KLM will be the first travel brand to trial a rebooking service via WhatsApp, the messaging app that claims nearly a billion users.
As of February, when passengers of a connecting flight at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol find that their flight is cancelled due to large flight disruptions, they will be offered the possibility to rebook their flight via WhatsApp.
The WhatsApp chat option should appeal to fliers, the Dutch airline says, as travelers no longer have to wait in the queue at Schiphol Airport. The service will be offered to passengers at Transfer Center 6, where a dedicated KLM WhatsApp number will be displayed on a large screen in case of large flight disruptions.
The news of KLM Rebooking Service coincides with WhatsApp's recent announcement that it is testing new tools that may pique the interest of consumer service companies -- particularly travel brands.
Its founder Jan Koum wrote in a blog post:
"Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from.
That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight."
Since earlier this year Starwood Hotels has been using Whatsapp and other chat apps to enable guests to make requests during their stay. (See this interesting first-person account of how it works.)
But the promised new tools would enable a more robust interaction for brands such as KLM and Starwood.
Koum has an incentive to get businesses using it for customer service and other interactions quickly. WhatsApp is scrapping the subscription fees of typically 99 cents a month that it had been charging users because those fees were stymieing consumer adoption.
It also has a policy of not running advertisements, which also limits its revenue. So the B2B play is an important plank for Whatsapp's revenue growth.
Some travel companies may see an opportunity.
The key advantage of Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and similar chat apps was best summarized by David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook, in an in-depth interview with Wired UK in November:
"Once you interact with a business, you open a thread that will stay forever. You never lose context, and the business never loses context about who you are and your past purchases. It removes all the friction."
Cost is another advantage: Live chat, to cite industry averages, cost up to one half of maintaining a traditional call center, says the consulting firm McKinsey.
Uber, Hyatt, and KLM experiment with Facebook Messenger
The move is significant for the Facebook-owned company. Facebook's own Messenger communications tool recently began letting users reserve Uber car rides through it.
Last autumn, Hyatt became the first travel brand to participate in Facebook's Businesses on Messenger program, as Digiday first reported.
A user who searches for Hyatt in the chat app can quickly start a conversation, thanks to an integration via the third-party service Conversocial, whose other clients include Alaska Airlines and Air New Zealand.
Guests have been chatting to make housekeeping requests, to say that they'll be arriving late, and to note other service issues.
Hyatt said that user adoption has been quick. About 10% of the customer service messages that arrive through social channels to it now come via Facebook Messenger, without the hotel doing any promotion of that channel, according to a report in Wired this week.
KLM has begun using Messenger as a tool for chatting with customers, as Tnooz was first to report in September. It says it saw increases in volumes of questions of 40% overnight.
That said, as of today, KLM's identity doesn't yet pop up when searching for users within Messenger -- the way Hyatt's does. Users can instead contact it via its Facebook brand page.
The Dutch carrier plans to provide booking confirmations and boarding passes over the app via a concierge service that Facebook has been beta-testing.
Additional reporting and analysis by Linda Fox.
Starwood and Whatsapp are elevating the customer service experience -- a first-person report
Facebook Messenger: inside Zuckerberg's app for everything -- Wired UK
A glimpse at what Facebook Messenger and M might do for travel
As Apple and others get emotional, where might travel fit in?
NB: Image courtesy of Sam Azgor/Flickr via Creative Commons