Where has the famous swagger gone? Asks Marcus Dunford, Innovation Lead at The BIO Agency
“You’re not getting a refund so f**k off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?” – Michael O’Leary, chief executive at Ryanair
“If I had known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I would have started many years ago.” – Also Michael O’Leary
How ironic, I thought glumly as I regarded the email on my screen: Ryanair, the brazen ‘bad boy’ of the skies, had just cancelled my flight home from a stag do in Berlin – and was now grovelling for my forgiveness. Where had that famous swagger gone?
The new, meeker Ryanair had certainly got itself into a real mess with its so-called ‘major boo-boo’ as far as brand perception was concerned. But while passenger numbers still jumped 10% in September (even amid the flight cancellations) I suspect Michael O’Leary has been doing some soul searching ever since. After all, even aside from the recent catastrophe, Ryanair’s ‘Teflon’ reputation has been eroding for some time now.
The playing field – or rather the runway – is changing. For the first time since the low-cost airline revolution, ‘premium’ air travel brands like British Airways are beginning to encroach on Ryanair’s short-haul territory, and what’s more, they are providing this service with a smile.
Increasing competition means that Ryanair is likely going to have to shed some more of its characteristic ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude and adopt a slightly more deferential, customer-focused mindset in order to remain competitive in coming years. After all, why would anyone faced with two similarly priced flights opt for the one with highly-publicised bad service?
Yet despite all of this, I think I (and countless others) will always have a soft spot for Ryanair. Although it may seem slightly absurd to point this out at a time when the airline is still actively weathering the fallout of a colossal error, at its core Ryanair remains a hugely disruptive and innovative brand.
Just think about the very reason many ‘love to hate’ the company: its decision early on to cut back on every service that could be classified as a frill, thereby allowing customers (grumbles and all) to enjoy a safe, punctual service at a vastly reduced cost than the alternative. By offering a ‘build your own’ option for cash-strapped travellers, Ryanair effectively enabled people to see the world for as little as the price of a pair of jeans.
Despite its no-frills ethos, Ryanair was one of the first budget airlines to fully adopt a digital-DIY approach early on, providing customers with a good multi-channel experience across devices. The UI they developed on both their app and the website is both friendly and approachable, with well thought-out user interaction and bold clear calls to action that even the most non-tech-savvy person can use. The kind of thought that’s gone into developing their user-facing product indicates the brand is genuinely moving towards a more customer-centric way of working.
The next step in the journey to soften its image and create a user-first business model was to start to move into digital-in-the-physical with elements like self-weighing bag drops.
While there will always be a place for a budget airline (not everyone can afford the premium options and many really are happy with simply getting somewhere on time, forsaking all other luxuries), Ryanair will still find it difficult to remain competitive in the face of an increasingly crowded low-cost market as well as increasingly demanding customers.
As for me, I was eventually refunded £340 for the inconvenience of my cancelled flight and ended up whiling away a very enjoyable extra day in Berlin soaking up the culture while shaking off my hangover – not the worst end to a stag do. Thanks Michael!