Delta says customer service isn’t dependent upon costs

It looks like Delta has some strong thoughts on airfare and customer service. The airline identified as the worst in the United States is now saying that customer service shouldn’t be related to operating expenses – well, at least that’s the implication of the new ad the airline is running on New York City subways: “Customer service shouldn’t fluctuate with the price of oil.”

The fact that airlines generally aren’t famous for customer service is well-established, and many excuses reasons are given, ranging from regulatory constraints to a lack of cooperation from passengers. Of course, cost always comes into the equation, too. Despite a strong year for air carriers in 2010, history shows that this is a volatile industry, and it’s always necessary to keep an eye on expenses.

It isn’t unusual to see airline industry employees cite cheap flights as a reason for the decline in customer service: what else do passengers expect, right?
This is what makes Delta’s move so interesting. A direct statement that service shouldn’t be constrained by underlying expenses (and thus profit margins), the ad I saw on the 3 train yesterday morning takes a bold stand. Delta is taking conventional wisdom head-on (well, airline industry conventional wisdom) in a very public way.

It should be interesting to see if this leads to a change in the airline industry employee population’s position on the relationship between cheap tickets and passenger expectations. For Delta employees, leaning on the traditional rationale results in a direct contradiction with the company’s stated message. Though the sentiment may not trickle down to employees of other carriers, their being vocal about the informal “expense-to-service” ratio inherently puts them at a disadvantage relative to Delta’s claim. The subtlety may not reach the average consumer (especially those who don’t come into contact with Delta’s ads), but the implication is clear.

Doubtless, it makes sense to draw distinctions between advertisements and expectations, and any change at Delta based on this messaging will take time to implement (let’s be realistic – big companies do tend to move slowly). Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

So, tell us what you think: do you think customer service expectations in the airline business should be linked to the price you pay for a seat? Leave a comment below!