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How does Air France – KLM deal with customer’s satisfaction?

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After I blogged last week about Accor and the way they deal with satisfaction in their annual report, I thought it might be interesting to do the same exercise for another company.

Researches based on the analysis of annual reports have already been published in an attempt to reveal emerging themes (like ethics and ecology) and discrepancies between the official discourse and the reality. It seemed to me valuable to apply the same logic to a more marketing-oriented dimension. Since Accor is part of the CAC40 I simply downloaded the annual report of the first company on the list, namely Air France – KLM. This choice was also of special interest because the airline is by definition a B2C company (although it has also numerous B2B services).

The first interesting discovery is that the word “satisfaction” appears only once in this 72-page report : «the group values its clients’ satisfaction very much which is revealed in the extension of existing contracts». Well .. not very convincing. It’s more a declaration than a demonstration.

Let’s keep the faith and search search again, this time with words like “satisfy”, “loyal”, “loyalty”.

“satisfy” pops-up once, “loyal” four times and “loyalty” twice. Beyond the mere statistics what really interested me was the background in which those word appeared.

Air France dedicates a whole page to customer’s satisfaction under the title «Innovative solutions to satisfy our customers». An analysis of the discourse showed that, as far as loyalty is concerned, Air France – KLM focuses on its “loyalty program” called Flying Blue. Although the membership figures are impressive (+50% between 2005 and 2008) I believe it is not the right KPI. It’s been known for a certain time already that loyalty programs can not be considered as strong antecedents of loyalty. Customers have usually members of several such programs and when in search of a solution to travel from point A to point B they use other criteria to make their choice. They eventually use one of their cards to collect points at the end of the choice process.

Air France’s discourses also associates loyalty and simplicity. I think they make a good point and measures taken in this respect may well be fruitful. However such measures need to differ substantially from those of competitors to be a factor of differentiation that the customer will eventually take into account. Online check-in, ticketless boarding are solutions quoted in the report which are however not unique to Air France. They are used by many (if not all) companies to optimize the traveller’s timing and pass on certain activities to him.

At the end of the report an interview with Peter Hartman, KLM’s CEO, reveals a few other loyalty-related aspects. Hartman states «We must increase our customers’ loyalty and willingness to travel again with us by providing them the service and comfort which they like». Once again … not very revolutionary. Service and comfort remain some very generic terms.

My take:

Not only does Air France – KLM forget (voluntarily or not) to deal with satisfaction and loyalty, but when they mention those words it’s only to remain very vague and not persuasive. They seem to be happy with their loyalty program although the latter can not and will never be at the origin of real sustainable customer’s loyalty. Such a program may at best be a nice accessory, a tool that can be used to capture some metrics.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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