Ryanair vs the world

Pic by Jayfresh.

Ryanair’s miserable, humiliating customer service (this grizzled 45 year-old seasoned traveller was reduced to tears by a nasty piece of work representing Ryanair at Cork Airport a few weeks ago) isn’t the problem. Offering O’Leary and his staff advice on how to improve it or how to respond better to bloggers and Twitterers is pointless. The crappy service is Ryanair’s USP (on Twitter the other day someone called it the airline’s Purple Cow).

Passengers make a conscious trade-off – deliberately swapping a pleasant journey for a cheaper flight – and, most of the time, it works (I’ve done it many times myself and only cried once). The trashy in-flight experience and the cheesy web site are deliberate and quite sophisticated marketing – they’re supposed to be like that. “Anything this crappy must be the cheapest” you think as you tuck into your prawn sandwich (itself a clever quotation from the retail geniuses at M&S in the eighties). If Ryanair started adding freebies or courtesies we’d get suspicious.

Ryanair has prospered in explicit defiance of emerging customer service norms. While the rest of the world has been investing in better customer service and more elaborate experiences – concierges at the bank, car hire firms who bring the car round to your house – Ryanair has cleaned up by going where no one else has the stomach to. Ryanair’s race to the bottom has been driven by O’Leary’s remarkable bargain basement imagination, something no one has been able to copy. I say this with some admiration. He just goes further: Cup-a-Soup, scratchcards, checking luggage, paying to use the toilet. And who’s to say, in the current climate, that he’s not right?

So the question is not when will Ryanair fall into line with the rest of the customer service world (never going to happen) but how long will it be before they’re catastrophically caught out? How many of these highly entertaining but essentially trivial social media storms can they weather before one of them actually does some damage. The increasingly belligerent and self-confident blogosphere has evidently met its match in Michael O’Leary and his uniquely low-rent operation but I can’t help thinking the stand-off can’t last forever. You can take on a few hundred bloggers but as your customers move online and become active users of social media (“idiot bloggers”), can you take on everyone?

Pic by Jayfresh. Thanks!