I should be grateful that the flight I booked on Ryanair.com was the cheapest available by €30. As I progressed through the online booking process a sense of resentment began to build. Why? The total fare was €49.98 but I finally wound up paying €132.99, once taxes, web check in, baggage and administration were factored in. If Ryanair are outsourcing their productivity by asking me to check in from home, why am I paying for it? “Not that cheap in the end was it?” I spat. Well it was cheaper than everyone else and I should love Ryanair for that, but I don’t, and therein lies the problem.
Whether he’s baiting our political leaders, abusing pompous City analysts, challenging our ingrained nationwide entitlement culture, humiliating an FT journalist by agreeing to appear in the “Lunch with the FT” feature and merely offering her a bagel, breeding a herd of prize Aberdeen Angus cattle, producing the fetching “Girls of Ryanair” calendar, or taking part in outrageous PR stunts that bring Jack Nicholson’s Joker to mind, Michael O’Leary is always good value for money. By aping Herb Kelleher’s low-cost strategy at Southwest Airlines, O’Leary revolutionised air travel in Europe and changed how we live our lives. Ryanair’s low-cost model put an end to Aer Lingus’ extortionate pricing during the days when the only way to get a cheap flight out of this country was to own a USIT card. We have a lot to thank him for.
Yes he gave us what we wanted, the cheap flight, but is that enough today when Aer Lingus, Easy Jet and others also provide cheap flights, fly to Paris instead of Beauvais, and provide a customer experience that is well ahead of Ryanair’s oily rag approach.
Today we buy services that offer value for money and make us feel good about ourselves. Ryanair are consistently cheaper but as can be seen from my experience of the price stacking up bit by bit, drip by drip, they fluffed the opportunity to make me feel good about it. This is a design and presentation issue. Is the CityJet approach of quoting the entire price, including taxes etc, from the start more effective? I think so. There are numerous other opportunities for Ryanair to improve the experience across their customer supply chain by engaging in some worthwhile design thinking. No they don’t need to engage a design consultancy to help them; O’Leary and his management team are clever enough to do it on their own.
All great civilisations, families, and yes, companies, eventually wither away and die. In a recent interview with the FT O’Leary was asked if he found it wearying “to be such a hate figure.” He replied that “it would be wearying if you weren’t growing by 9 million passengers a year.” Well in that case there couldn’t be a better time for Ryanair to explore how to improve the overall customer experience. If a combination of market dominance and arrogance stops Ryanair from learning from their customers’ experience, and improving their operations and interactions, then they may be well placed to “pull a Polaroid on it and get beaten at a game you invented.”
The lesson is that if you don’t make me feel good I’m not going to use you, and if my experience next week is poor, well then I’ll probably pay the extra €30 to fly Aer Lingus. Tom Asacker puts it better than anyone when he says that “business is not about numbers. It’s about people and their feelings. Numbers simply tell you how well you’re doing with those feelings; with the contribution you’re making to your customers’ lives.”
O’Leary intimated in another interview that his time at the helm may be coming to an end in the next two to three years. He said that the person to replace him would have to be a more touchy / feely type who is nicer to journalists, analysts, and customers. I’ve a feeling though that there is only one person who has the wherewithal to design a good customer experience within the constraints of running a low-cost airline, and I don’t think he is going to leave our screens any time soon.
 Brunner & Emery (2009) Do You Matter? FT Press.