Integrating social media into customer service leadership
Live tweeting, KLM-style
Image: KLM
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Integrating social media into customer service leadership

I-CIO editorial team – October 2012

How Dutch airline KLM has cultivated greater customer service engagement by integrating its social media activities.

The April 2010 volcanic ash cloud, which caused large-scale disruption to air traffic in Europe, was a turning point for Dutch airline KLM in its use of social media. Over a period of six days, the cloud caused a vast number of flights to be delayed and canceled. Meanwhile, the customer service operations of virtually every airline flying in Europe — traditionally managed by phone, email and website — went into meltdown as they were unable to handle the enormous volume of communications required.

Thousands of frustrated passengers, stranded at airports and unable to obtain up-to-date information, turned to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to vent their feelings, seek assistance — and, where possible, share what useful information they had.

Rather than panicking, KLM viewed this widespread use of social media as
 an opportunity and set up an emergency desk in its Amstelveen, Netherlands headquarters, staffed by volunteers from across the company. The aim was to respond to as many social media messages as possible, put out updates as quickly as possible, and help customers rebook their flights as soon as the cloud cleared. The result was that angry passengers became satisfied customers. “People were really happy that we were helping them on social media, because we could answer them,” says Catharine Van Dijk, KLM’s manager of reputation and social media content. “And we managed to get everyone rebooked and home within a few days.”


“We have to treat social media as a set of mature channels — as important as the other communication channels.”

It taught KLM management a lesson: customers are going to talk about your business on social media, no matter what. So the best response is to track conversations as closely as possible and be present on the relevant platforms to provide the necessary responses as quickly and transparently as possible.

Therefore, once airline services returned to normal, KLM did not revert to its previous social media presence, which had mainly centered around basic conversations and early social marketing activities. It had seen the value of a team of social media specialists focused on delivering customer service that aims to exceed customers’ expectations. “We have to treat social media as a set of mature communication channels. They’re part of our communications strategy and as important as the other communication channels,” says Van Dijk.
Thousands of conversations

KLM now has a social media hub of over 50 people dedicated to delivering a valuable social experience via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, operating 24/7. Their aim is to respond to all relevant queries within one hour and find a solution where necessary within 24 hours — although average response and resolution times are actually much faster.

Metrics and monitoring — delivered with the aid of cloud-based tools such as Radian6, and Webtrends — are crucial for keeping on top of the social media conversations about KLM. (There are well over 2,000 conversations each week, and volumes are constantly increasing; while all are measured to gauge positive, negative or neutral sentiment.) A member of the social media team is dedicated to collecting and managing this data.

One of the company’s biggest challenges now is “to turn KLM into a social business,” says Van Dijk. The aim is to integrate social media into the DNA of all the company’s employees, as in order to resolve an issue or provide a response, service agents frequently have to refer to others for information or assistance. “We don’t have all the answers, so it’s very important that our colleagues are also involved,” she says.

The success of this social media integration is allowing the airline to trial innovative ways of serving its customers, such as a recent initiative called ‘Meet and Seat.’ This allows passengers to share their Facebook profiles with other passengers when checking in, and therefore decide who they’d like to sit next to. “This is a great example of how KLM is integrating a social tool within the processes that are already there,” says Van Dijk.

See how other major organizations are meeting the social media challenge across the business:

Deutsche Post takes a holistic approach to social media
• How Ford’s C-suite embraced the social agenda

KLM’s Catharine Van Dijk was speaking at The Social Media for Customer Service Summit

First published October 2012
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