Delta Airlines Customer Service Failure: Motivation Observations

Airplane they wouldn't let me board

Recently I was in Dallas conducting focus groups.  After two long days of travel and facilitating, I raced back to DFW airport with the intent of trying to get on an earlier flight that I knew left at 3:15 PM.  Admittedly, this was a crapshoot and I would be cutting it close.  I was scheduled for the 5:55 PM flight, but the 3:15 PM flight would get me home in time to see my family before my two young children were in bed (which is pretty important to me).  As luck would have it, I was able to return the rental car, run to catch the bus to the terminal, get my ticket, and get through security and arrive at the gate at 2:55 PM – a good 20 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart.  Here is an approximation of the exchange that occurred between me and the gate agent who we will call Mr. No.

Dallas, March 24th, 2:55 PM

Kurt standing at the counter said, “Hi.  How’s it going? I’m on the 5:55 flight but was hoping there might be a seat open that I could fly standby on this one.”

“Are you a gold or platinum member?” Mr. No replied.

“Not anymore.” said Kurt, wondering why that mattered, “Is there a seat available?”

“I can’t help you if you’re not a gold or platinum medallion member.”

“So there’s a seat but you can’t help me?” Kurt asks with some despondency.

“I can’t get you on now.  If you had been here ten minutes earlier I might have gotten you on.” said Mr. No.

“I don’t have any checked bags and will sit down right away.  I promise.” Kurt says hoping a little levity might help:

“I’m sorry.  I can’t have you go down there – they are getting ready to leave.”

“So you won’t help me? There is 20 minutes before the flight leaves!”

“You’ll just have to take your original flight.”

“I’ll pay.  What would it cost to change?”  Kurt said

“$50.  But I can’t do that now.” Mr. No says right before turning his back on me and checking some paper coming out of the printer.

“Ok?”  Kurt said, while pulling out his i-phone to start Twittering about this horrible experience with Delta.

Motivation Observation

It appeared to me that the agent was concerned about the on-time status of the flight, the extra work it would cause to put me on the flight, and the fact that I wasn’t a premium status customer more than he was concerned about responding to my needs.   I could go on and on about the motivation  (or lack thereof) of the gate agent for Delta, but I do not know that agent, or the procedural rules or incentives that Delta employs to drive motivation – so any insight would be conjecture.

What interests me was my response to this situation and the motivation that drove that response.  My first inclination having been denied appropriate customer service was not to ask for a manager or send an e-mail to Delta’s customer service – it was to get on Twitter and to tell over 700 people about my “horrible” experience.  I ended up tweeting about this over 15 times in the next 3 hours either directly about the experience or responding to other people’s tweets about this.  Here are my first 4 tweets (typos and all):

“Delta airlines won’t let me board plane on standby because it leaves in 20 minutes – horrible cust service!”

“I understand why airlines get such a bad rap – counter agent too concerned about on time deptarture and not cust service”

“Delta #fail here is plane that I can’t board http://twitpic.com/1aoaj7

“Flight leaves at 3:15 I was here at 2:52 – agent couldn’t accomodate me ( not gold or platinum) even if I paid! http://twitpic.com/1aob2q

In terms of the four drives, which drives were activated?  Clearly, my Defend drive was kicked into high gear.  The fact that I felt that my goals were being hindered by a Delta kicked that Defense Drive into overdrive!  I felt I needed to get payback and the idea of Twittering about this provided a means of vindication.  I would make Delta pay by announcing how horrible they were to the world.  Hundreds of people would hear me venting in real time and who knows, it could be passed on to hundreds or thousands more through retweeting.

Therein lies a potential second drive – the drive to Acquire.  While this sounds contrary since I wasn’t going to the manager or to customer service to ask for money or a free ticket, what I was doing was looking for recognition.  Recognition from others on how I had been wronged.  I wanted the world to know about what I was going through and to recognize me for that fact.  There was a challenge to this as well.  Could I write a tweet that was compelling enough to get retweeted and forwarded on – this was a challenge.  How many people could this vent be exposed to? Thus a third drive, the Challenge Drive, was also engaged.

A fourth drive was also activated – the drive to Bond.  By tweeting about this I was engaging in a conversation with other people about my experience.  I was commensurating with others about my experience and theirs.  We were sharing stories and experiences and building relationships.  By tweeting, I had a group of individuals whom I could talk to about this experience and feel a bond with them.  It was a way of venting without having to do it in person to the people in the airport (who would probably thought me a demented maniac).

When all four drives are activated, it is a very powerful motivator.  I did not hesitate in writing my tweets.  I still feel that it was a good thing to do.  While the Defense drive was the main motivator, the other drives played a significant part in my overall motivation.  This is a very real insight for me – how all four drives together are much more powerful than any one alone.

Moving On

I would love to hear about any customer service failures that you’ve experienced and see if you see how the four drives impacted your response (or not).  Please add a comment and join the discussion.

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