Imagine Being Picked Up Planeside in a Porsche

Guest Blog Post by Mike Wittenstein, 1/13/12

Delta Surprises Happy CustomersFriend and Thunderbird Alum Chris McGinnis (@cjmcginnis), a travel consultant who writes The Ticket, recently spotted a new service by Delta Air Lines that picks up top-tier fliers right on the tarmac and whisks them to baggage pickup then to their parked cars. What kind of ride do these pleasantly surprised passengers get? A ride in a Porsche Panamera. Not too shabby.

Let’s see what this means for passengers and for Delta from several key perspectives.

* From a service design perspective, Delta is just experimenting with the service right now. In my humble opinion, they couldn’t offer it to all top-tier passengers because the fleet and drivers would be too difficult to manage. What makes it work at the ‘surprise’ level is that there are no commitments. No expectations means that customers can’t be disappointed. Imagine how you’d feel if you were told to expect a sports car shuttle and drive and it didn’t show.

* From a co-branding perspective, Porsche gets a great deal. For the price of several cars (probably less than a month’s social media budget) that it ‘donates’ to the Delta ground transport fleet, the car manufacturer gets dozens of great stories and thousands of retellings (like this blogpost). Porsche also gets valuable impressions on planeload after planeload of passengers who see fellow travelers get the red carpet treatment right before their eyes. “Yes, it sure would be nice to drive that Panamera,” many must be thinking to themselves. The brand connections to freedom, status, privilege, and speed aren’t lost either.

* From a customer experience perspective, Delta has really done something unique. Instead of just taking something away and charging us to get it back, the two brands have created a new kind of value for the best customers they share in common. This experience is an example of Delta doing something for its customers, not just tothem.

* From a communications perspective, things get trickier. How would you like to be a top-tier passenger and see your seat mate get a ride while you’re left to navigate the escalators, train, baggage carousel, and long walks in the Atlanta airport? Are those $100K cars being paid for from tickets? (I don’t want to pay a premium for others to get that level of white glove treatment!). Delta has commented publicly about these easy-to-make assumptions by naming their VIP fleet, mentioning that Delta didn’t pay for the cars, in fact, they help bring many of them over from Germany to the US, and that their own execs don’t get to drive them.

Customers judge brands by the service they receive. The customers who get the surprise Panamera rides should be pretty happy. The questions that remain are:

* What will Delta learn from this experiment and what new services might it offer everyone or anyone as a result of its learnings?
* Will Delta expand this experiment to other brands and other service ideas?
* Will Delta be able to offer promise-level experiences that can be scheduled?
* Will Delta decide to charge its preferred customers for this (and other non-flying-but-convenience-oriented services) in the future?

Check out the full article on Chris’ The Ticket website/blog.

As a keynote speaker, Mike Wittenstein engages his audiences immediately and maintains their attention. He thoroughly researches each business and industry often including undercover shops and shifts as an employee so that he can share ideas that will delight customers and engage employees at the same time.

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