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Social media takes priority over bespoke apps at KLM: chief

KLM's focus for its digital strategy is to build its presence on existing social media platforms, rather than developing bespoke and exclusive apps, chief executive Pieter Elbers has indicated.

Speaking at the Aviation Festival in London on 8 September, Elbers said KLM had decided to use Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WeChat and, under a new trial, WhatsApp to communicate with customers and provide details including flight updates, check-in notifications and boarding passes.

Elbers says it would cost "a tonne of money" to develop specific apps to provide such functions and keep those apps up to date. He questions the sense of such investments, arguing that customers tend to use just a few apps with regularity.

KLM's passengers fly, on average, around 1.5 times per year with the SkyTeam carrier, he notes, and would thus use a bespoke app only rarely, says Elbers. He argues it is more viable to concentrate on the platforms "where customers are" already.

Around 60% of visits to KLM's website are made via mobile devices, says Elbers. He expects that this will approach 100% within three years.

Elbers notes that the objective of KLM's digital strategy is to improve customers' travel experiences rather than advance technology for its own sake. Thus, the Dutch airline identified "balancing human and digital interaction" as a central pillar of its strategy, he says.

He acknowledges that it is a challenge to ensure that the use of new digital technology across the airline keeps pace with consumer technology. As part of its efforts, KLM has provided 10,000 flight attendants with Apple iPads so that they have access to the same information – such as flight updates – as passengers can view on their devices.

However, Elbers notes: "There is a still a lot of work to be done... We are just at the beginning."

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