Saturday, 18 December 2010

KLM does an amazing job using Twitter to rebook stranded passengers

One of the most interesting (and useful!) uses of social media during the recent snow-related air traffic disruption in Europe has been that of Dutch airline KLM, using Twitter to communicate with passengers, not only to inform and receive feedback but also to take specific action to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

KLM (@klm on Twitter) started taking rebooking requests from stranded passengers and notifying them of their new schedules.

Here you can find some examples:

The procedure is not without its faults, and one of them is privacy, private information and details of flight itineraries were being aired on Twitter for everyone to see.

When I was monitoring the KLM stream to write this post, I could even see a personal acquaintance tweeting his details to the airline, then a few minutes after that, KLM confirming new flight details to him, but with a typo, I quickly pointed this error to the airline and then got in touch with my friend too in order to let him know...this is absolutely powerful stuff! I was participating in the rescheduling of a flight plan from my own desk miles away from the airport where all this was taking place!

This obviously raises some interesting questions about privacy: as I could see what was going on, so did millions of other people...this is the reason KLM was also asking passengers to DM (direct message) the company (also through Twitter) in order to make communications private, however, you can only DM people on Twitter if you follow each other, something easy to do but that requires some coordination.

In any case, it seemed that people were valuing more the convenience of being able to sort out their travel schedule than any lack of privacy. In any case, and I guess in order to avoid any legal or security problems, KLM posted a note on its Facebook profile shortly after announcing that it was going to remove all references to private information from its Twitter stream...

In summary, a curious situation and, setting legal implications aside, a possible case study of the trade-off, privacy vs. convenience, that people have to do when engaging in conversation in social networks: if you keep too much information private, your presence in social networks loses its "raison d'être", as you will have problem sharing and communicating, on the other hand, it is necessary that you have a choice on what information you keep to yourself...

While I am finishing to write this post I realize that even Twitter has some limits:

But, in any case, kudos to KLM for understanding the power of Twitter and going the extra-mile in customer service!

What is sure is that air travel disruption is proving a test-ground for social media in its crisis-management function!


rjtklein said...

This sounds like a nice and positive story, but having heard first-hand what the situation was like at Schiphol yesterday I doubt this was a deliberate strategy. I suspect KLM had no choice but to resort to Twitter and Facebook. Their ground staff at Schiphol appeared very poorly informed about the situation and were unable to deal with the thousands of stranded people, the KLM website was down for a while and contacting KLM by phone was impossible most of yesterday.

It's great for people with smartphones and Twitter or Facebook accounts that they can get KLM to respond to them, but most stranded passengers would like to be able to rely on the more 'traditional' ways of getting customer service.

It also appears to be KLM company policy never to apologise for anything. I wonder if that's to avoid any legal consequences: does apologising imply assuming responsibility for failure? But then, the Dutch aren't known for common courtesy to start with, so the rudeness seems fitting.

Allplane: all about aviation, airlines and air travel said...

Thanks for your comment rjtklein, I got similar feedback from friends of mine that were left stranded on KLM London-AMS flight, they do not use Twitter and the "traditional" channels did not work well and got really poor customer service through point here was to highlight how airlines are exploring new channels to engage with clients and putting this into practice in real situations, although, true, this is currently valid only for a very small fraction of total passengers (whose experience has possibly been very different). You are also very right in pointing out how this was possibly not the result of a deliberate strategy, however this has been the norm in all the previous air traffic crisis we have had this year (volcano ash, Spanish ATC strikes) where airlines and institutions have had to improvise first but what they have learned through the experience has been the basis of a long-term, better planned social media strategy to engage with their customers, in this regard I woud recommend the following two posts:

rjtklein said...

Hi Allplane, thanks for your reply. Re deliberate strategy or not, this message on the KLM Facebook wall suggests it wasn't quite as well thought through as you make it sound:

KLM: Please send us your bookingcode, full name and email address in a DM to Amber Groothuis. Our Facebookaccount does not allow us to send DM's anymore and we have limited possibility to post on the wall. We will confirm your rebooking via e-mail.
about an hour ago

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