occurrences at the airport if possible and to do so within 24 hours. This gives us the best chance of returning their luggage. Otherwise, we do offer the option of the customer filing a claim using a form that is available online at delta.com.

Here’s a question I try to ask of all airlines: Is it possible to run a profitable airline and have happy customers? Or does an airline have to choose one over the other?

The answer is that we don’t have to choose to be profitable versus having happy customers at Delta we know we can do both.

First, we are uniquely positioned as a result of our merger with Northwest and have the benefit of looking at two network carriers and adopting policies and procedures from each to create an award-winning customer service program.

Over the last year or so, even in a weakened economy Delta has continued to reinvest in our customers in both technology upgrades making the check-in process easier, as well as our onboard products making the in-flight experience more comfortable. Along with this, we are working to identify ways to streamline the process for the occasions when our operations are disrupted and passengers are inconvenienced to get them reaccomodated and on their way to their final destinations as soon as possible.

I get a lot of complaints about fees, from luggage fees to change fees. Is there any scenario under which you see Delta eliminating a la carte fees and charging a price for the entire air travel experience? Or are ancillary revenues too important now to the overall revenue picture?

The entire industry has moved towards these “a la carte fees” and Delta will continue to remain competitive with other carriers. In fact, our most loyal customers don’t incur these fees as they typically apply to customers that choose to fly Delta on a less consistent basis.

Ancillary revenues have been critical in the current economic environment. At Delta, fees are a source; however, we also rely on revenue from both our cargo and maintenance, repair and overhaul operations.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.