Delta’s Ausband: “Customer service is very important to the bottom line”

Allison Ausband/Delta

Here’s part two of my interview with Allison Ausband, Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservations sales and customer care. You can read part one here.

Whatever happened to First Point of Contact? Does it still exist?

Absolutely. We’ve told our people either to fix it, or find someone who can, which is what First Point of Contact was all about. So, if you can’t solve a problem, raise your hand and talk to a leader.

We just started a program with our customer support supervisors in reservations. If they get to an impasse with a customer, they offer to end the call and then call or email the customer back after a short break. It gives the supervisor the chance to review the situation and consider some options that perhaps they hadn’t considered.
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Delta’s Ausband: When it comes to customer service, “we want to be even better”

Allison Ausband/Delta Air Lines

Allison Ausband is Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservation sales and customer care. I met with her last week to discuss the progress since our last interview in 2010.

It’s nice to see you again. And you’re still here. Before you came along, this position was like watching a game of musical chairs. (Here’s my 2009 interview with Ausband’s predecessor.)

Thank you. I liken it to solving world peace on some days. I try to fix everything. But I’ve never been more excited about our momentum.
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Blogger Bob: “There is more to security than simply going through a checkpoint”

Editor’s note: I’ve restructured my Q&A feature a little. The questions are now yours. I’ll be soliciting queries for my next interview on Facebook soon, so please stop by and “like” my page.

Bob Burns, a.k.a. “Blogger Bob” doesn’t need any introduction. I’ve been following his work at the TSA for years, and refer to it frequently on this site and in my weekly TSA Watch column.

A note about the format of this interview: These were reader questions, and I didn’t have an opportunity for a rebuttal. Your comments are always appreciated.

I started our interview by asking him a question that’s been on my mind for a while: Could Burns cite one example of responsible TSA coverage, either in a mainstream media outlet or in a blog? He declined. “I’ve been around the PR pros long enough to learn at least one lesson,” he told me. “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.”
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Amtrak is all aboard with electronic ticketing in 2011

One of the most common complaints I get from Amtrak customers is about their tickets. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation uses old-school paper tickets that have cash value. I asked Matt Hardison, Amtrak’s chief for sales distribution and customer service, about the ticket troubles, and how to solve them.

What are the rules regarding lost tickets on Amtrak?

Most consumers have forgotten the days when tickets essentially had cash value. Today, there are almost no conventional tickets for the airlines anymore. Consequently, Amtrak is one of the last intercity modes of travel whose tickets still have value – what we call “value documents” – and for now our policies still need to reflect that.
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Isom: Numbers-obsessed US Airways paid $1 million in “above and beyond” bonuses last year

US Airways is kind of obsessed with its numbers. It’s a good kind of obsession — it regularly touts its improvements in on-time arrivals, misplaced baggage, oversales and other metrics reported every month to the Transportation Department. Why is the airline so fixated on these figures? I asked Robert Isom, US Airways’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

What’s so important about the numbers?

We focus on these numbers because they represent the reliability and convenience our customers expect from US Airways. These are also the metrics that the media most closely reports on and that all of the airlines are consistently measured against.

These are the measures most often cited as defining an airline as an under or over-performer, and you have to believe that these are the metrics that level the playing field — although, that being said, comparing yourself to an airline that flies, say solely in Hawaii, from an on-time arrival perspective when your operation is based in the Northeast, for example, doesn’t seem to be a great leveler but hopefully you get the point.

Our core beliefs as a company are that at the end of the day, most people want and are willing to pay for a safe, reliable, clean, hassle-free trip where you’re treated with respect along the way, and where your bags arrive when and where you do. So from that perspective, too, these measures work for setting and continually raising that bar for us.
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Travelocity’s Mahl: “In a perfect world, a guarantee like ours wouldn’t be necessary”

GinnyMahl_082609Ginny Mahl is Travelocity’s vice president of sales and customer service — the woman behind the online travel agency’s vaunted Travelocity Guarantee. I asked Mahl about getting the best customer service from a travel Web site, and how her company is doing its part.

Travelocity seems to be doing well despite a depressed travel industry. How has good customer service contributed to your company’s recent performance?

Thanks, Chris, for the vote of confidence. Our customer service team has come a long way since introducing the Travelocity Guarantee four years ago and by remaining committed to its principles, I think we’ve helped the company’s bottom line. Plus, our ongoing investment in training our agents on how to best support customers through all kinds of scenarios has paid dividends.
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CheapOair’s Roy: “We do face a challenge when users ask us for refunds”

roy2Sneharthi Roy is the senior vice president of operations for CheapOair, a Web site that sells discounted airline tickets and hotel rooms. I asked him about the low travel prices we’ve seen lately and some of the possible pitfalls of buying travel in a buyer’s market.

In American vernacular, the word “cheapo” can be used to describe someone who is frugal and knows how to save money — which is usually thought of as a good thing — but more often than that, someone who is a miser. When you decided on the name CheapOair, what were you trying to convey?

When deciding on a name we wanted to convey value, savings and pricing to the users as well as have a catchy name which the user could remember, there were also not too many domain names available which would convey such a message. We also wanted it to be a bit on the humorous side, since travel should always be a bit of fun.
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