Is this seat taken?

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Is  this  seat  taken?   KLM  Meet  and  Seat   Hans Borgman (ESC-Rennes, France)

  On  February  3,  2012,  KLM  (part  of  Air   France/KLM)  launched  Meet  &  Seat,  a   service  that,  according  to  KLM,  makes  it   the  first  airline  in  the  world  to  integrate   social  networks  in  the  flight  process.   Through  Meet  &  Seat,  passengers  will  be   able  to  use  Facebook  or  LinkedIn  profiles   of  fellow  passengers  to  select  their  seat   (see  Figure  1).  The  new  service  is  part  of   a  broader  social  media  strategy  that,   according  to  KLM,  will  lead  to  a   transformation  of  the  organization.  



Journeys  of  Inspiration  

According  to  Erik  Varwijk  (Managing   Director  KLM),  KLM  wants  to  take  out   the  word  media  from  the  term  social   media  business.  The  organization  started   with  a  number  of  experiments,  of  which   the  communication  and  organization   around  the  ash  cloud  disruptions  in  2010   were  the  first.    Confronted  with   thousands  of  stranded  customers  and  an   overloaded  call  center,  KLM  learned  that   social  media  were  the  best  channel   through  which  they  were  able  to  help   stranded  passengers  with  individual   Figure  1  KLM  poster  introducing  Meet  &  Seat   solutions.  As  a  result,  resources  became   available  and  KLM  got  serious  about  social  media.  One-­‐time  marketing  event   ‘KLM  surprise’  in  late  2010  (,  and  24/7-­‐customer  service  via   Twitter  followed,  with  ‘social’  campaigns  such  as  Secret  Cities  and  the  mile-­‐high   dance  party  Fly2Miami,  both  in  March  2011,  and  Live  Reply  in  September  2011   (see  Figure  2).  With  Meet  &  Seat,  the  airline  now  really  wants  to  make  the   transformation  to  a  social  business.  As  part  of  this,  it  has  set  the  objective  to  not   only  answer  any  message  that  comes  through  social  media  within  1  hour,  but   also  solve  any  issue  brought  up  within  a  maximum  of  24  hours,  no  matter  how   complex.                                                                                                                    

1  This  case  is  based  in  part  on  a  blog  by  Thijs  Albers  of  Ibou  Consulting  &  Management  (The  Netherlands)  

that  appeared  on  February  3,  2012  on  Used  with  permission.  



KLM  links  their  'social  business'  initiative  to  the  overall  goal  to  'inspire  people'  as   expressed  in  their  motto  'journeys  of  Inspiration':  what  started  with  the  surprise   project  now  includes  the  opportunity  to  connect  with  your  fellow  passengers   through  social  media.  

From  Social  Media  to   Social  Business    

Transforming  into  a  social   business  is  no  small  task.  In  a   typical  week  (early  2012)   KLM  receives  around  14,000   messages,  of  which  10,000   via  Twitter  and  4,000  via   Facebook.  Impressive   numbers,  which  can  only  be   expected  to  grow.  At  the   February  2012  press  conference,   KLM  announced  it  had  just   welcomed  its  1  millionth  fan  on   Facebook.  In  October  of  the  same   year  the  counter  passed  2   million.  These  are  not  just  pretty   impressive  numbers  –  placing  KLM   Figure  2  KLM  Live  Reply  (Sept  2011)   second  worldwide  in  the  aviation  industry  after  Southwest  airlines  –  but  analysis   has  shown  that  these  ‘fans’  turn  out  to  be  quite  engaged  with  the  company:  KLM   actually  is  becoming  ‘social’.  One  in  ten  (10%)  of  its  fans  had  interaction  with   KLM,  which  is  considered  to  be  a  very  high  percentage.  It  is  for  good  reason  that   KLM  has  set  up  a  Social  Media  Hub,  where  (July  2012)  50  FTE  are  continuously   involved  with  social  media.  Online  24/7  since  July,  2011,  The  Social  Media  Hub   (Oct  2012)  offers  support  in  Dutch,  English,  Spanish,  German  and  Japanese.  The   team  is  supported  by  a  cloud-­‐based  IT  system  using  and  Radian6,   and  includes  a  'manager  social  business',  Lonneke  Verbiezen,  and  an  'online   reputation  manager',  Jochem  van  Drimmelen.  The  team  builds,  adjusts  and   executes  KLM's  social  media  strategy  based  on  three  pillars:  service,  reputation   and  commerce.  

