PRAGUE — Social business leader KLM, the airline that kickstarted the modern customer-support-via-social-media revolution, has 150 people dedicated to serving clients via social. And each of them represents almost $170,000 in annual revenue.

Perhaps social’s not a money sink anymore.

klm“Social is more and more becoming a profit center,” KLM’s social media manager Gert-Wim ter Haar told me today in Prague. “It’s first about service, then brand and reputation, but also about commerce … we have to make money.”

In addition to finding lost items, soothing bruised egos, and solving customer service issues, KLM social agents now can almost entirely manage new client bookings via Twitter, Facebook, or other social media. They’ll get desired flight details, timing, provide information on pricing, and, if the client is agreeable, provide a direct link to a payment page.

As soon as the credit card is processed, the KLM agents are notified and tell the client that their ticket is booked.


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This is the result, ter Haar told me, of connecting social media efforts to specific business metrics — in this case revenue.

KLM started serving clients via social as a matter of necessity. After the 2010 eruptions of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, tens of thousands of passengers were stranded. Unable to communicate via phone or other channels, they started reaching out to the company’s outposts on Facebook and Twitter. A KLM volunteer team of about 100 people responded to customer inquiries, and a new business channel was born.

twitter learning momentToday, the airline fields 70,000 queries a week, 24/7, in 14 languages. And, ter Haar said, it’s seeing a change in how people communicate.

“We see a tendency in social to go towards one-to-few networks, places that are less public and more private,” he told me. “If you want to stay ahead of the pack you have to start there.”

That means KLM is now on WeChat, where it fields 1,000 queries a week, and is currently doing a WhatsApp pilot.

“It’s a very nice customer service channel,” ter Haar said. “People feel very safe there.”

The data that KLM collects feeds into its social CRM efforts via Salesforce, where it ties Twitter handles or other social media data to customer records. Customer service agents can see the contextualized data in real time, and air crews can see it mid-flight — and add new insights — via an iPad application as well.

All that data is increasingly being used in KLM’s marketing in order to personalize communications and offers, ter Haar said.

But the result isn’t just financial. It’s also changing the company by bringing the outside in.

“All this is driving us to be more customer-centric.”