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Making the Most of Customer Data from the Perspective of Delta Air Lines

Author: Joy Lin
Posted: March 20, 2015
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Leveraging customer data is one of the most effective and efficient way to serving travelers with the right incentive and information at the right time to generate loyalty. You not only connect better with existing customers, but also gain traction with those who behave like repeat customers. DMOs can learn much from companies that do this well, like Delta Air Lines -- one of Fortune's Most Admired Companies of 2014.

Karen R. Zachary, Delta's Managing Director SkyMiles, Global Program Management will join us at the 2015 Marketing Innovation Summit to discuss lessons she's learned in transforming SkyMiles from a legacy distance-based earn program to a revenue-based platform, designed to better reward Delta’s best customers while continuing to bring good value to all members. She shares some of her background and observations here.

Describe one of your earliest memories of seeing customer data at work.

Customer data is everywhere and even in the early 1980s, airlines had information related to customer’s purchasing and travel behavior. Much of this data drove decisions on ticket prices, where to fly and how to construct Sales agreements. Frequent Flyer programs were established which provided even more customer centric information.

How has your initial experience or experiences with data and intelligence directed your professional work since?

Given my background, data facilitates driving sound decisions from Revenue Management to Network Planning, Airport Operations and now in Marketing. If we ignore customer data, we are making fundamental decisions in the dark. My professional work specifically in the Loyalty space depends on clean, accurate and reflective data.

What has been the measurable impact of the SkyMiles program to Delta Air Lines as a brand?

The tenets of the Delta brand are Innovative, Thoughtful and Reliable. The SkyMiles program complements the airline by attracting and retaining high value customers within our tenets. We measure our success through our customers feedback, revenue and ensuring that we deliver a product and service at Delta’s standards.

Many in the industry are familiar with Scott Stratten’s story of the Tweet that saved Delta’s brand. Is this just anecdotal proof or can it be a business case for customer engagement?

There’s a distinction between a loyalty program and delivering a brand that earns customers’ loyalty. While loyalty is rewarded by a program, true loyalty is earned at the point of customer interaction. Empowering our people to serve our customers is core to the Delta brand.

With Delta being named one of Fortune’s most admired companies, what from your perspective makes it a great business?

Our employees, our customers and our competition. Our employees serve our customers and just like Scott Stratten’s story, our employees can positively or negatively affect our customers. Our competition makes us stronger and keeps us striving to be better – in our product and service. Our customers have a choice when flying so if we don’t provide a product and service at a good value, we don’t have a business.

What’s on your information wish list? If you were Big Brother, what is one thing that you would love to be able to know or track about travelers?

From a Customer Engagement and Loyalty perspective, I would like greater visibility into their share of wallet, overall travel patterns and what drives their purchase behavior. There are many vendors who are compiling ways to gain better clarity but currently the data is blurred.