DELTA Vs VIRGIN – a Customer Experience Comparison by Michael Bartlett

If you have been a follower of my writing for some time, you will know that I am no stranger to air travel! Having flown over 300 times in the last two years alone, I am well versed in the differences between airlines. In fact, one of my most read posts is a review I conducted in 2014, comparing the airlines Emirates and Etihad. So when my friend and fellow CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), Mike Bartlett sent me his own story comparing Delta and Virgin, I felt that others needed to read it too! I hope you enjoy reading it…


BACKGROUND

 Just recently, I was placed in the rather unique position of having to interact with both Delta and Virgin to resolve the same issue.  In January I booked a flight, via Orbitz.com, out of my hometown in Missouri to head home to the United Kingdom (where I’m from) to visit my family and friends.  Sadly, two days before my flight, I came down with a very nasty stomach virus that had been making the rounds.

 I started to feel a little better on the Friday before my flight and hoped I would make my flight on the Saturday afternoon.  Sadly, things got a lot worse Friday night and so I ended up in contact with both Delta and Virgin airlines on the day of the flight, looking to change the outbound dates.

 Having interacted with both companies, I was finally directed to contact Orbitz to resolve the problem, which I did.  However, the aforementioned interactions with the two airlines not only provided a nice opportunity to directly compare and contrast two competitors, but also taught me something new about the notion of Pain Points in the world of CX.

 DELTA

My first interaction with Delta was to go through their online chat.  It was in a very obvious place on the website and intuitive to use.  I quite like online chats.  Despite being a self-described “people person,” I prefer online chat and find it much less stressful.  The online chat went very well but the agent confirmed I would need to call their customer service department directly to resolve the issue.

One of the reasons I don’t like phone calls is the constant maze of options one has to navigate through in order to reach a human being.  It is an anxiety that I have when I begin any customer service phone call, which, again, is why I tend to avoid them.   I was very happy to reach a queue in line to speak to an agent and then very pleasantly surprised to have an automated message tell me:

  •  Which number I was in the queue
  • My estimated wait time
  • An offer to call me back when I was first in the queue

Well, this was a nice surprise!  I took their offer and hung up.  About ten minutes later, they called back; I resumed my place in the queue and after about 5 seconds I was on the phone with a customer service representative.  I was very anxious to get this problem resolved and to my delight they asked me if I had a phone number they could call me back on in case we were disconnected.  Nice!

The rep was very pleasant but did have a strong accent and there was some small difficulty in understanding them.  It was a very minor issue which slowed down the call a little, but I was always conformable knowing that if the line dropped, they would dial me back. 

At the end of the call Delta asked me if I would hire the rep if I had a call center and I could rate from 1=definitely not to 5=definitely.  I felt bad giving the rep a 3. That was only because of their accent.  The truth is I probably wouldn’t hire anyone with a strong foreign accent, but that is just my preference.  The truth also is the rep did a fantastic job.  I felt that maybe Delta were asking the wrong question, but appreciated that they at least made the effort to get customer feedback. 

VIRGIN

After being told by Delta that they could not change the dates, they referred me to Virgin.  I went over to the Virgin website and was unable to locate an online chat or phone number.  This is not really a criticism as I tend to get information overload easily and I was not feeling at my best.  I hit the back button and typed “Virgin international phone number” into Google and this got me what I needed.

The first observation I made from my call with Virgin was that the phone seemed to ring endlessly with the occasional “Your call is important to us, all of our reps are busy” type message popping up.  The hold time was excruciatingly long.   The anxiety that builds up in these situations is: will my call ever be answered?  Will the call drop before someone answers it?  I live in the sticks in Missouri and my cell phone reception sometimes drops.   Time was also ticking away and I wanted to make sure I adjusted my flight before it was too late.

When the call finally connected, I was on the phone to a lovely British woman with a very familiar English accent.  However the line was so bad we could barely hear each other.  There was quite a bit of the “Sorry I didn’t catch that last part, could you repeat it?” until I finally, out of frustration, asked if she could take my phone number and call me back.  She did.  She called back.  The line was much better!

From this point on, the experience was excellent.  There was no confusion with accents – she was an outstanding rep.  After digging to the bottom of the issue she finally confirmed I’d actually have to call Orbitz to get the situation resolved.  The call ended, and there was, disappointingly, no survey.

CONCLUSIONS

In my humble opinion, Delta absolutely owned Virgin when it came to this kind of Customer Experience.  I was quite surprised, because I had seen quotes from Richard Branson for years about putting employees first to ensure customers had the best experience.  And the employees were fantastic, but maybe some of the touchpoints could have had a better design.  The customer Journey in this case did not begin when I spoke to Virgin’s excellent customer rep.  It began when I decided I wanted to contact them and began taking action to achieve that end.  This seems to have been missed by Virgin.  Delta had all of the bases covered and did such a fantastic job.  All of my anxieties were resolved almost as soon as I realized I had them.

Which brings me to what I learned about Customer Experience from these interactions.  Pain Points are more than just pain felt from bad service.  They are also the anxieties we have, based on previous interaction or expectations.  If we pay closer attention to what a customer might be feeling during their entire journey, and also paying special attention to where the true edges of the journey are, we will undoubtedly find opportunities to add value and create a much more harmonious customer experience.

 For further reading, I recommend the excellent book: Edge Strategy: A New Mindset for Profitable Growth by Alan Lewis and Dan McKone.


Michael Bartlett is a Customer Experience professional based out of Missouri, USA and owner of MeasureOfTruth.co

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1 comment on “DELTA Vs VIRGIN – a Customer Experience Comparison by Michael Bartlett”

  1. John Morris Reply

    Good article and I agree chat gets around accents and bad phone lines and in many cases long wait times. Virgin like a lot of companies believe it is about the interaction but as stated its about every touch point and I’ve had similar frustrations about contacting businesses, be it online traders, insurance companies and banks. CX is about touch points as much as its about the interaction and finally a result without having to go through too many hoops, even if its “no”.

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