Delta on AI: Customer Experience Enhanced, Old Systems Upgraded

Delta on AI: Customer Experience Enhanced, Old Systems Upgraded

DALLAS — In a recent panel discussion at the 2023 Skift Global Forum in New York City, Eric Phillips, the chief digital officer of Delta Air Lines (DL), shared insights on the role of AI in the travel industry.

The session was a conversation between Phillips and Ben Ellencweig, a senior partner with McKinsey & Company.  Mr. Phillips began with AI and customer experience.

Delta’s chief digital officer spoke generally about the potential of AI to improve the customer experience by leveraging digital tools and technology to connect various aspects seamlessly. The goal is to make interactions with the airline more intuitive, simpler, and less complex for customers, whether they are interacting with a physical representative or using a mobile device.

Phillips also highlighted that investing in AI systems should not only focus on revenue and efficiency but also on enhancing the employee experience. When employees have better tools and systems to address and interact with customers, it ultimately leads to a positive customer experience, which in turn drives revenue and customer loyalty.

Delta Air Lines N101DU Airbus A220-100. Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

Updating Legacy Systems with AI


Like many industries, the airline industry heavily relies on decades-old systems. Phillips acknowledged the challenge of integrating AI into such legacy systems. Delta has taken an innovative approach by strategically placing AI capabilities around existing systems rather than attempting a complete overhaul. This approach allows them to achieve their goals in a cost-effective and less disruptive manner.

Ben Ellencweig, a senior partner with McKinsey & Company, added that generative AI can assist in the process of upgrading infrastructure. Generative AI has the potential to write code and facilitate the transfer of code in a faster and more efficient manner. This capability can be particularly valuable for the travel industry, which is in need of infrastructure upgrades.

Ellencweig outlined three key steps that executives should consider when incorporating AI into their organizations:

  1. Educate: It is crucial for all employees to gain a basic understanding of generative AI to comprehend its potential and power.
  2. Experiment: Executives should encourage experimentation with AI, even if there is a possibility of failure. Experimentation allows organizations to learn and adapt, ultimately leading to productive outcomes.
  3. Scale: Rather than settling for incremental improvements, organizations should aim to reimagine the customer experience and redesign workflows accordingly. Scaling up AI initiatives can result in significant advancements and transformations within the company.

Featured image: Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. Photo: USAF Photo/ TSgt P. R. Miller / Public Domain

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