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

By | December 10th, 2009

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.

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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 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.