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Flying the Social Skies: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

The Icelandic ash cloud and consequent airspace closure in Europe in April 2010 forced KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which transports more than 23 million passengers each year, to rethink its interactions with customers. With individuals stranded for days and no one sure how to reach them, the airline was at a loss when trying to help its customers. That realization prompted KLM to add a social element to its service delivery, and the change reduced its first-contact resolution time from seven days to 24 hours and the initial response time from several hours to one hour maximum.

In the months following the volcanic explosion, KLM, which has 33,400 employees and generated 8.6 billion euros ($11.3 billion) in the last fiscal year, decided to monitor social media interactions. As the company, which has been in business since 1919, began to track these conversations, the need to tie those activities into its contact center became clear.

By the end of the year, the airline, which merged with Air France in 2004, had put together a requirements sheet outlining various criteria, like the system's analytical and reporting functionalities, ease of use, maturity, cost, and workflow features. Out of 15 possible suppliers, Salesforce.com's Service Cloud was deemed the best match.

KLM liked the product's workflow and case management features. Also, Saleforce.com's Application Programming Interface was flexible enough to be tied into existing and new applications. The airline also deemed that a cloud platform would be highly scalable and able to grow as its service features expanded. "A plus was the fact that the Salesforce.com Service Cloud solution allows sub-departments within the company [the ones not using Salesforce.com] to interact," says Viktor van der Wijk, director of digital marketing at Air France KLM.

The cloud CRM service solution was deployed in the spring of 2011. But neither Salesforce.com nor KLM had much experience integrating Twitter and Facebook into CRM applications. Tweaking the components so the system met KLM's service-level guidelines required some give-and-take.

Once the glitches were resolved, Service Cloud enabled the airline to collect, track, and trace all social conversations in one place and to measure its brand sentiment on the Web. To evaluate the data, the company put a lot of manpower behind the initiative. Its Web care team is comprised of a social media hub manager, social media service agents, a corporate communications expert, a reputation manager, copywriters, and a team composed of four social media channel managers, a dedicated marketing manager, and a communications manager.

By forming its social media team, the airline gained more flexibility in serving its customers. "We were now able to respond to service requests of passengers related to their flight or general questions related to the airline through social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook," van der Wijk explains.

About 50 KLM employees use the Salesforce.com Service Cloud, reviewing, on average, about 1,800 tweets and 400 comments posted on the KLM Facebook wall per day.

All of these interactions are automatically loaded into Salesforce.com, so KLM personnel can respond to them.

The use of social media has been pushed down to the local level. Employees now monitor Twitter and Facebook posts to see if any problems have arisen and work together to address issues, such as lost bags or delayed flights.

The airline is also improving internal communications via Salesforce.com Chatter and trying to increase cooperation between central specialist teams and individuals at local sites.

Additional enhancements are in the works. In March 2011, Salesforce.com acquired Radian6, a Canadian company with a social media monitoring/listening tool. KLM had previously purchased the product and is now working with Salesforce.com to integrate the two and improve the customer experience.

A few years ago, KLM decided to move to the forefront of the social media movement. Now, as a social enterprise, the company can identify customers' experiences at check-in, in the lounge, or while collecting their bags, and take steps to ensure it serves its customers well.

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