KLM’s Social Efforts Generated €25 Million in 2014 — A Look Inside The Strategy

The head of KLM's social media team talked strategy with SocialTimes at the Socialbakers Engage conference in Prague, explaining how the airline turns unhappy passengers into brand ambassadors.

One of the biggest demerits against social marketing has been that it’s tough to prove direct return on investment.

Don’t tell that to Gert Wim ter Haar, the social media hub manager at Dutch airline KLM. His company’s social team turns irate passengers into happy brand ambassadors — generating an extra 25 million Euro last year for the company.

Wim ter Haar doesn’t see an angry customer as something to be placated or ignored, shipped to a 1-800 customer service number or a boilerplate FAQ page. He sees opportunity for great change, he told SocialTimes at the Socialbakers Engage conference in Prague:

For some companies, it’s more of a challenge to engage with the more negative ones. We really see them as an opportunity to shine. Really, (we try) to bring a customer from a negative sentiment or even a neutral or positive sentiment. We see a huge number of customers being repeat customers. Even people who started out a few years ago as negative customers or a very critical customer are now being very positive and you could almost say ambassador for our brand. Teach your teams to see negative or critical questions as a chance to shine and show what service is about.

Wim ter Haar stresses using social to truly connect with customers, inviting them to utilize Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn to connect their accounts. Here’s a look at one instance when KLM was able to bypass the troubleshooting process and help a frustrated consumer, just be knowing their profile.


KLM embraces the feedback — good and bad, Wim ter Haar said. Especially working in a vertical — airline travel — where most consumers take to social media to vent about lost baggage or delayed flights, Wim ter Haar said that going the extra mile and not being afraid can help change that sentiment.

Something else KLM also excels at is having an active presence where their consumers are, and not some where the company thinks they should be. In addition to Facebook, Twitter (where you can even book a flight), Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn, KLM is active on WeChat, Sina Weibo and VK.

Even if you can’t afford 24/7 customer service (and to be fair, KLM has a team of 150 people on customer service) on multiple platforms worldwide, there’s an important lesson to be learned — go where your customers are instead of worrying about which sites you should be on. Wim ter Haar discussed this with SocialTimes:

So, (we did) a lot of market research, a lot of contact with local establishments. Want to be where your customers are. If your customers in a certain country say, “No, I’m going to be on that specific platform,” you have to follow them there. … You can say, “Guys, we are present on Facebook,” but if your customers aren’t there, and they’re on another platform, it doesn’t make sense that you’re present on Facebook. You have to go where the customers are. It’s more pull marketing instead of push marketing.

The biggest takeaways:

Don’t be afraid to engage critical or angry customers. Talking with them and not just shuffling them to your website can leave a lasting impression that the customer will remember.

Study where your customers are and how they’re engaging already. Don’t invest in one platform or another just to look good, but go where your customers are already talking.

Image courtesy of KLM on Facebook.