KLM might be the “world’s oldest airline,” but judging from its digital presence, you wouldn’t know that.
The company prefers to have a first-mover advantage when it comes to testing out new apps and technologies. Two years ago, it proclaimed to be the “first airline” with a verified WhatsApp business account, and it has its own artificial intelligence bot (Blue-Bot) that helps customers through Facebook Messenger. The carrier is also taking a more forward-thinking approach to sustainability as climate change becomes more of a hot-button issue.
Pieter Groeneveld, svp of digital at the airline’s parent company, Air France-KLM, is in charge of spearheading these efforts. “I have a bit of tech FOMO,” he said, explaining that the brand tries to be in the “front row” when it comes to experimenting with new technologies.
At 100 years old, KLM is far from a digitally native brand. This means that every new platform and channel that comes out is an opportunity for the airline to jump in, but it’s often difficult to determine what has legs and what is simply a passing fad.
“Sometimes things that seem like a big deal don’t end up going anywhere,” said Seth Kaplan, airline expert and transportation analyst for NPR show Here & Now. For instance, he said some airlines built booking engines on Facebook a few years back, which turned out to be something that never really took off.
Perhaps the more pressing issue for KLM is the rise of flight shaming (flygskam in Swedish), a movement that’s picked up steam, particularly in Europe. While the International Council on Clean Transportation recently placed KLM fourth on a list of 20 airlines based on transatlantic fuel efficiency, the industry as a whole is increasingly being held accountable for its role in global warming.
Much of KLM’s digital strategy involves positioning itself as an early adopter. Over the past few years, it has begun experimenting with voice assistants to see how people interact with them.
On Google Home, the airline has four voice-activated services. One feature helps people search for and book flights while another, called the pack assistant, uses destination information to help travelers determine what to bring on their trip. Earlier this year, KLM expanded some of its voice capabilities to Amazon Alexa as well.
Groeneveld said that pack assistant helps KLM attract and get feedback from people using the device. “For us, it is a way to learn how the customer is dealing with this kind of new touch point,” he said.
As part of its overall effort to establish itself as a leader in sustainable aviation, KLM recently rolled out its “Fly Responsibly” initiative that encourages people to think twice before booking their next flight, such as recommending they take trains or hold a video chat meeting with long-distance colleagues. Kaplan said that while many airlines are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints, KLM is the only one using advertising to encourage people to fly less.
KLM tapped Dutch agency DDB Unlimited to launch the initiative.
“The decision for an environmentally friendly production was made early in the concepting phase,” said Esther te Pas, managing director at DDB Unlimited. “We knew it would be a very bold step for KLM to launch the ‘Fly Responsibly’ initiative and that it could be met with skepticism.”
According to KLM, “Fly Responsibly,” which was unveiled in June, has already shown nascent signs of success. “If I compare it with other initiatives, it’s resulted in a very high percentage of positive feedback,” Groeneveld said.
During a recent two-week period when KLM offered discounted flights as part of an annual promotion, the brand offered to double any amount paid by customers to its carbon offset program. KLM said this led to “three times higher participation” in its CO2Zero program.
On the digital side, KLM said it is boosting awareness of the “Fly Responsibly” messaging through landing pages, emails, banners and social media. It also ran DDB Unlimited’s spot for the initiative on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Its other undertakings in the digital realm are posting results as well. According to the brand, 1,500 people per week use its Google Home booking flow tool to search and book flights. Additionally, KLM said that using AI for social media has resulted in a 58% decrease in handling time for agents.