Ryanair has learnt how to win customers the hard way

Piers Bishop · April 9, 2015

Great news for air travellers – the boss of Ryanair, the man we thought would never learn how to win customers and keep them, has had a change of heart.  Michael O’Leary got himself and his airline a truly dreadful reputation by shaving costs to the bone and then trying to make profit from his passengers with a relentless torrent of extra charges.  At one time you would pay for almost anything apart from the oxygen in the cabin (and you had to wonder if they were trying to find a way to meter that as well).

The ever-cheerful Mr. O’Leary described passengers who forgot to print their own boarding passes as ‘idiots’ and there was a point where it looked as though he was even going to introduce standing cabins and charges for using the onboard toilets. According to Bloomberg his big idea was that eventually passengers would fly free, and all Ryanair’s income would come from things like baggage charges, duty-free, lottery tickets and commission on insurance, car hire and hotel room sales.

If this had just been an experiment to find out how poor can you make the service before even the bargain-basement customers revolt, it would have been bad enough, but he really meant it – disabled people were being charged to take their wheelchairs on the plane.  But now there seems to have been a change of heart – suddenly you get a free second bag and allocated seating, and Mr. O’Leary has been posing for the media cuddling a puppy.  What the heck’s going on?

Well, it seems O’Leary has discovered the First Law of Business, which is:

Transactions happen between people, and the relationship between those people is the bridge over which the transaction takes place.

Even when you might think you’re making a purely financial decision like buying a cheap ticket despite the appalling customer service, the owner of the airline is there in the background and you’re making a decision on the basis of balance between the cost and what you feel about that person.  Even when you are buying from an anonymous online site after reading buyer recommendations, the way you feel about those people – particularly how far you trust them – will be a huge factor in whether you buy or not.

So even where there is no salesperson involved, almost every sale hangs on a personal relationship somewhere.  And at the business level, where larger sums are at stake, these relationships become even more important.

That’s why WeThrive asks staff how well-connected they feel to the ultimate customers or users of their work. As a social species we need to know where we fit in the bigger social picture – this is why people join community groups and help charities, and why activities that help others seem meaningful and satisfying to us.  It’s only one of a large number of questions that may potentially be asked by the dynamic questionnaire system, which takes just 10 minutes of a staff member’s time to discover where the potential is to make their working life work better for them, for you and for your customers.

And of course those customers are the key to everything – so important that even the boss of Ryanair has noticed them.  So what’s happened to Ryanair since Mr. Nasty remembered how to win customers and became Mr. Puppy-Cuddler? Passenger numbers were up nearly 30% last month and the share price just jumped another 20 cents. Most importantly, the relationship with the customers is now sustainable, O’Leary having learnt that if you irritate people long enough and hard enough, they eventually go away.

If there is anything at all about your business that depends on relationships (hint: that’s all of it) you might want to know how they stand and what you can do to improve them.  WeThrive does this and much more, showing you how to remove stresses and improve productivity sustainable in your company.  Try us free of charge right now and see if you can’t follow that nice Mr. O’Leary down the path to greater profits.  Free puppies to the first three companies to sign up (terms and conditions apply) …