Phoenix from the ash cloud (or how KLM formulated its social media strategy)News / Distribution | Technology | OnlineBy Linda Fox | September 25, 2015Share This article was originally published on Think about airlines on social media and KLM usually comes top of mind for its tweets (not always scoring high), quirky campaigns and other initiatives on the various channels.The airline has taken social media seriously since the business case was written for it during the Icelandic volcano ash cloud in 2010. Over the course of four days, and with 100 volunteers, KLM responded with thousands of tweets to help customers.Social media hub manager Gert-Wim ter Haar says the airline stepped back for a couple of months to decide on approach and came up with what the airlines calls the "suitcase principle": "You can only do the cool stuff if you have the basics right."Share this quote Since then, the global social media team has grown to more than 150 people in different locations who respond within an hour to somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 questions a week across all platforms, although the majority is Facebook and Twitter.KLM creates a "case" for about 10,000 occasions where it sees a need to resolve an issue or find something out.The techFrom a systems point of view, KLM uses Radian6 to monitor campaigns and gauge sentiment and Salesforce for customer relationship management with conversations loaded via an API. This enables the airline to build up a profile of customers with conversations, purchasing behaviour, frequent flyer status and existing complaints.There is also two-way communication between the operations control centre and the social media hub so that teams have visibility on all areas and can quickly liaise for commercial decisions.The teamThe recruitment of the team is important in that they need to be able to read different situations and address them as well as different cultures and with the right tone. The airline even changed recruitment policy after profiling its three best social media agents to reveal those with journalistic experience to be a better match than those with reservation and customer complaint skills.Recruits initially go through a writing test where they are asked to respond to five Facebook posts and five Tweets to gauge how well they pick up on emotions and ability to respond with empathy. After further training they go through the test a second time.Get in lineAccording to ter Haar a number of drivers influence, who is to be handled first but as a general rule it is first come first served. If, for example, response times go up, then more urgent queries might require a faster response. "We have to watch out a little because if very influential people are being responded to earlier other customers get annoyed. We want agents to be aware that a reply could have a huge reach."Share this quote Making moneyOn top of the branding and reputation and the customer service sides of social media, KLM also makes money from the channels through ticket sales and other products and services. A social media payment system was implemented two years ago and the airline currently sees about Euro 25 million a year from social media campaigns.Developments for 2015Very little stays the same on social media and KLM is currently keeping an eye on WeChat, Weibo and the Korea-based KakaoTalk messaging app. Direct messaging is on the up and says ter Haar: "Chat apps are really the future of customer communication through social so we're looking at possible strategies to implement this."Share this quote The carrier is already trialing WhatsApp with 100 of its top Twitter followers and has also been seeing interesting results from Facebook Messenger with increases in volumes of questions of 40% overnight.A further ambition is to reduce response times to 30 minutes although ter Haar admits it's a challenge and down to staff availability, the right systems being in place to get accurate answers quickly and the ability to resolve service issues internally.Many developments such as the Schipol "lost and found" team have come about as a result of social media queries and feedback.A further focus for 2015 is on customer recognition and using the data to improve how effective the social media conversation is.Ter Haar says: "People want you to use their personal data. When they give it to you once, we see them get annoyed if we ask again for those details. Everything is changing towards hyper personal. They want to share data with you on a one-to-one or one-to-few conversation."Share this quote He adds that social media provides companies with the "largest customer feedback panel in the world" and to ignore it would be missing an opportunity to drive change in the airline.Further reading:Inside social media at Delta Air LinesNB: Phoenix image via Shutterstock.NB2: Reporter's flight and accommodation to social media hub was supported by KLM.