These days, airlines compete with a dizzying array of places where people can purchase their fares. While many airlines reach potential customers through advertisements and branding, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is going to where the customers already are: social media.
As part of a growing effort to use technology and social media to improve the travel experience, KLM has poured resources into creating a genuine and easy connection with fliers. Website and phone interactions with reservation agents can be helpful but not necessarily convenient.
The way KLM’s social media manager Karlijn Vogel-Meijer puts it: It’s important to be accessible to consumers on their own terms. Vogel-Meijer’s effort to make KLM a friendlier place to do business with on social media is paying off. The carrier conducts a significant amount of commerce via social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and WeChat, among others. The airline attributes nearly 27 million euros in annual sales (including ticket purchases and upgrades among other things) to its presence on social media.
The airline is studying how it can make new technology like Google Home devices the next generation for ticket sales. Imagine if you could ask about the cheapest getaways to Europe and a list of KLM destinations is spouted back to entice you to travel.
Social media teams get busy
As with many airlines, KLM already responds to customer requests and questions using social media. The usual flurry of flight delay queries and complaints, such as seat assignment or flight change requests, is part of the nearly 100,000 social interactions that take place per week. But the airline’s ability to sell tickets and make flight changes is particularly notable among airlines; it is also using social media to provide access to hotel reservations and transfers from the airport.
KLM employs a team of 250 reservations-trained agents at its headquarters and other customer service bases to interact with requests in multiple languages. Each interaction is initially processed through an algorithm developed by San Francisco company Digital Genius. It analyzes the request and is able to respond to around 30-35 percent of them instantly using intelligent bots that determine if basic information (like flight status) can be answered easily. It also directs questions that need a more empathic response to a human being who can respond to any concern.
This allows the social media team to answer queries in less than 20 minutes usually. Vogel-Meijer says that originally the promise was to respond within the hour, but consumers today want more immediate interaction. She adds that when the company began allowing direct message capability via Facebook Messenger, KLM saw an enormous spike in interactions, which is why a smart use of technology in responding is particularly helpful.
The airline is so interested in creating personal connections that it also introduced a “meet and seat” program. It allows passengers to voluntarily share social media profiles with others on the same flight to create personal connections, whether social or professional.
KLM once featured a program known as “layover with a local,” giving connecting passengers at Amsterdam for several hours the chance to explore the city with a local. The airline’s app matches travelers with locals based upon social interests and language skills and provides them with free train tickets to the city center to meet them. Unfortunately, the program is no longer available.
Using technology to improve the travel experience
It’s not just social media that interests the airline. The company is testing biometric boarding procedures that allow passengers to board a flight using facial recognition rather than showing identification or paperwork.
The partnership with Amsterdam Schiphol airport is designed to speed up the boarding process and is one of the programs the airport is undertaking to become the “leading digital airport” by next year. A current program being tested for carry-on bags allows fliers to leave laptops and liquids in their bags during screening. Surely, that would be a nice change should it be fully implemented!
There was even Spencer the robot that, in a test with the airport, guided travelers to their gates once they scanned their boarding passes with him. Don’t worry, he knows to adjust to the speed of the people following him.
If you’re an avid texter, KLM has started a new emoji texting service via Facebook Messenger. Travelers can message KLM with an image from its emoji menu, and it will respond with where something like that can be found nearby. For example, text a pizza emoji, and KLM will share the nearest pizzeria or Italian restaurant in a city.
“We believe we should be where our customers are, and therefore, KLM and Messenger are the perfect fit,” says Tjalling Smit, senior vice president of E-Commerce for Air France KLM. “We know how difficult it can be to quickly find your way in unknown places.”
It seems that these days, however, it is becoming easier than ever to navigate the process of booking air travel. Just don’t audibly express your travel dreams in front of your Google Home device or you may inadvertently end up buying a ticket to a faraway land.