Delta: Sometimes The Quality Of Service Is About The Art of Recovery


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In a private moment after a particularly tense meeting with an important client, the senior manager at the client wrapped his arm around my shoulder and said, “Sometimes the quality of service is about the art of recovery.” That lesson stuck with me throughout my career, and I was reminded of it recently while reading a letter from Delta Airlines this week.

In short, the letter apologized for a recent unpleasant flight experience when my bag was left behind (made even more frustrating since I had to pay $25 to check the bag in the first place.) The letter announced that I was going to be awarded 1,500 frequent flyer miles for my troubles.

Last week, I received a similar letter from Delta Airlines awarding me 1,000 frequent flyer miles for a cancelled flight.

Despite the inconveniences from the delays and the baggage mishap, I did not walk away from those incidents at the time with a poor feeling about Delta, rather sensing it was just my time to have problems that are common on all airlines. During the delay, Delta updated passengers with honest and relatively accurate progress reports, and ultimately we reached our deistination. When my bag did not show up, the clerk methodically and efficiently recorded my information and the next morning my bag was delivered to my hotel, as promised.

So while the letters and frequent flyer bonus miles were more symbolic than substantial, they were recognition that something went awry, and Delta management noticed. I like that.

My View

It is an unfortunate fact of business and life that things will go wrong. Using that long ago observation about recovery, Perfect Service identifies these as opportunities to demonstrate superior service.

One of the Perfect Service building blocks, that of “Perfect Improvement,” is that customer service people must be empowered to “fix the situation” while the organization reviews the problem to determine root causes and ways to prevent it in the future. Customer service people do not wait until the problem is solved, but rather, do their best to make the impact of the current problem minimal.

Customers should feel like the error is not a usual event, and that the
service provider takes this specific situation very seriously. My counsel is to
make the company or person feel like you are “over responding” to an unusual

My son was recently receiving baseball lessons from a pitching coach to help him control where his pitches were going. After throwing a bad pitch, my son would think he was a wild pitcher. The coach said that when a pitch is wild, the pitcher should think that this is an unusual situation, and that the next pitch will be back to normal. That mindset alone gave him confidence, even when things go wrong.

At the airport, my expectation is that flight delays and baggage problems are normal events. What Delta did was to remind me that, at least to this company, the situation was being viewed critically, and they were sorry. This reaction makes me think that perhaps my situation was not normal, and that Delta was going to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Of course, if it does happen again, and I get a third and fourth letter, then my conclusion is that Delta is using these apologies as the primary means of recovery, rather than improving the process. And that would be bad.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Myers
Benefits Services Consulting
For more than 2 years, Chris Myers has designed and managed industry leading Employee Benefits service organizations. His passionate and innovative approach to service is widely recognized in the benefits field. His "Perfect Service" approach was created in 21 and within two years improved his company's satisfaction ratings to the top of the industry.


  1. …oddly enough the worse the screwup and the angrier the customer the better the opportunity to make a long term convert of the customer from the process. I’ve been teaching people to defuse angry customers for almost two decades and the stories I’ve heard of turnaround recoveries are pretty amazing. However the worse the situation, and the angrier the customer the more reliant the process is on superior interpersonal skills on the part of the business person/rep.

    Recovery doesn’t just mean offering something via a letter, but is dependent on personal contact with a skilled rep.


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