Apparently, Ryanair is changing. The ‘brand’ we love to hate has recognised that cheap fares are not enough and in the face of enduring its toughest year in history, it has gone on a charm offensive to woo disgruntled customers that have switched to other airlines. For a company that has continually grown for the last 20 years, suddenly the realisation of profit warnings and stationary passenger numbers, they know things have to change.
Ryanair has always had a bad reputation with a certain section of its passengers and a terrible relationship with the media, however these have been exacerbated over recent years thanks to the rise of social media. No one will forget the story of Ryanair charging a grieving father charged £160 to change his flight at Dublin airport to get home quicker. This story spread on social media and by the time Ryanair resolved the matter, it had already being reported by every major news channel, damaging the company further.
If you were to look at a look at customer journey map of the Ryanair experience it doesn’t make for good viewing
The experience of buying online on the old website was appalling; flights from Manchester to Barcelona would be advertised £9.99 each way, but once taxes, luggage fees and tax has been added on you would end up spending over £100.
Airport Check In
Once you get to the airport the experience was not much better, the last thing you wanted to do is forget to your boarding pass, as it would cost you £40 for a new one.
At the Gate
When you got to the gate things where not much better, due to Ryanair’s non allocated seat rule, customers would start queuing at the gate an hour before the flight to guarantee seats together, if you arrived at the gate at the advertised time, the odds of you sitting together on the flight were non-existent. Then there was the one bag rule (at certain weight and dimension), if you break this rule at the gate another fine would come your way.
Finally the flight itself, most Ryanair flights take between 2 to 3 hours max, you guarantee that Ryanair have the most announcements per minute than any other airline.
When you arrive
The last time I flew with Ryanair was to Oslo Rygge Airport, which is conveniently located just sixty kilometres outside Oslo, meaning the transfer from airport to location takes as long (and costs nearly as much) as the flight itself.
It’s important to note that people obviously choose to fly Ryanair, it’s not forced upon people, but with such poor customer experience and competitive competition from other airlines it’s easy to understand why they need to change.
So with Ryanair starting their ‘We Are Changing’ campaign last month, lets see what elements of the customer journey they have improved.
A new website has been launched, whist the UX has been improved, the process of purchasing the flight is still long winded, with too many upsells (luggage, travel insurance, allocated seating, car hire, hotels)
At the airport
There is also no charge if you forget your boarding pass, and later in 2014 mobile boarding passes are to be introduced as well, a big improvement
At the gate
Our first change is the baggage rules had been relaxed; now allowing customers to carry an additional bag on the flight. As well as that they have now included allocated seating on flights meaning there is no need to queue at the gate for an hour
On the Flight
Ryanair have promised to keep announcements to a minimum, meaning flights should be more peaceful.
When you Arrive
You still will be probably miles away from where you want to be.
The promised changes are quite big, however consumers today are wise to the world of marketing and branding. Are we going to buy this turnaround? Ryanair has ambitious plans to increase passengers from 80 million to 110 million over the next five years. They want to target the business travellers too.
Michael O’Leary, the infamous CEO, has always made it clear that he did not believe in branding and claimed Ryanair would never use branding / advertising agencies. And while profits were flowing it seems this wasn’t questioned.
Ryanair currently languishes at the bottom of almost every metric on YouGov’s brand index and coming last in Which?’s customer service survey, performing the worst out of the UK’s 100 biggest brands.
Customer service is an entry stake even for low cost ‘no frills’ airlines and while no doubt the changes will positively impact on the brand image, I can’t imagine customer service being a differentiator for the brand. To do this it would have to be driven from the essence of what the brand believes in, like Zappo’s online shoe retailer.
So what will Ryanair now stand for as a brand? In today’s world, you don’t own your brand, and the story that has been shaped by the countless disgruntled passengers has a lot of baggage associated with it. When you consider the growing influence of word of mouth, Ryanair now more than ever needs a positive brand story.
The two biggest influences on purchase decisions are people we know and people we don’t know – 90% of people trust people they know and 70% trust people’s opinion published online’. Nielsen’s 2012 Global Online Consumer Survey.
Better customer experience and customer strategy does pay off in the long term for companies, with customers becoming loyal to the brand, however it will be interesting to see after the years of bad service and reviews, if Ryanair can turn the corner.