What Every Business Can Learn from the Social Media Efforts of @Delta


It was about 6:30 last evening when I found myself at the Delta Sky Club in Tampa, Florida. I was booked on Delta’s 7:45 flight to Atlanta (where I am speaking to a group of Ford dealership managers about Internet processes this morning). I had a yearning for a cup of coffee, but I really didn’t think indulging in a caffeinated beverage that late in the day made sense. (Between my upcoming flight and the strange bed I was soon to be sleeping in, it would be hard enough for me to get any rest. As it ended up, I got a solid six hours.)

I grabbed a clean cup at the self-serve coffee station and placed it under the decaf jug’s spout. Pushing down on the lever I discovered they were out of decaf, so I moseyed to the bar to let the Delta bartender know this fact.

“Oh… thank you,” she replied.

I got a glass of water to hold me while she made the decaf and headed back to my seat in the lounge.

Twenty Minutes is Plenty of Time to Make a Pot, Right?

At about ten minutes before seven, I headed back to the coffee station only to discover that the decaf jug was missing. Clearly, the bartender just forgot to return it after she made a fresh pot, I surmised, so I walked over to the bar to ask her if the decaf was ready.

“Oh… it’s too late to make any decaf,” she replied.

I looked at her and just blinked my eyes for a couple of seconds to get my bearings.

“Um, isn’t nighttime when people usually drink decaf?” I asked.

“Well, I was told it’s too late to make any more decaf tonight,” she replied smiling.

Would You Like a Double Gin & Tonic instead?

I figured that a pot of decaf must cost Delta all of two dollars, so I wondered why they were being so cheap. Had I been ordering double Gin & Tonics all night they wouldn’t have batted an eye – even though my drain on their profits would have been much greater.

Since I really wanted that coffee – to the point that I could actually taste it on my way back to my seat – I decided there was nothing I could do but sit down, shut up and be a good Delta customer. In other words, I was fuming. Not because I didn’t get my precious coffee, but because of the arbitrary nature of how the Delta team at the Tampa Sky Club chose to create rules. They didn’t want to have to clean the pots after a certain hour (I surmised), so they invented a rule that you couldn’t make decaf after six.

They reminded me of a bunch of teenagers working at any fast food establishment fifteen minutes before closing: “Oh shit, here comes another customer. Don’t they know we close in like fifteen minutes?”

Vent or Die

I could keep my now rage about being denied a cup of decaf inside me or I could let it out. I chose to let it out. Of course, rather than throw chairs around the Sky Club or even demanding to speak to a supervisor, I decided to just Tweet about this experience to my 1,200+ alleged followers. (Because it was a Friday night, I was pretty sure that no more than 1 or 2 would even read the damn thing. I just needed to vent.)

I followed that message with one more Tweet a minute later to complete my thoughts about the whole affair:

Feeling somewhat content having gotten this off my chest; I sent a couple of emails, packed up my belongings and headed for the departure gate.

A few minutes after I settled into my seat and cracked open an unsatisfying bottle of water, a Delta agent came to my row and asked for me. Instinctively, I just knew I was going to hear some regurgitation of why they don’t make decaf after 6:00 PM and how sorry she was but that “the policy was important to ensure the blah, blah, blah…”

“Mr. Stauning?” she asked.

“Yes?” I replied.

She followed with “We were wrong not to make a fresh pot of decaf for you in the Sky Club this evening. Can you tell me who it was that told you this?”

I was floored. She admitted they were wrong and actually wanted to know which of their employees needed some additional training on customer service.

After I told her my experience and the brief conversations with the bartender, she thanked me for being a loyal Delta customer and handed me a $12 meal voucher for Atlanta. (Delta knows, you see, that I am flying out of Atlanta today after my meetings and so they correctly assumed that I might have to grab a bite in the airport.)

For the cost of a few minutes’ time and $12, Delta was able to completely resolve a minor situation with a long-time customer (and often vocal critic). Moreover, the half-dozen or so people who heard the exchange on the plane were undoubtedly impressed.


As I hashtagged in both of my Tweets, it’s the little things that matter. Not making decaf for your frequent fliers is a little thing; but it genuinely pisses customers off. Telling your customers you were wrong and offering to buy them a $12 lunch the next day are little things; but these are what customers remember and appreciate.

The lessons that all businesses – whether they’re a B2C or B2B establishment – can learn from how @Delta handled this “little thing” are these:

  1. Be diligent and genuine about your social media pursuits. If you’re going to be on Twitter or Facebook, don’t do it for branding or marketing purposes; and don’t just become another spammer. Be social. React genuinely. Solve problems. Or shut the hell up.
  2. Be quick and don’t escalate the little things – SOLVE THEM. I don’t know who made the decision to greet me on my plane and present me with a meal voucher, but this decision did not have to be reviewed by a committee. Imagine if the team that monitors Delta’s Twitter account had simply waited until the next day and responded to my Tweet with “Dear Mr. Stauning: blah, blah, blah…” That would have been infuriating (I know, because another minor issue with a company last week was handled just that way. They would have been better off ignoring my Tweet than to send me down the customer service path of hell I am currently on.) Delta has empowered someone to make quick decisions in the field to solve minor customer issues. This seemingly tiny act can do more to defuse a bad situation than all the “we’re sorry you feel this way” emails and calls from insincere customer service drones.
  3. In all relationships, it’s truly the little things that matter. This is especially true in the realm of customer relationships. The customer is not always right… but, they are always the customer, and when it’s your fault that they feel bad you need to tell them it’s your fault, and then you need to fix the problem.

But The Steakhouse Did So Much More…

Some of you may be familiar with a similar, albeit more extravagant, response from an overpriced steakhouse to a loyal customer who also Tweeted his desires from the Tampa airport. The differences in this case are that Delta (in my opinion) wasn’t looking for publicity, just hoping to satisfy their customer. Additionally, Delta operates on a much smaller margin and deals with many more customer service issues than a chain of restaurants, so sending a guy in tuxedo to deliver me a porterhouse dinner would not have been fiscally responsible. Finally, the guy who Tweeted about steak was just a whiny traveler who wanted something he couldn’t have.

(Well, I guess the two stories do have a little in common.)