pieter elbers klm

Pieter Elbers, KLM: How airlines can meet the demands of the future traveller

Pieter Elbers, COO and Deputy CEO, KLM explains how airlines can meet the demands of the future traveller.

KLM’s COO takes the stage on a day when France’s flag carrier, Air France is striking – the irony of which is not lost on Elbers.

Opening his presentation, Mr Elbers outlines what KLM as a brand aims to portray – Dutch, inspiration, open and reliable. Recent events such as the Icelandic ash cloud have led to the need for dramatic change in communication – and KLM are at the forefront of this. KLM use social media to communicate with passengers and are probably the most successful airline in this area. Press releases for communication have had their day as far as KLM are concerned.

Serving 61 countries with 131 destinations, the world has changed and traditional methods no longer apply. KLM serve more customers over social media than anywhere else. With this comes expectant and often impatient passengers – one example included a passenger complaining that they had been waiting for 20 minutes with no answers as to what is going on – God forbid. However, passengers and customers always prevail and if an airline doesn’t answer, it looks as though they are not taking their customers seriously. KLM aim to answer passenger queries within the hour which as you can imagine puts a high level of strain on staff.

And sometimes there are just bad days – weather, security complications and other issues that are not in the airline’s control. But the aim is to link social media and passengers connectivity online to reach the staff and passenger at the airport or on their flight.

Soon KLM will be looking at bag tags – another area which will actually add more pressure on to staff. Customers will soon know more than the airline about the whereabouts of their luggage.

Another area for improvement is anticipating new customer segments. Chinese travellers are a big percentage of KLM passengers and the airline has no Chinese speaking staff. An area that will be quickly addressed to maintain their high level of customer service.

Here are some of the ideas KLM are implementing to overcome challenges:

  • The bag tag – the journey begins here and the system knows you’re coming. There should be no need to print anything and tech such as scales that weigh luggage as passengers walk through to the terminal will exist, saving time
  • Smart boarding – where passengers board in order rather than getting stuck behind the slow guy who takes 10 minutes to put his luggage in the overhead container. However, Elbers points out cultural differences as this may not work in countries with impatient and disobedient residents…
  • Effectively using big data in the back and front end of the journey

The human factor remains key. It’s a delicate balance between moving forward and eliminating the human factor – and KLM need to make sure they don’t have idiots serving customers (Elbers own words!).

The passenger in 2020 will not be turning off all electrical equipment – they will always be connected. Passengers are no longer given one option with no other choice than to accept. They have choice and control, meaning airlines must adapt and take a personal and pro-active approach.

The answer is in combining technology and hospitality. KLM are learning by doing – testing, developing, testing, testing again and monitoring implementation.

What do you think?

Mr Elbers will be joining us at AirXperience in Amsterdam next May. Follow the banner below for more information on how you can be involved.

AirXperience 2015 Amsterdam Schiphol KLM

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[Picture: wemakepictures]