Meet  &  Seat:  high  expectations  

The  expectations  were  high  after  earlier  this  year  reports  on  KLM's  planned   service  Meet  &  Seat  leaked,  a  service  which  would  allow  passengers  to  use  social   media  to  determine  who  they  will  be  sitting  next  to  on  their  next  flight.  CNN's   Richard  Quest,  Fox  News  and  many  others  picked  up  the  story.  Some  were   positive,  others  more  critical  (usually  relating  to  privacy  concerns).  At  the   February  press  conference  KLM  stated  that,  when  the  press  caught  wind  of  its   initiative,  Meet  &  Seat  still  actually  had  to  be  developed  from  its  –leaked-­‐   concept,  and  all  those  reports  helped  in  the  reflection.  This  approach  effectively   meant  (and  KLM  likes  to  emphasize  that)  that  KLM  was  entering  into   collaboration  or  co-­‐creation  with  its  customers,  another  element  of  ‘social’    


(Figure  3).  Subsequently,  a   number  of  these  co-­‐ creating  clients  were  then   invited  to  the  launch  today,   truly  social  and  a  first  time   for  KLM.     With  Meet  &  Seat,  KLM   shows  that  the  company   listens  to  its  customers  and   wants  to  connect  with   them.  KLM  proves  that  it   recognizes  that  this  is  part   of  the  passenger   experience:  you  prefer  to   be  seated  next  to  a   pleasant  fellow   passenger.  Now  an   unwashed  fellow   passenger  will  not  post   that  on  his  LinkedIn  profile   and  some  people  may   inflate  their  profile  to   attract  others,  but  it  at   least  gives  people  the   possibility  to  have  some   Figure  3  KLM  Bright  Ideas,  crowdsourcing  via  Facebook   more  control  and  to  make  a   connection  in  advance  to  make  their  trip  more  enjoyable.  In  this  way,  KLM  offers   real  added  value.  Martijn  van  der  Zee  (head  of  KLM  e-­‐commerce)  also  adds  that   it  is  really  a  service  for  customers  of  KLM,  through  which  the  organization  wants   to  improve  the  customer  experience  of  its  product.  

Meet  &  seat  in  three  steps   Meet  &  seat  is  integrated  into  the  whole  booking  process.  That  means  you   normally  book  your  ticket  and  pay,  and  after  that  you  can  choose  ‘manage  your   booking’  and  have  the  option  to  use  'meet  &  seat'.  The  service  is  only  available   for  passengers  flying  alone  as  it  would  be  too  complicated  to  move  multiple   people,  get  their  consent,  etc.  You  can  participate  because  you  want  to  make  new   friends,  may  have  shared  interests  with  other  passengers,  see  business   opportunities  or  because  you  simply  want  to  share  a  cab  with  someone  going  to   the  same  conference.  Fortunately  the  pilot  and  flight  attendants  are  not  selected   via  social  media,  but  from  today  you  can  already  pre-­‐view  your  fellow   passengers.  Using  Meet  &  Seat  involves  three  steps:   1. Through  ‘manage  my  booking’  on  the  KLM  site  you  choose  to  use  Meet  &   Seat.  You  are  then  given  the  option  to  either  link  to  your  Facebook  or   LinkedIn  profile.  For  a  business  flight  you  would  perhaps  choose   LinkedIn,  and  for  a  trip  to  a  sunny  destination  your  Facebook  profile.  You    


