Jonathan Jacobs offers an interesting take on the recently announced changes to the Delta Sky Miles program, focusing not so much on the changes themselves as on the way in which Delta communicated them. The idea that Delta showed profound disrespect and a lack of empathy to its loyal customers is a contention worth considering and a warning to other carriers.
Delta Air Lines Should Have Communicated Program Changes In A Different Way
Does empathy matter for Delta? Yes, according to Tim Mapes, Delta’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer.
“Delta is a brand that very much believes in empathy. It believes in humanity. It believes in connecting with people on an emotional basis … driven by the nobility of serving others.”
But Jacobs asserts (and I concur) there was no empathy in the news that Delta would drastically alter access rules to its network of Sky Club lounges and fundamentally change how elite status is earned, leaving many very loyal SkyMiles members in the dust.
I won’t rehash here why I think it makes little sense to tie loyalty exclusively to spending, but Delta’s policy changes will result in fewer elite passengers. It is true that if everyone is elite, no one is elite, but on the other hand, there really is little incentive (or need) for elite status when achieving that status requires buying premium cabin tickets that already come with most elite perks.
Most perplexing is that the spin doctors at Delta tried to cast the changes as positive. Jacobs believes a more nuanced announcement would have been far more effective:
“We know these changes might not be what everyone wants to hear, but in order to keep delivering the premium product and reliable experience you have come to expect from us, we have to make some adjustments.”
But instead, the news leaked on September 13th, Delta officially announced the program changes on September 14th, and we’ve actually heard nothing from Delta since then. Radio silence.
I think some Delta apologists will say that Delta is wisely waiting for the dust to settle by letting angry frequent flyers calm down and realize there still is no better alternative.
That’s really not the issue, though.
Questions have gone unanswered. And as always seems to be the case when Delta unleashes its latest devaluation on the SkyMiles redemption side, there is a smug silence that passengers are owed no explanation for why their points are worth 60% less than the previous day. Alienation does not cultivate loyalty.
Delta, whether actually truly or not, has said it is responding to “consumer demand” over the “complexity” of the program and also responding to consumer demand for less lounge crowding. Thus, Delta thinks it is “customer-responsive” when the better approach would be to speak candidly that its continued elite status rollovers during the pandemic artificially inflated the elite ranks and its lucrative relationship with its best customer of all, American Express, has greatly contributed to lounge crowding.
These changes cannot be “faulted” on consumers looking for outsized value.
Ultimately, the dust will settle, some will leave Delta, and many will stay. I do not view these changes as genius or necessary…but only time will tell how people will respond. I do concur that the way this news was communicated shows a fundamental lack of respect for Delta frequent travelers, which is a symptom of my diagnosis that Delta is not nearly as great as it claims to be.
Silence is not golden.