Some say that I am easily confused! So it may come as no surprise that I should write a blog post with a rather confusing headline. On the one hand I am referring to a well known brand as ‘the world’s largest’ and on the other, I am asking whether or not they have changed. If a brand is the world’s largest, why would it even need to change? I would like to think that I am not confused – so allow me to explain why!
Ryanair has become one of the world’s most commonly cited case studies in business over the last few years. It has become so for positive and negative reasons. I myself have written about Ryanair on three separate occasions:
- In September 2012, I wrote about Ryanair ‘having the most consistent Customer Experience on the planet’
- In April 2014, I wrote a Customer Experience Review of Ryanair – they did not fare so well!
- In November 2014, I described Ryanair as ‘the brand we can now learn to love’
Quite frankly, there is so much to write about when you come across a business that provides such an amazing wealth of insight in how to do things WELL and how to do things BADLY!! What I have always admired about this company is their unfailing desire to be open and honest (although I am sure there are some who may disagree). Whilst I have often found Michael O’Leary impossible to listen to, you cannot doubt his desire to ‘say it as it is’ – which is why I always use Ryanair as a great example of a brand who has had complete clarity of its proposition.
Love them or hate them, no-one can ignore the hard, simple facts. Ryanair are now the largest international airline IN THE WORLD!!!!! They transport more international passengers than any other. They have become so large, that they are the 6th largest airline overall – only surpassed with airlines that have significant domestic traffic. To put this into some perspective, they carry almost three times MORE passengers than British Airways – who would have thought that would ever be possible?! You can find out more about the numbers in this Economist article.
Ryanair has achieved this incredible feat by offering consumers what they want – make no bones about it, that is why they are so successful. If you want what they have on offer, you will buy it – plain and simple. It has not all been plain sailing though. In the past, Ryanair have only ever differentiated on one thing….. and one thing alone….. PRICE!
That was it – nothing more…..nothing less. For years, the value proposition worked. However, over the last few years, Ryanair’s major competitors started to fight back. Easyjet (as their major rival) and others, started to attack Ryanair’s dominance of the budget market by reducing their prices. The closer they got to Ryanair’s price point, the harder it was becoming for Ryanair to remain focused on their one and only differentiator. That meant that when consumers were now faced with a choice – Ryanair or a competitor, many were jumping to competitors who they perceived to offer a better CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. Price alone was no longer enough.
That meant that Ryanair had no choice but to change – to change the Customer Experience. The only way they could avert decline and sustain growth was to start competing on more than just price. Over the last couple of years, improving the Customer Experience has become a significant strategic intention of Ryanair – again – who would ever have thought that could even be possible?!! In November 2014, Michael O’Leary, the man who had always openly ‘disliked’ customers, admitted that improving the Customer Experience had a positive effect on financial performance – hallelujah!!
In announcing their Q1 Financial Results for Financial Year 2016, Michael O’Leary and his CFO released a video – in it, O’Leary talks in glowing terms about the positive effect their Customer Experience programme continued to have on their financial performance – if you have time, take a look at this – it is amazing recognition of the effect improving Customer Experience can have.
Ryanair’s approach to improving Customer Experience is called ‘Always Getting Better’ – as you can see from the image, it contains 8 areas of focus that demonstrates their movement from being purely driven by price. It is so amazing to hear Michael O’Leary talking about Customer Experience – I have been desperate to ‘test’ out their improved approach to the poor old customer. Last week, my chance came. On the 26th August, I flew from Liverpool to Dublin and back again. Have they really changed? Can they live up to the promises being made so publicly in their customer charter? Let me give you my point of view based on the two flights I experienced. In each case, I will say whether I believe they have PASSED or FAILED in their attempt to deliver their new promises:
1. Always Getting Better (we promise to listen and be open to change; we promise to be relentless in finding new ways to improve your travel experience and the choice of destinations we offer)
PASS – there is no doubt in my mind that Ryanair are making it very clear that they have a genuine intention to keep changing. That is incredibly refreshing for so many reasons. In my experience, I can say that everything FELT different – did it feel amazing – no, but then I did not expect that either.
2. Value (we promise we are always finding ways to lower costs from our business operation & pass these savings on to you; we promise you the lowest fares in Europe on every route we fly; we promise to always check our competitors fares every day to make sure that no one can beat our lowest fares; we promise to offer great promotional fares that will save you even more; we promise we will never impose a fuel surcharge; we promise our Business PLUS service will give our customers flexible fares and other benefits at unbeatable fares)
PASS – the masters of low cost keep getting this important differentiator right. I actually chose to try their Business PLUS service, but even that was a very good price. It cost me less money to fly return to Dublin than it did to get a train from Chester to London one way!! I was also impressed with the ‘fast track’ benefits afforded to my Business PLUS ticket. All in all, very good.
3. Choice (we promise you the widest choice; we promise to work hard to develop our route network so you can always have new destinations to enjoy; we promise to release our seasonal schedules sooner than our competitors so you can book early and get our lowest fares; we promise to work hard to improve our flight times on our busiest routes)
PASS – not a lot to say here – there is a huge amount of choice – the promise is fulfilled!!
4. Safety (we promise to operate the newest, cleanest and greenest fleet in Europe that is maintained and operated to the highest standards; we promise to use the most modern technology to support our highly trained pilot and cabin crew)
PASS – although this passes the test, it is a difficult one to rate as I personally take this as a GIVEN!!! I expect all airlines to be able to promise safety – there is no denying that Ryanair has the newest, cleanest and greenest fleet of aircraft though.
