KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Proves a Winning Social Media Strategy Is All About Customer Service

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Imagine arriving to the airport coming home from your dream vacation. Suddenly, a combination of factors causes your flight to be cancelled or stranded far from home. With long lines for customer service or language barriers in the way, you send a message to the airline on Twitter or Facebook – just to go unanswered.

Unfortunately, this scenario all too common. In a recent example, passengers stuck on a flight from Brussels to Montreal were forced to call 911 for help when the airline social media team blamed the eight-hour hold on the airport. When things go wrong on the ground, how does the modern airport respond through the cloud?

From their headquarters near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines works daily to improve the passenger experience by responding quickly and efficiently inside social channels.

“Through studies and research, we know that people follow ten brands on social media,” explains Karlijn Vogel-Meijer, Director of Social at KLM. “In order to be successful in social media, we not only need to be better than other airlines, but other brands as well, like Nike or Victoria’s Secret.”

Improving the Sales Experience in Social Media

With an eye to the future, KLM is working to be a leader in the air and across cyberspace. Today, the airline is accessible across multiple major social media networks, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, LinkedIn and several region- and language-specific channels. In all mediums, their goal is to engage the customer with a personalized feel and direct response to their question.

“We see a movement going on right now where passengers want personal connections,” said Vogel-Meijer. “They want to talk to us, and want a timely, correct, and personal answer back.”

The social journey for the KLM passenger begins during the booking process. When purchasing airfare, travelers have the opportunity to connect via social media, including Facebook Messenger and LinkedIn. From there, travelers can opt-in to receive check-in notifications and boarding passes on Facebook while meeting their seatmates with LinkedIn integration. Those who have questions about their itinerary can ask directly in Messenger without the need to open a new window.

So far, the social media experiment has been successful. Since opening Facebook Messenger interaction in March 2017, 10 percent of online booking confirmations have been delivered through the medium, while 15 percent of boarding passes are delivered in Facebook. The KLM social team credits this as a customer experience win.

“You must be flexible, and move with the customer,” Vogel-Meijer said. “Because it’s not us telling the customer ‘you should be there,’ it is the customer telling us where they are at.”

Resolving Customer Issues Through Conversation

Booking and tracking flights are not the only activities travelers want through Facebook. By starting the passenger journey in social channels, the KLM social team has all the information they need to assist them before and during their trip.

“When you look to the apps we use daily, they are focused on messaging,” explains Vogel-Meijer. “As KLM, we want to focus on where our customers are.”

When a customer sends a message through social media, it is initially received by Digital Genius, a San Francisco-based company which has built special software for the Dutch airline. The algorithm-driven program reads the question and builds a sample response. Before the answer goes out, a member of the team reviews the answer for quality assurance. In more complex situations, the answer comes directly from a human. With the assistance of the software, the airline can respond in as little as 20 minutes.

The most commonly asked questions revolve around re-bookings, including those caused by delay and flight cancellation. With six weeks of training in brand standards and reputation management, everyone on the social media team is able to assist travelers with re-booking directly through messaging. Other popular questions include those about aircraft amenities and the Flying Blue frequent flyer program.

While many brands give their social media agents limits on what they can do, KLM gives their team latitude in assisting the customer. Individuals working on the social media must use their best judgment to resolve issues, including offering recompense when the agent feels it may be due.

“It’s interesting to think of KLM in the context of social media,” Vogel-Meijer said. “In a 98-year-old company with processes and services, sometimes it’s okay to do things without permission.”

Looking Toward the Future of Digital Engagement

While social media interaction is a critical step forward for the Dutch carrier, their digital group is constantly looking to the future. Instead of just offering a single service as an airline, KLM is striving to use their online space to create a concierge experience for the flyer, assisting from start to finish.

“In the world of 2020, passengers don’t want to opt-in—they expect you will know what is relevant,” Vogel-Meijer projects. “There are a lot of points in the customer journey where KLM is relevant, and we are bringing partners in the conversation to make sure we can cover the full customer journey.”

Through Facebook Messenger, the airline has added the ability to book hotels and rental cars directly from their confirmation. Their attention to detail is getting noticed in the industry: the Netbase 2017 Airlines Social Media Report ranked KLM fourth worldwide in overall social performance. The carrier performed better than two of the top three carriers in reach and outperformed all three in brand passion.

Future steps for KLM include further integrating into the passenger’s everyday life, including enabling ordering through voice-activated appliances like Google Home. Throughout every touchpoint, the airline wants to be more than a carrier: they want to be international ambassadors for their home country in the air and through cyberspace.

“The Dutch are very direct and pragmatic, and so we’re always looking for solutions,” Vogel-Meijer said. “It’s always the last perception that creates the value you give to a customer.”