Innovation & customer service

Great minds fly alike. So with a new Delta/Virgin Atlantic partnership taking shape, I met up with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson in New York, to talk innovation and customer service. Here's a snippet of our conversation.

Richard Anderson: I was reading a recent blog post you wrote: 5 Tips for a New Generation of Entrepreneurs. The parallels to your business track record are obvious, but I couldnt help also seeing some similarities to what weve been doing at Delta with a more than 80-year-old company.

Yours truly: The age of an individual or a business isnt a barrier to being innovative. While those tips are especially relevant to people starting out in business, successful companies are always on the lookout for smart advice and new inspiration. The entrepreneurial spirit is something that should be constantly cultivated particularly in a customer service business.

RA: The first piece of advice is: Get the business model right. Thats exactly what weve been doing at Delta. We made some fundamental changes to get out of what can be a never-ending struggle against the natural cycles of the economy. That got our business to a place where we can provide rewarding, long-term careers for Delta people, a return for our shareholders and investment in our product for our customers. Keeping our employees happy has a real impact on customer service. And changes in the business have made it possible for us to address our customers preferences. For example, we now offer flatbed seats, great chef-driven food, an expertly curated wine list, pervasive Wi-Fi, mobile connections, top-notch terminals at our biggest international gateways and new and renovated Delta Sky Clubs.

RB: Focusing on high-quality products that are better than the competition is essential for any business. You also need to concentrate on celebrating and supporting your people, who are the foundation of every successful company. So often we get bogged down in what we think the rules of business are, but there is plenty of scope to try new things and trust your instincts. Sometimes the manual is only there to be thrown out!

RA: At Delta, weve found that common values are far better than any detailed manual could ever be. When youre flying 160 million people a year around the globe, there are just too many variables to write rules for. Delta people, from the CEOs office to the front line, rely on our culture and our core values to guide our business decisions every day. Sure, we have to have rules, but our values help us know when the rules arent sufficient. Bending the rules - especially for our most loyal customers is often just the right thing to do.

RB: A common set of values is another way of going about finding like-minded people, and also for believing in what you do. This comes through in how we work with customers. All Virgin Atlantic employees have a passion to ensure that our customers have the best experience, and that really comes across in how the staff interacts with our customers.

RA: Absolutely right. Every day I ask myself, What can I do today to make Delta better? Thats the entrepreneurial spirit at work, even at an 80-year-old company - it requires thinking differently about our business in ways that always stay true to our values and help us to always have our customers backs.

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