KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has announced that it is the first airline, and one of the first companies around the world, to join the WhatsApp Business platform.
The airline will now offer customers booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding passes, flight status updates on the WhatsApp messaging service, and answer customer questions around the world in 10 different languages.
The new service is part of a pilot program by WhatsApps to extend its reach beyond personal messaging and into business applications. WhatsApp has created a dedicated enterprise solution which is being rolled out in a limited number of countries with broader availability in the coming weeks.
KLM president & CEO Pieter Elbers says of the new service:
“I am very proud that KLM is the world’s first airline with a verified WhatsApp account. This unique partnership with WhatsApp underlines our position as an aviation pioneer.
"We want to be where our customers are and, given the 1 billion users, you have to be on WhatsApp. With an account verified by WhatsApp, we offer our customers worldwide a reliable way to receive their flight information and ask questions 24/7. This truly is a major next step in our social media strategy.”
KLM has been consistently adding platforms and discovering new digital platforms on which to connect and transact business with customers over the past few years.
Beyond offering customer services on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the airline has also added Facebook Messenger service, WeChat services, recently adding WeChat Pay, and is also active on Korea’s KakaoTalk.
The airline maintains a staff of 250 dedicated agents on its social media team who process over 100,000 weekly mentions, about 15,000 of which are questions or comments.
Still, KLM has experimented with AI to boost the performance of human service agents, working with DigitalGenius in San Francisco to accelerate the responsiveness of its CRM tools, making it easier for agents to find the information customers need.
KLM director of social media Karlijn Vogel-Meijer explains that the addition of the WhatsApp platform is just another way for customers to reach the airline, in line with a strategy by KLM to be everywhere customers might be already, rather than forcing customers into one specific platform or another.
“For a company like KLM, it's very important to be where your customers are.”
What WhatsApp brings to the table are numbers. The airline finds the statistics of international adoption warrant adding the new platform. For example, in Brazil, 85% of all citizens actively use WhatsApp.
It is also a significantly more popular messaging platform in the Netherlands than Facebook Messenger. In the US market, Messenger is predominant. In Asia, and particularly in China, KLM customers prefer WeChat. By adapting its CRM to all of these platforms, the airline can better serve all customers, Vogel-Meijer explains.
Adding messaging services has proven more encouraging to KLM customers than the open platforms of Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, she tells us.
“What we have seen happening is that from the moment that we introduced messenger we immediately saw a shift from questions asked on the Facebook wall to Messenger.”
That shift also adds volume to number of queries that agents have to process. To ensure it runs smoothly, KLM integrated the WhatsApp Business API to its existing Salesforce CRM as well as to the DigitalGenius AI which enhances the CRM with intelligent answers that agents can supply more quickly. As the KLM platforms expand, speed matters, as does process simplification.
“When you talk about messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, people want an answer as soon as possible.”
With full integration of WhatsApp, Salesforce and Digital Genius, KLM agents can either send customers the message suggested by the API in response to their query or modify it, to be more appropriate, which also helps train the algorithm to give more appropriate answers.
With a staff of 250 agents already, the question remains how many more services and more direct replies KLM might manage before having to move to automation in order to keep up. Vogel-Meijer acknowledges that there are limits to the practicality of 100% human response, but she believes there is a satisfactory compromise.
“Some questions are very straight forward and very simple, so perhaps we can automate those. We cannot continue to add more and more agents..I believe that the role of artificial intelligence will be bigger, but a company like KLM is known for its personal service and we have to be sure [any AI] has the same sentiment.
"Using WeChat in China, we learned a lot from the Chinese market. Chinese people are more comfortable dealing with response via AI or via bot, and we expect that same comfort level will expand globally, in time.”
For the time being KLM intends to keep its personal service at the forefront of its strategy. The airline will continue to apply digital technology to allow those KLM agents around the world to accomplish more things, for more people, in more places, at once.
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