10 x

more support cases handled


KLM rapidly scales up customer service with Salesforce

When the world was hit by a once-in-a-century crisis, many said how lucky we were to have technology to help us work from home and stay connected to friends. But for some industries, it wasn’t that simple.

By the second week of March, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was allowed to run just 10% of scheduled flights, leaving passengers stranded across the world, families separated, and trips on hold indefinitely. And that was just the beginning of a rollercoaster of changing regulations, travel bans, and closing borders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When America announced the travel ban, customer support cases spiked from 5,000 daily cases to 50,000 – with 200,000 more in the queue,” recalled Véronique van Houwelingen-Visser, Salesforce Product Owner at Air France-KLM. “At a time when customers were panicking, Salesforce helped us react quickly to handle record-breaking volumes of cases as fast as possible.”


At a time when customers were panicking, Salesforce helped us react quickly to handle record-breaking volumes of cases as fast as possible.”

Véronique Van Houwelingen-Visser | Salesforce Product Owner, Air France-klm

Providing customer support on the channel of their choice

KLM has been transporting passengers and cargo for more than 100 years; it’s the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. The Dutch airline flies to destinations all over the world and has global customer services offices from the Netherlands to Dubai and Manila to Kuala Lumpur.

The service team of 350+ handles cases from eight social media channels, proving 24/7 support to customers in 10 languages. “Agents have a central console in Service Cloud where they can speak to customers on their platform of choice – in China customers use WeChat, while Japanese customers use Line, and Koreans use Kakaotalk. Other regions reach out on WhatsApp, Messenger, Apple Messages, Facebook, or Twitter,” explained Renske Siersema, Head of Owned Channels and Partnerships.

The airline launched its omnichannel service strategy with Salesforce in response to the Icelandic volcano eruption in 2010, which grounded around 100,000 flights across the world. When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in 2020, KLM worked closely with the Salesforce team to put together a strategy to handle spiraling volumes of cases.

“Our Salesforce success manager proactively reached out to offer us support. When she heard that cases had jumped to 35,000 a day, she sent four Salesforce architects over that afternoon,” said van Houwelingen-Visser. “We knew we had to react quickly, so we pulled key stakeholders into a meeting room and came up with a plan.”

KLM has a close partnership with Salesforce, so the customer account team had thorough knowledge of the airline’s platform, strategy, and customers. At Salesforce, Customer Success is one of the core values. “As soon as I heard about the US travel ban I realised the impact that would have on KLM, so I organised a task force (including Solution Engineers, a Program Architect and the Sales Regional VP) to help,” said Linda Tahboun, Principal Success Manager at Salesforce. Part of the task force visited the agent centre to alleviate immediate pressure on the customer service agents. They streamlined processes and built a prioritisation model to help KLM manage cases in a customer-centric way. “It was a unique experience working around the clock alongside the KLM team in the midst of a world crisis. We achieved phenomenal results in such a short timeframe and truly experienced KLM “Blue Heart” culture,” explained Linda Tahboun.

Adapting the case priority model to handle high volumes

Before the pandemic, KLM worked on automating responses to frequently asked questions according to data captured in Salesforce, but the team quickly identified they could use bots to help triage cases and take out-of-date tickets out of the queue, help customers to self-serve for basic queries such as how to seek a refund, and prioritise the remaining cases according to urgency.

The team then defined a nine-step model to prioritise the remaining cases. Queries relating to flights due to leave in the next four hours were pushed to the front of the queue, followed by cases containing keywords such as ‘urgent’ or ‘tomorrow’, and flights due to leave within 12 hours. 

While maintaining business as usual was the top priority, setting the airline’s recovery strategy was crucial for survival in the future. Via an integration with AI solution DigitalGenius, cases were flagged as medium urgency if they related to new sales opportunities or the customer had not yet responded to a payment link. 

Finally, customers who were already in conversation with an agent and loyalty card holders were prioritised above the remaining queries. “Every decision we make is in the best interests of the customer, and that means serving the most urgent cases first and letting customers at the back of the queue know that we’ll respond to them when we can,” said van Houwelingen-Visser.

This priority model was not new to KLM, it already had a simple model in place. However, the flexibility of Salesforce meant it was easy to adapt and scale up the model to cope with the latest challenges, and the approach was so successful the team rolled it out to Air France as well.

Evoking the ‘blue spirit’ to recruit colleagues to the service desk

With cases prioritised, KLM still needed to deal with a huge volume of queries per agent, so it turned to anyone and everyone who’s role at KLM had been disrupted by the pandemic. “KLM is like a family – we have what we call ‘blue spirit’ – we value our customers and we value each other, so we pulled together and even had cabin crew and pilots handling cases when they weren’t flying,” explained Siersema.

The company ran training sessions to upskill colleagues on how to use the service console. Luckily, thanks to a user-friendly interface and previously time spent optimising the solution, staff were up to speed in just a few hours.

With support from their colleagues, the service team grew to up to 1,000 people, and resolution times began to shrink in just 12 hours. Having such a  global team also meant agents could serve staff in multiple languages across different markets.

“Our success manager helped design a list view for simple cases and training materials for our temporary agents,” recalled Siersema. “We used Chatter to support each other, and complex cases were routed to more experienced staff.”

To keep things simple, the team adapted the Salesforce console to give temporary users more limited functionality so they could only carry out the basic tasks that were required of them. “Colleagues got so into using the console they started making suggestions for enhancements, it was amazing to have that level of buy-in from people,” said van Houwelingen-Visser.

Making smarter business decisions based on real insights

During peak times, the team switched dashboards from monitoring how many cases each agent was handling and in what language, for example, to making sure channels had the right level of capacity.

“Salesforce is really adaptable, which is brilliant in a crisis,” added van Houwelingen-Visser. “During the first weeks of the crisis data became more important to us than ever, and we put together a team to process data and pull daily reports and dashboards to find out which topics are trending so we can make smarter business decisions.”

And the data looks promising, with growing volumes of queries from people planning on making a trip in the near-future and customer satisfaction levels returning to their pre-pandemic levels. 

“We were very happy we had Service Cloud in place at the start of the pandemic. If we hadn’t been able to react immediately we would never have been able to manage the unprecedented spike in case volumes,” said Siersema. “Together, we got a solution in place and upskilled our team rapidly. Salesforce was a key part of our survival during the worst crisis that’s ever hit our sector.”


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