How KLM Flies the Talk and Builds Passenger Loyalty

I’ve introduced one-tweet trip reports, to get travel reviews out to Flight Chic followers quickly and concisely, but I didn’t do this on my last trip to APEX TEC in California.  I couldn’t because there was just so much good to say about KLM–and all the good came from something bad.

I was scheduled to depart for my KLM/Air France codeshare flight AF1765 from Billund to Paris Charles de Gaulle on Monday 17 November at 7:25 am.  Ideally, this meant arriving at the airport by 6:25 am, which meant leaving my home in a micro-village by a fjord in the remote Danish countryside of Midtjylland by 5:25 am.  I should have gone to bed early so that I’d be all rested and ready for the long trip to Los Angeles.  But, I’m a writer and my brain doesn’t turn off that easily.  At 23:40, I was still wide awake and working.  That was a bad thing, but it turned out to be a good thing.  I received an email from Air France notifying me of a half hour flight delay.  Big deal, right?  Wrong.  My connection from the regional G Terminal at CDG to the International E Terminal to catch my CDG-LAX flight was already tight enough.  The plane was scheduled to depart at 10:30 am and that half hour lost was just enough to ensure that I’d miss my connection.  This definitely woke me up.

The best way to reach KLM and Air France at this hour (at any hour) is on Twitter, so I got busy tweeting.

The first Direct Message reply I received from KLM was reasonable, under most circumstances.

Royal Dutch Airlines Royal Dutch Airlines
@KLM
Dear Marisa, there is no need to panic. If your first flight has a delay causing you to miss your flight in Paris, you will be rebooked at the transfer desk at the airport in Paris. If you run into anything else, please do not hesitate to contact us!
01:47 AM – 17 Nov 14
All good, EXCEPT, my first meeting was 8:00 am PST on Tuesday, and I’d be returning on Wednesday evening.  Plus, Charles de Gaulle is not just around the corner from Billund.  There was no point to my risking a flight out which may or may not lead me to alternate connections which might or might not at some point later Monday evening.  I might as well cancel the trip.  I did NOT want to do that.  I said as much to KLM and asked whether my itinerary could be changed in any way to ensure I’d get where I was headed when I needed to be there.  I was flexible.  I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I just wanted to know what to do in the few hours remaining before heading out.  KLM replied quickly.
Hello Marisa, we will look into the options. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
02:20 AM – 17 Nov 14

Hello Marisa, unfortunately itineraries with one stop over are not available anymore. We can offer you the following flights: KL1344 17NOV BLL AMS 1220 1330, KL6059 17NOV AMS MSP 1500 1708 and KL6524 17NOV MSP LAX 1926 2129. Could you let us know what you agree with this option?
02:33 AM – 17 Nov 14

I wasn’t trying to be a flying diva.  Normally, I’m a very easy-going flyer.  Switching to two connections would have been just fine, under most circumstances.  Except circumstances weren’t good on this day with the weather in the Northern US, and I feared that I might never get to Los Angeles at all.  I told KLM this wouldn’t work.  Again, KLM responded promptly.

We will have a look and get back to you, Marisa. Thank you for your patience.
03:00 AM – 17 Nov 14

All this time, I did my own frantic online search for alternatives.  Things weren’t looking good.  On some airlines no better options were available.  On the few carriers where something was available, I’d be paying up the nose to get out there.  Frankly, more than I could afford.  I was ready to throw call it quits, cut my loses on the ticket purchased, miss a meeting I was very much looking forward to, and take my lumps.  Or, risk the flight out to CDG and hope that KLM would send me back home if I missed my flight–without having to waste the rest of the journey to still not make my meetings.  

Then, the totally unexpected happened.

Dear Marisa, would the following flights suit you: LH843, 17NOV, BLL-FRA, 06:20-07:50 // LH456, 17NOV, FRA-LAX, 10:10-12:45 ?
03:24 AM – 17 Nov 14  

I couldn’t believe it!  Here was KLM willing to get me on a competitor’s flight–an airline member of a competing alliance–for a flight I couldn’t even buy online myself.  I had looked at it, and there were just no seats left!  I had no idea how KLM had worked this magic, and I had almost no time left to get to the airport, so I said yes right away.   I’d have been a fool not to.  Shortly thereafter, I got my itinerary confirmation from KLM.

