If I asked everyone reading this to name a company renowned for shoddy customer experience, one company which would no doubt get mentioned over and over is Ryanair, the Irish low-cost airline. The penny has recently dropped for Ryanair though, and it's realisation of the importance of customer experience and the benefits coming from it should serve as an example to everyone.

Ryanair and its chief executive Michael O’Leary always used to have a dim view on the benefits of customer experience and put every single one of their eggs in the ‘cheap seats and lots of additional charges’ basket. O’Leary’s own marketing motto was that "controversy gets you headlines, and headlines gets people looking up Ryanair.”

In O’Leary’s eyes, negative views and comments on CX were only a good thing for the health of the airline. He used to believe that no matter what he said about his customers and no matter how poorly they were treated by staff, the publicity and the cheap fares were enough to continuously turn a profit.

 

That strategy began to come to an end around November 2013, when the company hit a low, had to issue a profit warning and saw its shares drop by a sharp 13%. This poor performance meant that Ryanair had to start thinking differently; comments such as “We think [passengers who forget to print their boarding passes] should pay £60 for being so stupid” no longer turned into bookings.

By this point everyone knew the Ryanair name, and knew that it stood for a miserable customer experience.

Rather than focusing solely on price as a differentiator, the company started to look at adding good customer experience into the mix. The company appointed a new chief marketing officer who began by rolling out the ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.

 

Efforts towards cleaning the bad brand image, through creating a better experience, began by abolishing the most poignant of negative experiences many customers had to deal with: costly and difficult processes for the tiniest of changes to bookings, large fees for baggage and the trade-off between costly charges for seat reservations vs. lengthy queues at the boarding gate.

There’s also been a digital overhaul because the old website made customers click no fewer than 17 times before actually managing to pay for their flight; pricing information never used to be clear either, meaning that customers often experienced unexpected fees at the last minute.

The addition of live chat in key areas of the website means that customers can receive holiday and flight advice from an attentive member of staff; the once stressful booking process has been replaced with an easy and supported experience.

The airline has also launched a dedicated app in order to offer a more accessible booking service.

 

Ryanair has begun to make a complete U-turn on the experience that they provide to their customers and it’s already having outstandingly positive effects on their bottom line. Exactly a year after the airline’s profit warning, Ryanair announced that their traffic increased by 4% and profits were up 32% for the half year to the end of September.

 

For quite some time, Ryanair was successful in ignoring the experience of their customers and competing solely on price…the fact that such cheap air fares were unseen before helped grow the business. Setting fares so much cheaper than competitors by not putting any effort into caring about any other part of the service meant that Ryanair had a competitive advantage. Not a sustainable competitive advantage though. Ryanair’s low fares have been imitated and a low price is no longer enough to differentiate them from the competition.

In this day and age the majority of consumers want more than a low price; they want a great experience from searching on Google to landing on the tarmac. A great customer experience can differentiate companies from the competition and can create positive word of mouth; both mean more sales, loyal customers and a higher profit.

 

If Ryanair, voted worst customer service brand in the UK last year, can realise the importance of customer experience then everyone else should be able to realise its importance and begin to improve. Ryanair U-turning on bombarding customers with in-flight announcements and waking them to sell them more stuff is a lesson for everyone. Even if your customer experience isn’t as shoddy as theirs once was (which I’m hoping it isn’t), you can still take steps to improve the service that you provide to your customers in order to differentiate from the competition.

Just like Ryanair, consider ‘Always Getting Better’, to start putting yourself ahead.

 

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