It's about communicating -- KLM uses Nexmo to get into the customer groove

It may just be plumbing, but it's plumbing that delivers better customer service for KLM customers.

wi-fi in flight

Two airline passengers use the BoardConnect service from Lufthansa Systems on their own wireless devices during a flight.

Credit: Lufthansa Systems

I am both a very frequent (400k+ mileage last year) and demanding (lots of emails to airline CEOs) traveler. As I sit inside an aluminum can at 30,000 feet, I spend time thinking about the customer experience I have as an air traveler and contrasting that experience with what I find in the rest of my life. I think about the way airlines interact with me and see where that pales when compared to the way that other organizations (from e-tailers to technology companies, from traditional retail to insurance organizations) go about their communications.

I'm often left unimpressed by the communication of the travel industry generally, and airlines specifically. Given that the bulk of my travel is with my national airline, Air New Zealand, that airline and its CEO, Christopher Luxon, has come in for an arguably unfair amount of criticism. Especially since Air New Zealand actually does a pretty impressive job of communicating in new and innovative ways with customers, it's just that my proximity to them means that and minor failings become particularly obvious.

Given my limited travel with other airlines, I'm always interested to see what happens more generally in the airline industry. A case in point is KLM, a company that has been highly innovative in recent years. Indeed, Salesforce has given KLM much love for their innovative use of social media and customer relationship management tools to make the customer experience as good as possible for its travelers.

But sometimes it's not the intent that makes that sort of thing hard, but rather the technological barriers.

A good example is when airlines need to integrate their own internal systems with those out in the public space. Airlines have notoriously archaic technology solutions, in part due to legacy issues and in part due to a necessary focus on security and reliability. This is good when you're trying to keep a plane running and on time, but not so good when you're trying to jump onto rapidly rising social engagement platforms.

Which is where a tool like Nexmo comes in handy. Nexmo is a communication platform company and that offers an API that allows organizations to integrate their own internal tools with the broader chat ecosystem -- tools like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber and other chat apps can be integrated into common CRM platforms such as Salesforce, SAP, Marketo and Bright Pattern with a single API.

Using the Nexmo API, KLM is able to communicate with customers on Facebook Messenger and WeChat. (While the WeChat integration already existed, KLM is now using the same API to integrate with Facebook Messenger.) What this means is that KLM is able to use its existing customer database and recognize when a customer contacts them via any social medium.

"At KLM, we believe we should be where our customers are. This means we want to offer our customers meaningful interactions on the platforms they already use and love, such as WeChat and Messenger,” said Martine van der Lee, manager social development and technology at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. “Nexmo enables us to do just that: By leveraging the Chat App API we are able to connect to these platforms and continue to innovate.”

While chat applications may not be a particularly common channel of communication between airlines and their customers, they are significant and growing. More importantly, this integration highlights that airlines need to integrate with ALL the different channels customers use -- be it voice, fax (!), social or chat. A simple monitoring service, that is disconnected from the airlines core CRM systems simply won't cut it -- these integrations need to be tied deeply into the core systems that airlines use.

This is a rapidly moving field, and I imagine that KLM will be rolling out increasingly more channels for communication with its customers in the future -- and that other airlines will follow suit.

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