can  select  which  information  you  want  to  share  in  Meet  &  Seat:  only  your   profile  picture,  also  your  name,  maybe  your  current  position  and   organization  or  even  your  education  background?  Finally  you  can  choose   the  languages  that  you  speak.  That  way,  you  may  be  less  disappointed  to   find  out  on  the  plane  that  the  Chinese  passenger  sitting  next  to  you  does   not  speak  Dutch.  So,  you  have  full  control  over  the  information  you  share.   2. After  you  have  linked  your  profile,  you  can  –  just  like  usual  -­‐  view  the  map   of  the  plane  with  available   seats  (see  Figure   4).  For  seats  where   people  have  their   profile  linked  and   have  a  seat  selected,   you  can  see  a  picture   appear.  You  click  on   their  picture  and  you   can  see  who  they  are   and  what  they  do  (or   at  least  what  they   claim…).  Are  they  on   the  road  for  business   or  leisure,  on  their   way  to  the  same   conference  or  are  they   Figure  4  Meet  &  Seat  cabin  layout  view planning  to  just  go   shopping?   3. You  choose  your  seat  and  confirm.  Then  it's  up  to  you  to  decide  whether   you  already  establish  contact  via  LinkedIn  or  Facebook  prior  to  your  trip,   or  that  you  wait  until  they  sit  next  to  you  on  the  plane.   You  can  log  on  as  often  as  you  want  with  Meet  &  Seat,  see  who  has  shared  his   profile  and  change  seats  until  48  hours  before  takeoff.  You  are  not  asked  for   approval  when  someone  picks  the  seat  next  to  you;  it  may  therefore  be  advisable   to  log  in  again  just  before  the  48-­‐hour  limit  to  escape  the  consultant  pitching  his   services,  the  student  wanting  to  get  some  tutoring  for  the  upcoming  exam  from   his  lecturer  or  perhaps  an  unwelcome  date  and  change  your  seat  one  last  time.   Maybe  you  don’t  even  want  to  actually  sit  next  to  someone  but  only  find  out  who   else  is  going  to  your  hotel,  event  or  conference  so  you  can  approach  them  to   share  a  cab.  

Objections  &  privacy  

The  biggest  concerns  that  many  people  have  already  expressed  concern   privacy.  KLM  has  indicated  in  its  press  conference  here  very  clearly  to  deal  with   in  the  following  manner:   •


You  decide  which  information  items  you  share  and  which  not.  Moreover,   Meet  &  Seat  is  an  optional  service  which  you  explicitly  have  to  choose;  by   default  you  do  not  take  part;   4  

• •

Data  are  available  only  to  other  participants  to  Meet  &  Seat,  and  only  for   participants  on  the  same  flight;   Your  data  will  be  deleted  after  your  flight  has  taken  place,  and  will  not  be   used  for  anything  else.  Until  then,  the  data  is  stored  in  a  secure   environment.  

Especially  the  third  point  is  noteworthy.  One  would  expect  KLM  to  be   particularly  interested  in  your  profile  beyond  your  name  and  address.  Are  you   traveling  for  business  or  leisure?  What  will  you  do  on  this  trip?  Do  you  like   Spanish  language  films?  Precisely  these  data  KLM  now  promises  to  throw  in  the   trash  when  you  land.  It  remains  to  be  seen  whether  the  organization  will   continue  to  hold  this  position  in  the  future.   At  the  launch  press  conference,  a  number  of  questions  from  the  audience  were   focused  on  privacy  and  possible  issues  during  a  flight.  Suppose  someone  chooses   the  seat  next  to  me  and  I  do  not  really  want  to  sit  next  to  this  person?  As   mentioned,  Meet  &  Seat  is  designed  so  that  you  can  change  seats  –as  many  times   as  you  want.  Suppose  now  that,  even  though  you  already  changed  seats  three   times  to  escape  an  unwelcome  flight  companion,  the  person  still  follows  you   around?  You  cannot  block  anyone,  but  you  can  unlink  your  profile  and  make  a   decisive  final  change  of  seats,  back  into  anonymity.  The  question  whether  there   might  still  be  stalkers  in  the  aircraft  (‘I  know  she  is  somewhere  on  this  plane!’)   was  answered  with  a  reference  to  the  "regular  social  skills”.  We  must  not  forget   that  we  are  still  able  to  tell  each  other  that  we  are  tired  and  want  to  sleep.  

