Shift Blog Series: Lessons in Employer Brand From Delta’s Customer Experience

Delta Air Lines was the third largest airline in the U.S. when they filed bankruptcy in 2005, citing rising fuel costs and tough competition from lower-cost carriers as the catalysts. At that time, US Airways and United Airlines had already declared bankruptcy, leaving nearly half of the commercial aviation industry’s capacity under bankruptcy court’s oversight (CNN Money). It was a turbulent time for airlines.

Fast-forward to the present day. In the past year, Delta Air Lines was named:

In the first half of 2018, Delta’s net promoter score (NPS) was 43.9%, up 187% from its 2010 score (15.3%) ( This begs the question, how did they not only manage to come back from bankruptcy but transform into one of the most-awarded airlines today?

The answer is not a simple one. And it certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Over the past 13 years, Delta has put countless strategies into place to help steer the company back on course. From their people focus and profit sharing (that’s another blog post for another day) to vertical integration and global partnerships, they overhauled the business while staying true to their roots. All of those things factor into the excellent customer service they’re known for today. According to J.D. Power’s 2018 North America Airline Customer Satisfaction ratings, Delta ranks second (only eight points below the #1 spot).

Here are four ways Delta shifted to put the customer in the forefront, and how you can apply their approach to your candidate experience to elevate your employer brand.

Lesson #1 - Step into their shoes

One of Delta founder, C.E. Woolman’s most famous sayings was, “Let’s put ourselves on the other side of the counter” (Delta Museum). In doing this, he believed employees would know first-hand what it was like to be a Delta passenger. And that would help them better understand the customer experience and uncover better ways to meet customer needs.

Being a “secret applicant” is an easy, no-cost way for you to put yourself in your candidates’ shoes. In doing so, you’ll gain immense insight into your candidate experience. To start, gather a group of colleagues to apply to a few of your own requisitions and experience what your application process is like. Create a centralized document where everyone can add their notes and recommendations. Be sure to apply from different browsers and devices so you’re capturing a diverse data set. You can take this even further by mapping your entire candidate journey. Follow all the touchpoints from application to offer, and identify opportunities to improve or elevate the experience, and captive candidates along the journey. Extra bonus points for evaluating your full employment experience from awareness to alumni.

Lesson #2 - Bring transparency to the black hole

If you’ve ever lost a checked bag, you know the feeling of the “black hole.” In 2016, Delta introduced new radio frequency identification (RFID) luggage tags to allow passengers to more accurately track and identify their checked baggage. They took this enhancement even further by enabling mobile app users to track their bags from their device, including an option to receive status updates (Forrester). The benefits? Less stress and peace of mind for their passengers—no more black hole.

Just like traveling, job searching can be stressful. It can also feel like you’re sending your application into a black hole when you hit submit. Offering your candidates a bit of transparency into what’s happening with their application can offer them peace of mind too. No doubt, setting up this digital infrastructure requires more effort, but the impact it can have is significant! Plus, access to real-time tracking is becoming the norm in most technologies and experiences today. It’s only a matter of time before candidates expect this level of transparency into their job applications. Extra bonus points if your employee referral program and applicant tracking system (ATS) integrate so employees can track their referral’s status too.

Lesson #3 - Level up the experience

Enhanced free entertainment options, in-flight messaging, an improved snack selection with options for various dietary needs, and an investment in fleet modernization are just a few of the ways Delta is meeting customers’ evolving needs. When I log in to the Fly Delta app, I’m served personalized content about my next destination, like things to do, weather forecasts, and an airport map.

74 percent of candidates with a 5-star "great" candidate experience say they’ll definitely increase their employer relationship based on the very positive job seeker experiences they’ve had – they’ll apply again, refer others, and make purchases when applicable (Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Research Report, 2017) (<--Click here to tweet this!).

So, how can you make your experience 5-star? Look for ways to personalize it. In what ways can you tweak ATS communications so they’re customized to the individual on the receiving end? Are there resources you can share with candidates to help them prepare for a phone or digital video interview? For those candidates coming in for on-site interviews, share a map of your facility, designating where to park and which entrance to use. Intersperse some questions that help you get to know the candidate for more than just their skills and qualifications.

Everyone appreciates feeling heard, so ask them for feedback about your process too. For more ways to level up your candidate experience, check out this recorded webinar featuring my colleagues Susan LaMotte and Shannon Smedstad: Your Candidate Experience (CX) + Employer Brand.

Lesson #4 - Be approachable and available

I’m a Delta frequent flyer, and one of the things I appreciate about my airline of choice is the ability to easily connect with their customer service team. If there are long wait times to speak with a representative, you can request a callback and they tell you the approximate wait time. Their social media team is also super responsive, replying in a timely manner, and they are equipped to actually help, not just defer you to call a 1-800 number. When was the last time you checked the pulse of your current candidate experience? Here are some questions to ask your Talent Acquisition team:

  • How are we engaging with potential candidates, both passive and active?
  • Is it a two-way conversation?
  • If active candidates have questions about our hiring process or their application, how are we assisting them?
  • Are the expectations about the role clear and understood?
  • Is the process fair?
  • Are we listening to candidates’ feedback and addressing their concerns?
  • Are there FAQs that we can proactively address in our recruiting materials or on our careers site?
  • What are ways to inform candidates they’ve been declined in a respectful way, and helps them understand the reason why they’ve been declined?

At the end of the day, Delta and its airline competitors offer fairly ubiquitous products. The opportunity to stand out from the rest is in the service they provide. When it comes to employment, I am in no way saying that one employer offers the same thing as the next. With the current state of the economy where the unemployment rate is 3.7% and the ratio of unemployed people to job openings was 0.9 in September 2018 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), the importance of establishing a differentiated employer brand strategy and providing a stellar candidate experience has never been greater. (<--Click to tweet this!)

I’ll leave you with this: treat candidates like they were your customer. What do you want them to think and feel about their experience with your organization? What do you want them to tell their friends and family? Because 60% of candidates will share their negative experiences with others.

Check back next month for more rebranding examples, and how they relate to employer branding and recruitment!

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in our Shift series: What Employer Brand Can Learn From Consumer Brand and Lessons from #RoséAllDay in Shifting Your Employer Brand Perception

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