5. Enjoyable (we promise that every Ryanair flight will be crewed by a team of well trained and passionate professionals who ensure you have an enjoyable and on time flight; we now allow you to bring a free of charge small second carry on bag and reserve a seat; we promise you a great choice in our in flight menu and a great choice of gifts; we promise that our family EXTRA service makes family travel more straightforward and allows families to make great savings)
FAIL – it has taken to this point for me to get to a fail – and in terms of Customer Experience, it is a rather fundamental one. Firstly, I did NOT in my opinion come across teams of passionate professionals – either on the ground or on the aircraft. On my outbound flight, the crew were pleasant, although I would definitely not describe them as friendly or passionate.
On my return flight, things were considerably worse. The ground crew at Dublin airport were incredibly disengaged. They allowed passengers who had not paid for fast track boarding to board before fast track passengers – much to the annoyance of those who had paid. The on board crew were equally disengaged. What astounded me more than anything else was the sight of two of the cabin crew COUNTING MONEY in front of passengers. I have no idea why they were doing this – maybe they wanted to get home quickly! However, this is NOT something that I would class as professional – I found it embarrassing.
Ryanair promise that passengers will have an ‘enjoyable and on time flight’ – this is an unrealistic promise – they may be on time more often than any other airline, but my return flight was delayed. They should not be making a promise that is impossible to keep.
Two more things that led to me describing this part of their programme as a FAIL. Firstly – the aircraft was not clean (in my opinion) – not in terms of fuel efficiency, but in terms of the interior cabin. This was undoubtedly a result of the very quick turnaround time of the aircraft. They will need to consider how to address this as I do not ‘enjoy’ sitting in a seat full of the remnants of the previous passengers in flight snacking!!
Then there is the issue of Ryanair now allowing passengers to bring on a second item of hand luggage at no extra cost. Ryanair are not alone in doing this – however I personally think that it has gone too far. I do not blame Ryanair for passengers trying to bring on as much luggage as is humanly possible, but the fact that the cabin crew were forced to attempt to squeeze TOO MUCH luggage into every conceivable space on the aircraft did not make for an enjoyable experience. Not only did it feel as though this delayed the flight from departing, it was also very stressful – with passengers ‘huffing and puffing’ – disgruntled at the fact that there was no space for their luggage; other passengers almost standing on each other to try to ‘ram’ bags into spaces that did not exist. Quite frankly, it was ridiculous. The bottom line, is that although this is intended to improve the experience, I feel that it is at the detriment of their ability to deliver an enjoyable experience.
6. Reliability (we promise to get you there on time more than any other airline; we promise to have the fewest cancelled flights; we promise to have the least lost bags)
PASS/FAIL – I have to sit on the fence with this one – my first flight was early, but my return flight was late. As I have already said, Ryanair cannot promise to deliver all passengers on time, but they can aim to do so more than any other airline. So despite my experience, Ryanair are successfully achieving their promises here at the moment.
7. Transparency (we promise to notify you of any changes to your itinerary or any rare delays or cancellations; we promise to provide you with all the information you need on our website and on our mobile app; if you make a minor error at the time of booking, we will give you 24 hours to make a correction free of charge; we will allow you to change your reservation by paying a fee; we will allow you to cancel a reservation by paying a fee; we promise to process complaints quickly and fairly and when a customer is entitled to a refund, we process these within seven days of receipt; we communicate with customers using their preferred channels – chat, phone and email)
FAIL – you may feel that I am being a little harsh here, but I believe that they failed to deliver their promise on transparency. My return flight was delayed. It was delayed due to a fire at Dublin airport in the morning. The fire had started just prior to my flight landing in Dublin. As a result, all aircraft were grounded for a short period of time. As the aircraft I was on just shuttles backwards and forwards between Liverpool and Dublin all day, it meant that all subsequent flights on that aircraft were late.
However, although Ryanair knew that this was the case, they did not announce a delay to my return flight at any time during the day. In fact they actually asked passengers to ‘go to the gate’ over 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time. At no point did the display boards state that the flight was delayed. Some passengers stood in a queue for over two hours!!! This should not happen and is something Ryanair need to work on.
8. Innovate (we promise to make it simple for our customers to do everything with us on their mobile device, from booking flight, checking in, car hire and downloading a boarding pass; we promise to constantly innovate our website and mobile app so our customers get the best digital experience which is simple, transparent and fun – because we believe booking a trip with us should feel great; we promise to have a great choice of other offers through our ancillary partners so you can get everything you need for travel)
PASS – I cannot argue with this one – generally pretty good, although lower down the list of priorities for me as a consumer.
So what is my conclusion? Do I think Ryanair has changed? My answer to the question is that I believe that Ryanair is most definitely CHANGING – they still have a long way to go, but then so do most of the companies in their industry. The experience is definitely BETTER than it ever was before – there is very little difference between Ryanair and Easyjet. There are two things that they MUST work on to genuinely deliver on their ‘always getting better slogan’:
1. Staff training – both ground and aircraft crews still have a long way to go to match the professionalism of others in their industry. I saw no evidence that the crew ‘enjoyed’ doing their job, or that they had any ability to empathise with passengers.
2. CONSISTENCY – that is going to be the big difference for Ryanair going forward. They have always championed consistency when it comes to operational efficiency – can they now combine BOTH operational consistency with the delivery of a consistent Customer Experience?
If you have not flown with Ryanair for a long time, I think you should give them a go – you may be surprised. There is a reason why they are the world’s largest international airline – it may not be long before they are the world’s largest airline outright!