What’s  next?   Meet  &  Seat  was  first  rolled  out  on  flights  from  Amsterdam  to  San  Francisco,   New  York  and  Sao  Paolo.  There  was  no  particular  reason  to  start  with  these   destinations:  primarily  local  enthusiasm  and  the  expected  tech-­‐savvyness  of  the   traveling  public.  In  October  2012,  the  service  is  available  for  all  passengers  on   intercontinental  flights  to/from   Amsterdam  and  for  business   class  passengers  within   Europe.   But  of  course  the  social   journey  will  not  stop  there.   Both  KLM  as  well  as  their   fans  and  followers  keep   coming  up  with  new  ideas,   and  competitors  are   equally  busy.  Malaysia   Airlines  MHBuddy  is  a   Facebook  application   similar  to  that  of  KLM.   Virgin  America,  through   Figure  5  Virgin  America's  RED  in-­‐flight  chatting   its  RED  in-­‐flight-­‐ entertainment  system  has   a  long  experience  with  in-­‐flight  gaming  competitions  and  will  soon  add  the   ability  to  view  brief  profiles  of  all  passengers  in  your  social  network  on  a  flight    


and  send  a  chat  invitation  (see  Figure  5).  They  will  also  offer  passengers  the   option  to  chat  during  their  flight  with  customer  service  representatives  on  the   ground  to  enquire  about  connecting   flights,  lost  luggage,  upgrades  etc.,   basically  an  in-­‐flight  version  of   KLM’s  24/7  twitter/Facebook   connectivity.  Until  Internet  is   widely  available  during  flights  this   may  very  well  be  a  useful  addition.   But  the  opportunities  are  endless,   and  KLM  is  actively  using   crowdsourcing  on  Facebook   through  their  special  ‘Bright  ideas’   page  (see  also  Figure  3):  how  about   receiving  commission  when  people   book  a  flight  just  so  they  can  sit   Figure  6  KLM's  new  Facebook  Trip  Planner  initiative   next  to  or  close  to  you?  Dating-­‐ services?   The  first  major  new  initiative  KLM  is  planning  to  roll  out  is  trip  planner,  a  site   aimed  at  groups  of  (Facebook)  friends  to  plan  a  trip  (Figure  6).  At  least  as   important  is  the  integration  of  'social  business'  into  all  aspects  of  KLM's   business.  As  KLM's  Manager  Social  Business,  Lonneke  Verbiezen,  puts  it:  "It  is   time  to  integrate  'social'  into  existing  or  structural  processes,  so  that  social   context  is  available  whenever  relevant.  We  live  in  an  age  where  it  is  easy  for  us   to  inform  our  customers  about  our  products  or  destinations,  but  they  would  like   to  hear  the  opinion  of  their  friends.  That  is  precisely  what  we  are  trying  to   facilitate."  


1. Do  you  already  use  social  software  as  part  of  your  planning,  booking  and   flight  experience?  Would  you  sign  up  for  Meet  and  Seat  on  your  next  flight  if   it  was  available?  Why  or  why  not?   2. Business  plan:  consider  the  three  pillars  KLM  mentions,  Service,  Reputation   and  Commerce.  How  can  you  measure  and  justify  the  'social  business'   investments  across  these  pillars?  Cost  savings?  Additional  revenue?   Competitive  necessity?  Given  the  tiny  margins  of  airlines  and  the  current   economic  climate,  what  would  you  do  as  managing  director  of  KLM,  or  as  CEO   of  any  airline  not  yet  investing  in  this?   3. Governance:  Which  part  of  an  airline  should  take  leadership  in  ‘social   business’  innovations?  Marketing?  Operations?  IT?  E-­‐commerce?  Part  of  the   Call  Center?  A  special  unit  or  spread  out  across  the  organization?   4. Change  management:  How  would  you  transform  KLM  to  embrace  social   media,  both  inside  the  organization  as  well  as  with  its  customers  and  perhaps   others?  Do  you  expect  resistance?   5. Any  creative  ideas  for  a  next  step?