How a Volcano Created a World-Class Social Media Program for KLM Airlines

Karlijn Vogel-Meijer, Manager Social Media at KLM, joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to discuss the value of a social customer support team and the necessity of learning from your mistakes in social media.

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Full Episode Details

Social Service on Social Media

Karlijn Vogel-Meijer joins the Social Pros Podcast this week, live from Social Media Marketing World in San Diego. Karlijn manages social media at KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), which is no small task, as KLM gets about 60,000 mentions per week on social media. That huge number is due, in large part, to customers with issues reaching out and saying, “KLM, I have a problem.”

Karlijn has developed a 150-member (and growing) social media team that is responsible for 24/7 customer support in 14 languages.

And KLM’s huge social media customer service team is different than the phone team. Karlijn and her team believe that social media requires specific skills that can be very different from the skills needed for phone service. Specifically on Twitter, where you have a couple of characters to solve someone’s problems. It takes specific skills that someone who is exceptional on the phone may not have.

“We believe that social service is the basis of everything we do on social media.” 

This around-the-clock social media customer support began a few years ago when a huge ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland stopped plane traffic in the whole of Europe. Suddenly, thousands of customers were trying to reach KLM by phone and email. KLM had a social media presence as most companies did at the time, but they were getting flooded with questions on Twitter and Facebook about travel plans. They knew if they started diving into answering questions on social media, there was no turning back. So they took the plunge.

The biggest challenge was starting right away. “There were hundreds of people from all over KLM being put behind a table with a laptop answering questions from customers.” They started from 9 to 5 in English and Dutch, then expanded. After all, for an airline, people aren’t traveling on a 9-to-5 schedule.

This kind of strategy was made possible at KLM because it was supported from the top down. A lot of companies don’t have the internal support for social media customer support because the higher ups don’t understand that it gains revenue in the end. They understand the value of phone and email, but not social. Social is too public; the company is vulnerable if something goes wrong.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

And things do inevitably go wrong. Mistakes will be made.

For example, during the 2014 World Cup, KLM tweeted “Adios, amigos” at the moment that the Dutch soccer team won against the Mexican team. People went ballistic!

KLM first panicked and made the mistake of removing the tweet, which of course was viewed as trying to cover it up. “After the panic, we decided to be frank about it and to write a blog to explain what happened and to apologize.” The apology was very well received and turned the tide on the perception of the company. But it came after a mistake, and then panic. They learned their lesson and moved on, which is all you can do in the fast-paced world of social media.

See you next week!

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