Corporate Culture and Customer Service


dogAs many of us in the Pacific Northwest know, our hometown Seattle based airline, Alaska Air, is locked in a battle for Northwest customers with Delta Airlines.

While both companies are indulging in fare cutting, increasing routes and other promotional activity, for most of us, how we are treated when we fly and the level of service is most important.

When Something Goes Wrong …

When something goes wrong, the response of the airline, or for that matter, any business, is indicative of the culture of that organization. The reason an organization delivers good or bad customer service comes down to what is happening inside that organization.

The culture inside of the organization is impacting customer service. It’s more than just hiring the right people and providing them with customer service training; it’s setting an example of customer service behavior at the top and pushing that example through the organization to the customer.

Setting The Tone …

Starting at the top means that leadership and management must set the tone by practicing what they preach. Employees must be treated in the same way that the organization wants customers treated or even better; to accentuate the point. While customer service can be “preached” by management, what the organization delivers is a true reflection of how management treats those delivering it.

From that standpoint, given a number of recent events at Delta Airlines, those employees involved in customer service must operate with their hands firmly planted over the nether parts of their anatomy.

Things do go wrong. And it’s understandable when an airline loses a bag. After all, the baggage handling process is mostly automated and all bags look pretty much alike. Besides, when they do lose or misplace a bag, they generally find and return it, or at least, after some painful negotiation, compensate for its loss.

A Constantly Changing Story …

But to lose someone’s beloved pet and then tell a constantly changing story about what happened. That’s down right irresponsible. And not only that, but it seems to be a pattern of behavior that permeates the organization.

On October 31, 2014, before a flight from Los Angeles, CA to Tampa, FL, Delta lost a six year old pit bull belonging to a Florida man. Before takeoff, the airline claimed that the dog had chewed through it’s crate and disappeared. As if that weren’t bad enough, the story from Delta kept changing. At one point a Delta representative told the man that he just needed to identify the dog the day after its disappearance. When he went to do so, the airline representative admitted that the dog was lost. In yet another story, the airline called to tell him that the dog was actually at the airport in Tampa. This story also turned out not to be true. Delta has offered $200 in compensation but no further assistance in locating the dog.

It Seems To Happen Repeatedly …

Well, you might say, as tragic as it is, these things happen. But to Delta, it seems to happen repeatedly.

102987-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-number-1In May, 2010, Delta lost a dog that was flying from Mexico to Canada. After giving the owners various stories, they finally closed the matter, at least in their minds, with a $200 voucher.

102988-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-number-2In June, 2010, after sending two children to the wrong cities, they flew a puppy to California that was supposed to be going to Maine. Again, Delta was not forthcoming with information as to what happened; the puppy was diagnosed with dehydration and pneumonia due to lack of care.

102989-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-number-3In November, while flying a military family’s two dogs from Germany to Seattle, via Atlanta, one died and the other was misrouted several times before arriving in Seattle. In December, 2010, Delta lost yet another dog. This time a German Shepherd mix flying to Germany. During a layover in Atlanta, the airline called the owner telling them that they needed to keep the dog overnight in Atlanta. The next day they “couldn’t find the owner’s number” when the dog could not be found. She was eventually found dead along a highway about a week later. Again, no answers as to what happened from Delta.

102990-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-number-4And to top off our various dog stories, in February, 2015 the owners of several dogs returning from the prestigious Westminster Dog Show, say that Delta lost their dogs at JFK. In one particular case, the owner, who was on the plane, could see by her crate tracker that the dog was not on the plane, despite assurances from the flight attendant that it was. The plane was held at the gate for an hour while Delta searched for the dogs and once Delta realized they could not find the dog, the passengers had to wait in New York until the dog was located. A second owner, was traveling with her service dog in the plane and her show dog in cargo. On arriving in Seattle, after waiting hours for Delta to deliver the dogs, the airline delivered an empty crate. The dog was later found in New York. But as the owner said: “Really, no one could tell that they were loading an empty crate with no dog?”

To Be Fair …

To be fair, Alaska Airlines has had pets die in route from various causes. In fact, as of the latest reporting period in 2014, Delta had the largest number of problems followed by Alaska.  But a major difference seems to be in the behavior of the employees of the two airlines toward it’s customers.  And Alaska flies all sorts of pets including those with the most problems such as snub nosed dogs, birds and other domesticated small animals.

Losing a pet that, to some people is as much a member of the family as a human child, can be devastating. But, to be stonewalled, get various stories about what happened and to know that you will never get the truth, adds immeasurably to the pain. Given that customer service leadership begins at the top, the way the Delta employees treated those customers is very probably reflective of the way they are treated by their employer.

Easy To See Where Employees Learn Their Behavior …

And given the attitude of Dick Anderson, the CEO of Delta, it’s easy to see where employees learn their behavior. Recent events in which the Delta CEO has been involved include campaigning to kill the Ex-IM bank which finances a number of Boeing sales overseas and a comment described by CNN as “clumsy” that appeared to link his competitors based in the Gulf to terrorism.

The CEO of Qatar Airlines said on CNN: the Delta chief “should be ashamed to bring up the issue of terrorism to try to cover his inefficiency in running an airline. Mr. Anderson should be doing his job improving and competing with us instead of just crying wolf for his shortcomings in the way his airline is run.” There are a number of current and former pet owners that would agree.

Think about all of this the next time you make a reservation, or for that matter deal with any company. If, as consumers, we value customer service and accountability, our spending should reflect that.