Dear Marisa, your new tickets have been issued. Please take not that your first flight, LH843 is set to depart at 06:20 already!
03:57 AM – 17 Nov 14

Do the maths: 6:20 flight departure, 5:20 arrival at Billund, meant I had to be out the door at 4:20!  The tickets came in just in the nick of time. Fortunately, my bags were packed from the day before, and I’m a quick dresser.  I was all set to go–so I went.    

A happy ending?  No.  It gets better.

In my rush, I didn’t pay much attention to my seating assignment.  I didn’t know how KLM had managed to get me on a flight that was fully booked, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted to get where I was headed and I’m not all that tall so being stuck in the middle seat of the centre row anywhere on the plane would have worked for me.  It wasn’t until I boarded my Lufthansa plane that I discovered my seat was in the aisle, in front of the emergency exit, in Premium Economy.  This was too much.

You have to understand that I am not a high-status flyer on any airline.  I jump around too much, and travel I budget.  Very budget.  I’m an unashamed bare-bones flyer.  Give me the best unbundled deals, and I’ll pick the features that matter to me on each particular flight.  If you have the schedule I need, at a fare that I want, then I book.  Otherwise, sorry.  Though I write about the industry, I don’t ask for or expect any special treatment.  In fact, I felt a little bad that KLM had gone this far for me.  It just didn’t seem like a good deal for them.

I did not write this post in exchange for that upgrade.  There were no promises made from either party.  KLM just came through because I was a customer in trouble, and that is what impressed me the most.

KLM has produced a great number of promotions which have gone viral on Social Media this year, some more authentic than others.  They’re all smart marketing initiatives, but it’s what happens behind the scenes, day to day, that really matters.

Does this mean that I’ll only fly KLM from now on?  No.  Will I search KLM’s website first, and look elsewhere only if their schedule doesn’t suit my needs?  You bet!  Notice I say schedule, not fares.  

I know KLM is competitive.  I’ve shopped them enough to know they’re one of the most competitive airlines in my market, but I’m less likely to worry about the Kroner and Øre now (within reason) because flying with KLM just makes good sense.

And, yes, the outbound flight on Lufthansa was very nice, Lufthansa is consistently pleasant to fly on.

The return flight at the back of Economy on Air France was nice too.  The IFE was tiny and outdated (but I had my own IFE on my iPad and I needed to sleep), the aircraft is ready for a refresh (but clean), the menu was meh (but I can afford to lose a few pounds).  Most importantly, the crew was professional and friendly.  To me, that makes all the difference in the world.  The purser on our flight was retiring that day–our flight was the last of her long career.  One of her colleagues made the announcement when we landed, and all the passengers clapped.  It was a nice personal touch to cap-off the trip.

On my Hop! flight back to Billund from CDG, I spilled my sparkling water all over my lap.  You know how that looked.  I had a spare pair of jeans in my little carry-on and rushed to the lavatory at the back to change.  The flight attendant was visibly concerned about my “accident” and relieved when I told her it was only water.  I understood.   There’s plenty enough grossness for flight attendants to deal with on the job.  She went out of her way to get me a fresh glass of water when I got back to my seat.  I wasn’t expecting that nice touch either.

Brand managers in the aviation industry refer to customer touch points all the time: the little niceties along the way, in design and detail, which build an emotional connection with the airline.  What better touch point than great people throughout the organization, from the reservations to customer service to crew?

Keep making those videos that make us cry, KLM, but–so long as you maintain this level of excellence in customer care–you’ll always find me smiling.

Featured Image: KLM Lost and Found Hound.  I was definitely lost, and KLM found the perfect way to help me.  I’m confident that, next time you have travel troubles, they’d go out of their way to find the right solution for you.

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