Europe’s largest budget airline, Ryanair, has a new strategy; being nice to customers. According to their CEO, Michael O’Leary, “if I had known that being nicer to our customers was good for business, I would have done it years ago”.
When I read the article in The Wall Street Journal on March 14, 2016, my first thought was, is this a joke? Apparently not! Mr. O’Leary helped to pioneer the rock-bottom budget airline, with fares as low as $15 one-way across Europe. They were able to make profits by charging for almost everything on top of the price of the ticket. There were even penalties for passengers who showed up without a boarding pass. In the past Mr. O’Leary had even proposed a standing-room cabin and a small fee for using the in-flight toilet. Mr. O’Leary also called passengers “stupid” for not remembering to bring their boarding passes.
In any industry, low budget or otherwise, there is competition. Ryanair went from being the number one carrier to two and profit warnings spooked investors. To win back customers, Mr. O’Leary relaxed onerous hand-luggage restrictions and redesigned their cumbersome website. Fees were cut and staff was instructed to be less confrontational. Ryanair has now regained back its crown as the best-performing airline on virtually every measure of margin, return on capital, and cash generation. When you think that being nice may not be worth it, think twice and maybe even three times.
If you do think about it, the word “nice” has many meanings and contexts. At minimum nice is just being pleasant. Another definition I read expands nice to making the experience “enjoyable.” These are my recommendations for being nice:
- Answer questions with more than one word responses
- Use the customer’s name
- Give a big smile when someone walks through the door
- Say have a nice day when the customer leaves
- Acknowledge more than one person at a time
- Compliment the customer on something he or she is wearing that you admire
- Listen to the customer’s underlying emotion in addition to what he or she is saying
We always expect people to at least be nice. This article goes further to show that not being nice can actually harm your business.
Business today is focused on the customer experience. It surprises me to read an article like this because “nice” is an unwritten, bottom line criteria for a positive customer interaction. The hope is that CEO’s will focus on the importance of hiring the right people and provide training that includes nice.
What’s your definition of being nice?