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An Open Letter to the CEO of Delta Airlines


Dear Mr. Bastian,

Don’t worry. I haven’t been dragged off one of your planes by my hair or contracted an unheard-of, respiratory ailment through the ventilation system of one of your airplanes. Nor am I writing to complain about high fares or unbundled pricing. We consumers have made our own beds – always sorting by low price – and now must lie in it.

In fact, my last trip on your airline was almost pleasant because I paid extra to sit in an exit row. No, I am not writing to complain about my round-trip flight to Atlanta. I am writing about something else.

I have spent a good part of my career managing call centers and defining metrics to measure customer satisfaction. That doesn’t make me an expert about your (or anyone else’s) business. But, it does lead me to a few questions.

My story starts 24 hours before the aforementioned round-trip. Of course, I got a message reminding me to check-in. The message arrived at noon, just as we were breaking for lunch during an all-day meeting. “Great,” thought I. “I can get this out of the way right now.” I opened the Delta app on my iPhone and, lo and behold, I had forgotten my password. I searched for a ‘forgot-my-password’ link, but none existed. Nor was there one on your website.

So, here’s my first question:

#1, Why don’t you have a link on your website like nearly everyone else?

This is frustrating me and costing you money!

Too-many failed attempts led to a call to customer service. After suffering through your voicemail tree and defining my problem, I was told there was a 47-to-54 minute hold time. If I preferred (I did!), you would call me back. And, sure enough, you called me back within the specified time frame. Or course, I was back to my meeting, so I couldn’t take the call.

Okay, so now it’s 5 PM and my meeting is over. I have an hour until my next appointment, so I call again. Hold time is a little longer… would I like a call back? Yes, I would. The call comes in about 5 minutes before my meeting. After the usual unpleasantries, your operator says, “I’ll transfer you to someone who can help you.”


So, here’s my next question…

#2, Why have someone call me back if they can’t…

Oh, never mind! I am beginning to sound too pedantic – even for me! I could tell you how we cut through an array of metrics in the 80’s to focus on two goals: (1) all calls answered by a person within 60 seconds, and (2) empowering our agents to solve any problem on the first call. I could even give you a blow-by-blow of how we did it. But, I’d be wasting my time.

The Big Box model, enabling corporations to standardize service globally, requires that customer interactions be scripted and frontline staff have limited authority to diverge, even in the cause of helping a customer. The way forward for you is not to relive the 80’s. It’s to develop 21st Century methods.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports that companies focused on digital learning have the opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, hire better people, and improve employee engagement (

8 Ways Machine Learning Is Improving Companies’ Work Processes). The technology is nascent. The data isn’t yet robust enough to deploy. But, investment in artificial intelligence (AI) will increase to $100 Million per year by 2025 (according to HBR); and, by then, someone will have figured it out.

It may be that Mattel already has! When I first heard about their use of AI to enable Barbie to interact with those around her (What if Barbie could pass the Turing Test?), I wondered, “what if Barbie were programmed to answer 800 numbers instead of being programmed to talk with 9-year-olds? Hold queues would disappear.”

To be sure, you’ll have some work to do before you can achieve call center nirvana – no pesky humans to hire and manage. But in a world where we trust algorithms more than people, it may be the only way to go.


John Calia

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