If Delta Can Do It, So Can You

A few nights ago I was on a Delta flight returning home from Atlanta. It had been a full day of meetings, so after my boarding libation, it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. When I woke up during landing, I noticed a Delta-branded card on my lap. I figured that it had fallen there as someone walked by. I didn’t even turn it over. I just stuck it in my iPad as I was getting off the plane.

When I got home, I opened my iPad and the card fell out. This time I noticed the back side of it and discovered it was a personal, hand-written note addressed to me. The crew was thanking me for my loyal patronage. It was a kind gesture, to be sure. But it also made my wheels turn.

First, I admired the effort of personalization. The simple 33-word note helped me feel important to Delta. Enough to blog and tweet about, anyway. Personal notes seem a lost art. Emails and texts and instant messages on various platforms have replaced hand-written notes and letters. Personal notes seem the stuff of a bygone era, romanticized in films and literature. Frankly, I was surprised—pleasantly, to be sure—by the gesture of the note.

Second, my surprise was partially due to my understanding that writing a note takes time. Someone(s) at Delta prioritized that note and invested in the few minutes needed to acknowledge my loyalty. I suspect the content was drafted by a marketing department and my note was copied and implemented by a flight crew member (it was signed by the Seattle-based flight team). Yet, even though it may have been templated copy and was not overly heart-felt, the investment of the gesture suggested an investment of time in ensuring my well-being and satisfaction.

More significantly, the note was written voluntarily. Granted, the flight team may have been directed to write a note. In fact, I am fairly certain that it was not the initiative of the authors/flight team that prompted the note. But someone at Delta decided that the note was a worthwhile investment of time and developed a process to make it possible. Delta did not have to write a thank you note. I would still fly Delta loyally without it. I didn’t expect the note and that is what made it all the more noticeable.

As a marketer, I kept thinking how well they made use of their CRM and the plethora of information about me that they store in their database. They were able to craft a note using my name, my frequent flyer status, my flight and my seat; all four variables were readily available and Delta made excellent use of those details to demonstrate their knowledge of me. Rather than creeping me out, this level of personalization sufficiently impressed me as a measure of their interest.

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Finally, the note reminded me that personal gestures are not impossible at large scale. Technology is certainly the key to managing the data and process of delivering that note. A database coughed up my name, destination and seat number, but a person hand-wrote a note and set the note on my lap. I’m guessing I’m one of a million or more in my frequent flyer category. Assuming Delta extends this to each one of us at least once, I’m impressed that they invest in that effort given the enormity of the assignment.

Why is this worth writing about? Teams of recruiters and development officers tell us that high levels of personalization are impossible given all of the demands on their time. We’ve been told that personal notes just cannot be expected when inquiry pools and alumni lists are as large as they are. Taking time for a personal note following a visit or phone conversation or for a hand-written event may, in fact, be the best possible investment you can make. You do not have a million people in your pool. If Delta can pull this off, you and your team can too.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.