KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the poster child for social media customer service. The story of their social media "awakening" is well-known - in 2010, amidst the mass-confusion caused by the grounding of thousands of flights around the world due to the Eyafjallajokull Volcano eruption in Iceland, KLM needed a way to better communicate with it's customers. So they turned to social media. Since then, KLM's social team has grown from a makeshift assortment of customer service agents to a 150-strong social team, offering 24/7 service in 14 languages on Facebook, Twitter and Vkontakte and answering 60,000+ social-originated queries per week. The move has been a major success for the airline - last year, at Econsultancy's Festival of Marketing, KLM's social media manager Karlijn Vogel-Meijer said that they're now generating €25m ($US27.3m) in sales, per year, that they can directly attribute to their social media efforts. That's no small feat - so how do they do it? I got a chance to speak with Vogel-Meijer to find out just how KLM goes about their social media process.
Trial and Error
KLM is a ninety-five year-old company that flies to sixty-seven nations around the world, a huge breadth of customers to cater for, and a significant legacy to carry. Given this, and the airline's focus on social customer service, I asked Vogel-Meijer how the company approaches social media and whether they have a core mission or vision they aspire to in their social interactions.
"Our strategy is very simple and based upon three pillars: service, brand & reputation and commerce," Vogel-Meijer said. "We believe service is the basis of everything we do on social and the reason why people follow us. You can ask us anything, 24/7, and we'll reply within one hour." This sounds like a lofty goal, but it's true, various surveys and reports have praised KLM's social media responsiveness - last year, Social Bakers rated KLM as the number one "Socially Devoted" brand globally, with data showing that they responded to 98.5% of the 80,000 questions posed to them on Facebook, while doing so 3 hours faster than the airline industry average. KLM is so dedicated to the task of quick response that they display their average response time - updated every 5 minutes - on their Twitter profile background. Clearly, social media response time is something the airline take very, very seriously.
"If people don't have anything to ask us, we still want to be present in their timelines," Vogel-Meijer continued. "People only follow a limited number of brands, so our content needs to be relevant and worth sharing."
"We believe that social is a new world, and it's changing on a daily basis. That implies that you should not be afraid to make mistakes - it's all about trial and error. If you're afraid to make mistakes, don't go on social."
Honestly, this is some of the best advice I've heard on social - no one has all the answers, platforms and audience behaviors are evolving each day. While general guidelines and advice are always helpful, the only true rule of social media is that your audience rules, and the only way to understand what will resonate is to work with them and experiment with what's possible - it's inspiring to hear this type of advice from such a huge, successful company.
KLM has a strong presence on all the major social platforms, including over 1.84 million followers on Twitter and 9.3 million on Facebook. I asked Vogel-Meijer which, if any, they would consider their primary platforms in social.
"We want to be where our customers are, so in that sense, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are top of mind," Vogel-Meijer said. "But that doesn't cover the whole world. In China we're active on WeChat and Sina Weibo, in Korea on Kakao Talk and in Russia on VKontakte." KLM's commitment to social is also always evolving - in February this year KLM started testing the use of WhatsApp with members of its "Flying Blue" frequent-flier program. KLM has also taken the advanced step of allowing customers to book flights via tweet or Facebook post.
"We believe in giving our customers access to all KLM services on the platforms where they are present - because why should we redirect you to the KLM website if we can offer you the opportunity to book a flight via a tweet or a post?" Vogel-Meijer said. "Twitter's testing a buy now button in the US, that would definitely be something we're interested in. We also have two twitterbots @KLMfares and @KLMflights - with @KLMfares, you're able to get the best fares to a certain destination and period via one tweet. Via @KLMflights you can see, in one instant, if your flight is on time by sending us a single tweet. And we're working on some other options to make it as easy as possible for our customers."
"Yes, Instagram has our full focus, especially since they opened up the platform for advertising," Vogel-Meijer said. "The Facebook/Instagram combination is extremely interesting. Instagram's about inspiration and storytelling, you shouldn't use it as Facebook. But if we use the strengths of Instagram in combination with Facebook we can tell an inspiring story to our fans and customers via multiple platforms, which is great."
A photo posted by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (@klm) on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:08am PDT
Given their social focus, and the linking of their social interactions to direct ROI, I asked Vogel-Meijer what analytics and numbers KLM focuses on in social, how they measure performance.
"We measure everything and compare data constantly," Vogel-Meijer said. "We focus on response time and the number of cases, in relation to service; on reach and engagement, when it's about brand; and we measure commerce via last click, 28 days cookie time, via our internal measurement tool. But we also look at Facebook post view conversions."
Using last click attribution is how KLM has ascertained that €25m figure attached to their social presence, but the general measures of response times, reach and engagement also play an active part in their strategic planning.
Looking at all the various measures and social systems in place at KLM, it's clear that the company has made social a core part of their overall strategy. Indeed, social interaction is now engrained into their company, integral to their operations and day-to-day procedures. Given this, I finished up our conversation by asking Vogel-Meijer about what she sees as the true value of social media.
"The true value of social media is two-way, honest communication between a customer and a brand," Vogel-Meijer said. "That's what differentiates it from other channels in display, SEO and mail."
While on the surface Vogel-Meijer's answer seems straight-forward, the two terms that stand out are "two-way" and "honest", and you'd be hard pressed to find another brand as committed to these two elements as KLM. These two, fundamental principles are at the core of their success in social media - and really, should be at the core of any brand's social media process.
KLM started in social by simply jumping in - people needed answers, here was a medium that would enable them to provide that, quickly and at scale. The necessity of the situation awakened them to the opportunities of the medium, to the possibilities for customer service improvement and advancement of their communications process. Since then, they've built their customer service more and more around this - because that's what their customers want, that's where their customers interact. It took that initial courage, that bravado in the first instance, to put themselves out there, something many brands remain hesitant to fully embrace. But KLM shows that, for those that do, the benefits of social can be huge. A truly inspiring social brand.