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Over the years I have been one of the most vociferous and consistent of all in my criticisms of Ryanair and their unashamedly shoddy treatment of customers. I refused to fly with Ryanair for several years as my personal protest. It’s crystal clear that as time went by I was not alone.

Back in 2013 the airline issued two profits warnings in as many months and chief exec Michael O’Leary realised that the game was up – the changing behaviour of customers and their increased expectations of having a good customer experience, as well as in Ryanair’s case of flights being on time, had caught up with him

While arch rival EasyJet was soaring high Ryanair was in the doldrums and leaking customers like a sieve. It was crystal clear that drastic action had to be taken. And indeed it was.

Exactly what did happen, and indeed what is still happening, is revealed in the Cover Story of the new issue of Engage JUST PUBLISHED. It makes for a fascinating, insightful example of how the way we behave as customers is forcing the organisations we interact with to change – and in many instances such as Ryanair – mend, their ways.

A few months back I was invited by Ryanair to attend a slickly presented press conference in London to introduce their new eight point Customer Charter. The press conference was fronted by O’Leary himself who disarmingly put his hands up to a ‘mea culpa’ admitting that Ryanair’s philosophy of treating customers who dared to complain with disdain had finally backfired.

Quote of the century?

Indeed as O’Leary was presenting a visual was being displayed behind him with his own quote which read ‘If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well I’d have done it years ago’. Putting your hands up, admitting your mistakes, and moving on is clearly working for Ryanair.

Knowing I was going to be attending that press conference I booked myself onto a Ryanair flight to Berlin a few weeks beforehand for the CCW show just to see if I noticed any difference from years back  – and indeed I did. The attitude had changed and Ryanair people both on the ground and in the air were discernibly ‘nicer’ – it was a pleasure to fly Ryanair which is something I never thought I would say. And as our interview reveals it’s also a lot nicer for Ryanair employees who are more engaged now with their jobs as they can actually be nice to their customers.

Our interview in Engage is with the architect of that change, new CMO Kenny Jacobs, who O’Leary bought on board to make the airline more customer friendly – because while the chief exec knew something had to be done he needed somebody like Jacobs with a customer centric background, to make it work. It’s a fascinating interview and I urge you to read it.

Ryanair a text book example

Of course there is a wider point here. In many ways Ryanair is a text book example of just how critical it is now for organisations, whatever the sector, to deliver on a better, more consistent customer experience across the entire customer journey.

I was at an MRS conference a little while back and opening keynote was from Unilever’s chief exec Paul Polman . His opening was organisations have to keep up with the expectations of their customers – those that do will win and those that fail will go to the wall. Polman also forecast that the life expectancy of public companies will fall dramatically as those who don’t keep up with their customers’ expectations do indeed go to the wall.

Ryanair’s O’Leary – who is a charming and charismatic man in the flesh – realised that and did something positively and quickly about it. It’s amazing what two profits warning can do to concentrate the mind.  More chief execs need to learn that lesson and fast before it is too late.

 

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