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Why KLM figured it needed to cutify its customer service

Did you see him? Isn’t he cute? Don’t you think KLM, the Dutch national airline, is just amazing at customer service? Chances are that Sherlock, the most adorable member of KLM’s Lost & Found Service, appeared in your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline more than once. He certainly did on mine. And I was just as enchanted by the promotional film as you probably were.

We see the little beagle going about his daily duties at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – training, socialising with KLM employees and, of course, racing through the airport to find the owners of lost property by scent alone. It’s a heartwarming video: a woman is reunited with her iPhone, a small boy gets back his teddy bear, all thanks to Sherlock.

There’s only one problem – it’s all fake.

The airline’s marketing team didn’t deliberately set out to deceive. Perhaps they simply didn’t realise just how much internet users would love the story of Sherlock and his job (they say that the video reached more than 46 million people within a week). When questioned, KLM was perfectly honest about the fact that the dog was never part of the Lost & Found team, but the truth came a bit too late for people around the world who had already been captivated by the cute story.

Some stories are sexy enough as they are

Finding out that Sherlock wasn’t real was a minor disappointment to most. The fact that Sherlock is simply a mascot, not a working member of the team, was not in itself much of a problem. After all, the general public is used to much bigger scandals, hoaxes and cover-ups. The real issue is that KLM managed to bury their own lede by making up such an appealing story, when in fact the truth behind the story is already appealing enough.

As the company explained a few days ago on its blog, Team Sherlock was proposed last year by a KLM employee who could see that the lost & found system was not working for customers. Whenever anyone contacted the airline via social media to report an item of lost property, she was required to ask them to fill out a form – not exactly good customer service. The company had a low success rate and high customer dissatisfaction.

Now, one year on from the employee’s suggestion, the company has got a team of 20 humans (not dogs!) who work to ensure that their Schiphol office is staffed from 6am to 9pm each day. Did you catch that? Most businesses seem to have – at best – a box at the back of the office somewhere, featuring a forlorn collection of old umbrellas, scarves, and lonely gloves. KLM has twenty people working to reunite lost items with their owners!

Think about it: a major airline has done something which is costing it a substantial amount of money and has no immediate financial return. And this as a result of a staff member seeing where something wasn’t working. But how many people got that takeaway from the dog ad? Not many, I shouldn’t think – it was completely upstaged by the cute story about the dog, quickly followed by the revelation that the story wasn’t true.

Learn from whatever it is your customers complain about

With the creation of Team Sherlock, KLM has pulled off a customer service coup. One which other companies should try to emulate. Not necessarily by paying attention to lost property, but by looking at the things which customers complain about. Until now, you could have been forgiven for thinking that The Onion’s airport spoof(in which the customer service rep tells passengers to “fill out complaint form, and place it in an envelope addressed to the name of the hospital in which you were born”) was based on reality.

But here’s the proof that at least one company is taking customers’ concerns and employees’ suggestions on board, and implementing practical solutions. For all that companies love to say they care about their customers, KLM is actually showing it. After all, actions speak louder than words.

A beautiful horse is amazing enough, you don't have to pretend you saw a unicorn. By trying to convince us that they are almost magic when it comes to finding lost property, KLM missed an important opportunity to show off the fact that they actually care, and are doing a good job.

Maybe facts and figures and human beings aren't as 'sexy' as a cute little dog, but as the Dutch say: “Just be normal, that's crazy enough.