Many airlines are improving their digital touch points to enhance the customer experience and simplify the journey, coming up with new and clever ways to entice, connect, engage with, and assist their customers.

But I’d like to make special mention of KLM as a case study of excellence.

Many of KLM’s current digital developments have been reported on here and elsewhere, but it’s easy to miss the big picture of what they’re doing—especially with an airline doing as much as KLM has done.

To review that Big Picture, here’s a review of KLM’s digital journey, point-to-point:

1) Travel Inspiration

You haven’t even thought of flying yet, but KLM is thinking about it for you.

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The airline sends regular tempting offers to customers, timed so that they are not overwhelming, but always present. They are sent somewhere between each four and six days, many on Tuesdays and Fridays. Those days seem ideally timed with “downtime” days at the office, the pause just after the hectic start of the week and the zoned-out day slipping into the weekend. KLM also rarely overlaps days when partner Air France sends out offers.

The promotional emails from both these airlines have two common elements: striking images and a simple format. They get your attention and don’t overwhelm. The presentation is clean and tidy. They make you want to click.

KLM also has a digital edition of its iFly Magazine sent to FlyingBlue members by email.

The new iFly travel inspiration multimedia page, marking the 50th anniversary of the magazine, is breathtaking.

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On the microsite, the cameo of the flight attendant is animated, moving and blinking naturally. The design is a breath of fresh air.

Sliders take you through 50 destinations, each with a unique story.

KLM is running a promotion on the iFly microsite offering free tickets to the top 5 dream destinations selected by the viewer with a heart.

Inspiring travel is one thing, but KLM also taps into popular curiosity about flight and airline operations in its engaging and informative blog ‘Meanwhile at KLM‘.

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The airline also shares destination details on Social Media, and of course promotions on the KLM site, but KLM is not repetitive. Each interaction feels fresh.

2) Travel management

KLM has one of the easiest to use airline websites out there. It’s extremely user friendly in quite obvious ways, but I particularly like that KLM has worked hard to make it more accessible by adjusting color for easier legibility.

The airline now offers various ways for customers to book and manage their reservations, each fitting their mobile preferences.

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The latest option is Facebook messenger. The beauty of this is that it blends digital convenience with a feeling of natural human interaction through the chat function. It’s engaging, which will work for many. The flight updates function will be particularly useful in disruptions management.

It also addresses the app-kill syndrome.

I love the KLM app, and the airline keeps improving it, but I’ve been pretty merciless about deleting apps from my devices between flights. I suspect I’m not alone.

The jury is still out on how much airlines can count on retaining device real estate.

The hassle of reinitiating an app once it’s been deleted may encourage retention, and KLM makes retention worthwhile with unique updates for Frequent Flyers, but moving beyond an app to a more natural interaction on platforms people already use frequently is smart.

Automated check-in features and baggage drops at Amsterdam Schiphol airport are easy to use and handy. Both partners should get points for that.

Then there’s Spencer

While the new Spencer the Robot at Amsterdam Schiphol is more promotion than standard tool for customer care, I like that KLM thought of this major travel disruption—knowing which way to head when you get out of the plane in an airport as large as Schiphol.

A gap is an opportunity

Way-finding functions are gaps yet to be addressed and so obviously helpful. Airports are establishing infrastructure for this, and trying to push their own apps as tools for visitors. There’s a natural and quite valid skepticism over whether visitors will use airport apps. Perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is for airlines to partner with their hub airports on integration.

A digital way-finding map feature is far more useful and easily deployed than a charming robot.

For airlines already focusing on Apple Watch apps—as KLM has done—there should be some thought about whether it’s possible to prompt way-finding through the watch. Again, there’s valid skepticism over whether the Apple Watch will endure. Speaking only for myself, I’ve found the way-finding prompts on the wrist when walking or driving has been one of the most useful Apple Watch features.

I think the airline and airport partnership that cracks the code on this will really benefit—if only from more timely departures.

Baggage Tracking

We’re still waiting on a final optimal solution to baggage tracking. It probably won’t be a digital device for now, when an RFID standard baggage tag will work just as well, is now more affordable, and could help airlines update customers on bag status through common interfaces like KLM’s Messenger app.

That said, I like Air France/KLM’s eTag and eTrack, if for no other reason that it looks like the future.

Like Spencer, I suspect, this future may be more Tomorrowland than tomorrow, but blue sky thinking makes the world much better.

3. In-Flight

KLM offers incredibly competitive fares, often rivaling the lowest of low-cost competitors once you roll-up the full cost of the trip. I’ve found that, a number of times, the most logical budget choice was KLM. I could pick and choose the services I wanted, and get where I was headed with few travel complications, layovers, delays, and added ground transportation costs.

KLM may not be one of the more lavish airlines in the market. Like other European airlines, its focus is on giving customers simple comforts onboard, and a feeling of being well looked after.

The KLM flying experience doesn’t match the luxury of other regions of the world, nor the over-the-top pampering—and it shouldn’t.

I believe that each airline should balance between price competitiveness and product appeal, blended with a strong service ethic, and keep the presentation of all of this in keeping with the demands of its core market.

Flagship airlines should also reflect their cultural values, the experience of their home destination, and the Netherlands, like much of Northern Europe are far more about clean, soothing, simple, design and pleasing environments than about gilded thrones. (I’m not knocking gilded thrones. Those are also fun to fly in. But they just don’t fit all airline brands.)

The KLM brand knows itself and markets itself accordingly—always with delightful Dutch whimsy.

That I can usually expect a lovely fresh sandwich made with local artisanal bread, a beverage and/or a stroopwafel with coffee feels perfectly luxurious by today’s flying standards. If I didn’t have those because my ticket was a bit cheaper, or my flight too short, I’d be OK with that too.

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KLM’s creative onboard gifting service is also a nice touch, and the airline lets gifts connect to Facebook or LinkedIn to select the lucky flyer who will receive the gift onboard. It’s a sweet touch. 

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4. Customer Caring

KLM also excels at digital customer service.

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Questions are answered quickly on various social media channels: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

On the one occasion I’ve had reason to reach out to them, their response has been immediate and incredibly helpful.

What better way to retain customers than to provide a quality product and back it up with quality service?

With all this, it’s no surprise that KLM has been nominated again this year for a Webby Award.

 

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