Dutch airline KLM is well known for experimenting with digital marketing in its different forms including social media.
No real surprise therefore when it emerged last year that the airline would be the first to use Facebook Messenger to interact with customers.
Sharing some of the rationale behind its Messenger presence, the airline’s digital strategy chief Guido van Til says it’s about being where the customer is.
He talks about the company going from being mobile and social-first, to mobile and social-only because that’s where customers are choosing to be.
With only 30% of the carrier’s passengers coming from its home market, van Til highlights the challenges of having to be where the other 70% are with local content, multiple languages, payment methods and meeting “local expectations in digital interaction”.
Speaking at the Amadeus Merchandising, Digital & Travel Intelligence Conference in Italy this week, van Til says:
“To achieve that, digital is vital. Before we were talking about bringing customer-facing processes online but today digital is everywhere, it’s an enabler. It’s dramatically changing our lives – the way we consume content, the way we buy products, the way we share reviews about those products, it’s all about digital and the consumer decides.”
He points to the rapid rate of mobile penetration in China as well as how regions such as Africa will likely skip desktops.
So recognising that many of its customers are now on mobile and social (20 million fans across social media networks), that’s where the airline is trying to be while simultaneously developing its own digital touchpoints.
Van Til says KLM sees the world as “a galaxy of digital giants and we are only a speck on it” but it is where customers are transacting.
“Look at WeChat – in the last Chinese New Year it had more financial transactions than PayPal over 2015 worldwide and still we try to get our customers to our touchpoints.”
This means the airline really has to look at where its potential customers start the process when planning travel and be prepared to distribute its products and services via APIs so that it’s there on Google Flights as well as ready to engage on Facebook Messenger.
Echoing Facebook’s David Marcus, he talks about conversational “threads being the new apps”.
But with services such as booking confirmation, check-in, boarding pass and flight status notifications already in the bag, van Gil says this is just the start of bringing everything to Messenger in terms of the customer journey
Early results are promising with KLM sending 150,000 messages in its first month of opening up the chat service.
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